It's a question I get asked often - should I sell my home on my own and save the commissions, or should I list with a Realtor? I get asked this enough and have also seen enough people lose a significant amount of money selling on their own, that I figured why not write a blog about it!? I'm sick of seeing sellers step over dollars to save pennies. So here are my tips for how to sell your home privately.
Full disclosure: you ARE on a Realtor’s Blog here, so while my opinion on the subject may be biased on why you should hire a Realtor, I also don’t want anybody out there getting taken advantage of, or worse – getting sued, so I am going to try and put together a must-know guide on how to sell your house on your own.
Another request: If you intend to sell your house on your own, please do not call a Realtor to ask them to come and walk through your property, give you a valuation and tips for preparing the home for sale. That isn’t fair to them. You are in effect saying you value their expertise and skill, but not enough to pay for them. Just. Don’t. Do. It. If you want a valuation, I highly recommend reaching out to an appraiser. They will charge you upfront for their assessment - but then you have some comparable sales for your property and aren't leaving yourself exposed to underpricing or worse, overpricing!
So let's start there: Pricing.
Pricing is one of the most important considerations that you need to make. It will either attract or repel purchasers. Overpricing can be an absolute insult to a purchaser and result in more days on market, price reductions, and ultimately selling your property for less than you should have gotten. Underpricing can result in not achieving the numbers you should, or in giving the perception that there is something wrong with the property. There is a very narrow window of price tolerance with buyers, and finding that number will be paramount to your success. Look at what comparable properties in your neighbourhood are listing at. Look at your upgrades vs. theirs. What about square footage, basement finishes, garages, etc? Be sure to properly adjust for those different features.
Preparing Your Home is PARAMOUNT
Now first thing is first. When you are selling your home, you do want to prepare that canvas so that it is picture ready. We usually send through our stager at this point, to walk-through room-by-room with you and give advice. BUT I just checked and there are many how-to videos on YouTube advising just what types of projects you should be undertaking, or how to dress up a room for staging. In general, the most effective staging will:
- Improve the flow as you walk through the property
- Present a blank canvas for your purchaser so that they can envision themselves living there
- Reduce buyer objections
- Result in a higher net price to your bottom line
Some key points in the staging process are often depersonalizing within the home, removing clutter, improving traffic-flow with optimal placing of furniture, and organizing. Also, as a rough rule of thumb, no more than 3 items on any flat surface, and anything smaller than a cantaloupe should be eliminated! Sometimes you should bring pieces in – which we often do. If you have friends or family that could loan you pieces, that is a great place to start. Or, a lot of the inventory our stagers carry is from Home Sense – as they have beautiful options in there!
Importance of good photographs
Next up, you need to get great pictures. A word from me to you: your cell phone will likely not take these pictures. Cell phone technology has gotten much better over the years, and the pictures are better than a lot of our former cameras – but you need GREAT quality pictures. Oftentimes with a wide-angle lens so that you can see the corners of the room as well as all the detail within the room. So that those viewing your home online can make their own assessments as to whether or not their furniture would fit, what type of windows are in the home, what type of flooring is pictured, whether or not your bedroom has an appropriately sized closet, etc. The list goes on – but the number of things that buyers are determining from your pictures prior to choosing to tour it are significant. So, don’t lose those buyers by having poorly taken pictures. I learned this early on in my career after attempting to take some of my own pictures for my listing – I am not a skilled photographer – and I should pay someone to highlight our listings in the best possible light. You will NEVER regret having good pictures to use for your listing. The majority of buyers (62%) rely predominantly on the pictures from the online listing - they won't even read your ad copy. So don't cheap out here!
Get on the Video Trends!
Pictures are done – but have you considered video yet? You may have noticed that the world is transitioning toward video. The apps with some of the biggest growth recently are TikTok (short form content), Instagram (both short form via Reels but also longer form content), as well as YouTube (long form content). This isn’t just a one-off. This is truly because more and more people are choosing to consume their information via video, and to “stop the scroll” you need something that is eye-catching and animated. Also, when it comes to advertising on these platforms, the algorithm is much more favourable to video than it is to static images. So, your marketing dollar and reach goes much further when using video. Now, just another suggestion. Completely ignore everything I have said if you are incapable of producing a good-quality video or if your video is simply going to be a slideshow of pictures to music. That will not entice your buyer enough to watch your video and will likely even turn them off. In this case, it would just be better to scrap the video altogether. BUT, if you are willing to expend the money on a good videographer to piece together a video that effectively shows the features of the home as well as layout, then I would say the investment is well worth it!
