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(Ryan McVay)
(Ryan McVay)

Home Cents

Couple saves thousands by selling their own home Add to ...

For most people, a decision to sell their home is followed by a call to a real estate agent. But according to a recent poll, many Canadians aren't thrilled about making that call.

Nearly three-quarters of the 1002 Canadians polled by Harris-Decima said they think real estate commissions are too high. (Real estate agent fees usually equal five or six per cent of a the sale price, so roughly $15,000 for a $300,000 home.) And 64 per cent said they were open to considering an alternative to using a real estate agent in order to sell their home.

The company that commissioned the study, PropertyGuys.com, certainly has a vested interest in the results. It's one of many new websites springing up where people can list a home sale privately (in this case, for a flat fee of $399). “High-fee real estate agents are a relic of a different world, a different economic reality and a different home owner,” says Walter Melanson, director of partnerships with PropertyGuys.com.

With Netflix making video stores a thing of the past and Expedia overtaking the traditional terrain of travel agents, it does raise the question of whether real estate agents are also vulnerable.

When they decided to sell their home in Barrie, Ont., Murray and Tiiu Hamblin had no qualms about doing so privately. Ms. Hamblin's parents had sold several houses privately over the years and it seemed like an easy and profitable way to go.

“I remember my Mom saying you don't need a real estate agent to sell your house, all you need is a lawyer,” Ms. Hamblin says.

On her mother's advice, Ms. Hamblin had a customized “for sale” sign made for $65 to put in front of the house. She also paid $200 to put ads in the two Barrie newspapers. The couple started getting calls immediately and set up appointments with interested buyers. They staged and showed their home themselves.

“I showed the inside of the house, Murray showed the outside,” says Ms. Hamblin. “It only took us two weeks and we never had to have an open house.”

Once they found a buyer, Ms. Hamblin typed up a simple agreement of purchase detailing the home's address, the price, the enclosures (like the dishwasher), the closing date and other details. The buyer took the document to his lawyer, who reworked it with all the proper legal language and made four copies: for the buyer, the Hamblins and both lawyers. He brought the documents back to the Hamblins with a deposit cheque. And that was pretty much it. In this case, the buyer was also not using an agent. If he had been, the Hamblins would have added that agent’s fee into the sale price of the house.

Ms. Hamblin said it was a positive experience and one that she'd definitely do again. They figure they saved about $10,000 in agent fees.

“It's all so easy,” she says. “Why do you need someone else to sell it?”

The other added bonus? “Because you know you aren't going to have to shell out that extra money for an agent, you can lower your price,” she says. “[The buyer is]saving money too, because he knows with the bells and whistles of an agent, a house would cost more.”

Ms. Hamblin admits that they were lucky because their buyer had been hoping to get on their street for years. And the Hamblins were comfortable showing people through their home and handling the transaction themselves, something not every homeowner would want to do. They also didn't run into any problems with the buyer's financing or the inspection of their home, things that might have complicated their experience.

Getsmarteraboutmoney.ca (a consumer information website funded by the Ontario Securities Commission) advises homeowners considering selling a home themselves to ask the following questions:

1.Will you do at least as well on price as an agent?

This isn't a question easily answered. Canadian data in this area is scarce, and the numbers from U.S. sources are contradictory. For example, a 2010 survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found that the median price for homes sold with the help of a real estate agent was more than those sold by an owner. But a 2009 study by economists at Northwestern University found the opposite.

2. How much will you save in commissions?

Though many companies that support private sellers claim you won’t have to pay any sales commissions to agents, buyers often use an agent even for a private sale. So you may still, as the seller, be expected to pay that agent's fee.

3. How quickly will you be able to sell your own home?

The Northwestern study found that houses sold through an agent using MLS (Multiple Listing Service) were more likely to sell faster, but the reasons why are unclear. On the one hand, private sellers may be more willing to wait for a better price. Or perhaps real estate agents have more expertise and a better network to help them sell a home more quickly.

In the end, it may be about how much effort you are willing to put into your own home sale. As Getsmarteraboutmoney.com puts it, “Are you really ready and able to do the same job (as an agent) – if not better?”

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