The Ad Copy is ALL about lifestyle and important detail!
After pictures and video, the third most scrutinized thing in a listing is the actual writeup for your listing. Be SURE to have really good ad copy written up. You are going to want to keep this short and sweet. Making it too long means the buyer will lose interest as they read. Having it too short though means you have likely missed important details. Put together a list of the upgrades you have done within the home in the last 10 years. If you’ve done many, you might want to eliminate some of the more innocuous details (ie. Painted bathroom 3 years ago). Again, the goal is to not overwhelm the buyer. This is also a good time to highlight what it actually “feels” like to live within the home – you are going to want to touch upon some points that evoke emotion within the buyer. For example: “curl up in front of this natural gas fireplace on the coldest of winter nights”. Highlight some of your favourite parts that you have enjoyed about the home here. Home buying is an incredibly emotional process for buyers, so giving a vision of what their life could look like if they lived here, is paramount.
Reach and Exposure - Time to Push that Ad Out!
You have your house prepped, you have it professionally photographed, you have a great video and good ad copy. Now it is time to start rolling out your advertising! A word to the wise – over 92% of buyers now say they originally found their home online. The remaining 8% is a mix of print advertising, for sale signs, word-of-mouth or other/miscellaneous. As a result, you are going to want to split up your advertising budget accordingly. Now, the BULK of the people saying they found their listing online do say that they used the MLS (Realtor.ca) system, but you likely aren’t going to have access to that if you are truly selling your home privately. If you are using brokerage houses though to list your property while you handle the rest, such as FairSquare Winnipeg (formerly Purple Bricks Winnipeg and prior to that, ComFree Winnipeg), then you will have access to the MLS system. Just keep in mind that then you aren’t selling your home privately. These are licensed brokerages and you are signing a listing contract to be entered into the MLS and paying a set fee to do so. I will touch upon this a bit further later. Listing in the MLS alone isn’t enough though – you are going to want to use other digital marketing as well as social media marketing to your advantage. The reach that you can get, just from a $100 ad spend is significant if you know how to use Facebook Business Manager for targeting both your Facebook and Instagram accounts. I would advise spending more than $100 – it is just the amount of exposure and targeting that you are able to do per $100 far surpasses any other digital marketing option (in my opinion). Also, put that listing everywhere – put it on Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, Homes.ca, etc. Take advantage of all the free advertising too. There are over 100 Websites that you can advertise your house for free on as well as other strategies, but I won’t get too technical here. Feel free to call me for a list. I would also still advise getting a professional sign outside your home, as it is a low-cost option that may result in a call – and heck, you never know! The wider you spread that net, the more likely you are to find your buyer (or hopefully, multiple buyers)!
The Importance of the Showing Experience
Now if you can, clear out. Get OUT of the house and out of the way for your buyers. I know this may sound alarming, but the biggest complaint I have had from purchasers when showing them Privately Offered, or ComFree or Purple Bricks or now FairSquare listings in Winnipeg, is that the sellers are home and it makes them uncomfortable to tour the home. I know, you think you are being helpful by telling them how the new heating system worked, or what your favourite part of the home is, but buyers oftentimes feel this is too “pushy”. They are used to inspecting and touring at their own pace, and having the owner right there really interrupts that flow. Truthfully, I have found some of the quickest tours with buyers to be the ones in which the seller is home – because those buyers just can’t get out of there fast enough. If you are able to make arrangements with buyer’s agents prior to showings, or you are able to install a lockbox on the property (can be purchased at Canadian Tire or Home Depot), that is oftentimes the way to go. Now, that being said – you also need to be sure you are only letting QUALIFIED buyers into your home. This is where I guess things could get awkward. If the purchaser has their own agent that is discussing the tour with you, they will have verified a pre-approval and the identity of their purchaser, so there is some confirmation there. However, if you are dealing directly with a purchaser it may be awkward to ask for proof of a pre-approval letter prior to showing, but in all honesty, I would still request it. You are allowing complete strangers into your home, so it is important to vet them properly.
Are Open Houses Worth It?
Decide if you want to host an open house. A lot of private sellers do host these, however what we have found, particularly during COVID when we went for long periods of time without open houses, is that they are pretty ineffective at finding qualified buyers. A lot of the traffic through the open house seems to be neighbours, or people out on a Sunday drive that just happen upon the listing. The statistic prior to COVID was that 1 in 50 homes might sell from an open house, but I think that statistic is likely far worse. That being said, it is a good option to get additional exposure for your home should you not be great at presenting an online presence.
Offers start to come in!
You’ve had some showings. Depending on the market, you may have set yourself up for an offer date even. But just how long to hold off those offers, or how many showings you should have before reviewing offers is something that is neighbourhood specific, time-sensitive, and seasonal. Look to the MLS, see what other listings are doing. Are they holding a showing window period of 5 days? 10 days? What seems to be working? You won’t be able to see the prices people are getting from the public MLS, but you might be able to see what kind of traffic your neighbours are getting, just how quickly the sold sign goes up, and you could approach them just to get a feel on activity and how things went. You also want to be careful to not hold an offer date on the same day as a competing listing. There is strategy on whether or not you should book your offer date before or after a similar listing and it will depend on how yours shows in relation to the other. But determining an appropriate offer date to review offers, is paramount to your success.
Options when reviewing offers
You will receive your (hopefully) stack of offers – and now you have options. You can either: Accept, Counter, or Reject. Just a few words of caution here: be careful how you negotiate if you are countering offers. Be sure to not extend more than one counteroffer at a time – because in Manitoba, you can essentially sell your home twice (and I don’t think you have two of the exact same homes to sell)! It is good to be versed in what conditions are normal and the regular timelines for these conditions – so that you know if something seems out of line. Oftentimes having a good real estate lawyer that can advise on this would be a great start. While it is not common for properties listed with a Realtor, it might be in your best interest to insert a condition that benefits you to allow for lawyer review. The last thing you want is to sign a contract without being sure what every single line-item means.
Other Important Considerations Affecting the Market
I prefaced this email with my bias toward hiring a Realtor, and I still truly feel that is the best way. But here are some items I just want to touch upon, so that the whole “selling privately” experience isn’t a surprise for you. In January of 2022, it became mandatory that buyers sign Buyer Service Agreements with their Realtor. Within these service agreements is usually a pre-stated amount of commission that the buyer agrees their Realtor should be compensated with upon closing. This is normally covered by the seller as part of the proceeds from the sale. However, if the Seller is unwilling to cover these fees, this agreement often states that the buyer is to cover the commission themselves – and may make private sales less attractive for the buyer as it represents a larger cash outlay for them. If I were a private seller, I would personally advertise a commission to cooperating buyer’s agents, and perhaps factor that into my listing price. My understanding is that the brokerages that list homes on the MLS for a flat fee give similar advice and do recommend offering a cooperating commission.
I also have come to learn over the years that people are most concerned with REMAX Realtor Commission Rates – and that they may be some of the highest as we are one of the larger brokerage houses and are known for heavy marketing, etc. I would argue that this isn’t the case, and rather that our commission structures are competitive. I would also say that our marketing reach is likely some of the most extensive given the platforms that REMAX Winnipeg has built.
There are circumstances where people do not wish for their house to be listed so publicly – sometimes death, divorce, etc. In situations like this, we recommend Exclusive Listings. This keeps your house off the MLS listing service, but still allows your Realtor to provide real estate services to procure the sale. You can opt to not have a for sale sign, and to handle the whole sale a bit more discreetly under this method. If requiring more discreet, exclusive listing Winnipeg services is what you are looking for, I would STILL recommend hiring a Realtor – as their reach and exposure even just from their network will likely net you more even without being on the MLS.
As a final statistic, and keep in mind this comes from the National Association of Realtors, but on average those homes listed privately do sell for approximately 18% less “FSBO homes sold at a median of $260,000 last year, signiﬁcantly lower than the median of agent-assisted homes at $318,000.”. Source: https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/research-reports/highlights-from-the-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers. Oftentimes, it is for lack of exposure, improper pricing, or buyers factoring in the cost of paying commissions out of pocket regardless.
Prior to being a Realtor, I always thought I would sell my home on my own. However, after being a Realtor and navigating both buyers and sellers through the process thousands of times, I would say that those working with a GREAT Realtor, always seem to come out ahead. Just my two cents. If you've read this far, thanks for taking the time. If listing with us sounds of interest to you, great! Please feel free to reach out. If the for sale by owner route sounds better to you, I truly wish you well on your journey! There is no one-size-fits-all approach for anything in life, and you have to make the decision that is best for you!
Happy Selling, folks!
Phone: (204) 797-7945