“We're having the house painted right now,” Bernie Doyle said in a recent phone call during which he ranted about the inefficacy of real estate agents and vowed to sell his own house without one.
Mr. Doyle and his wife, Alison, Doyle have spent the past few weeks painting, landscaping and generally preparing to put their three-bedroom house on the market.
Mr. Doyle is an investment adviser and Ms. Doyle has experience in home staging, so the two figure they have more knowledge and background than most when it comes to doing the work normally taken on by an agent.
Ms. Doyle is less certain about the wisdom of going it alone, but her husband is outspoken in his opinion that real estate agents don't do enough work to justify their commissions – particularly in a hot market like Toronto's.
He has been doing the rounds of open houses in the upper Bloor West Village area where the couple lives, and analyzing the results of recent sales. His research shows that of 25 homes which have changed hands recently in the W2 area, 68 per cent sold for more than the asking price.
The Doyles have listed their house at 673 Willard Ave. with an asking price of $575,000 but they are really hoping to reap more than that when they look at offers on the designated date of June 14th. They plan to take turns being home for showings by appointment. They will host open houses on the weekend.
Mr. Doyle becomes particularly testy when talking about agents who don't attend the open houses for their own listings. That weekend is a prime opportunity for attracting buyers, he says, and the agent should be there.
“It's probably going to be that family's largest transaction,” he says of selling a principal residence. “Then, on the day of the open house, they send an assistant who sits there doe-eyed and slack-jawed. The real estate agent is absent to the game.”
He figures he can do better.
The Canadian Real Estate Association points out that licensed agents have the background and skills to recommend the all-important asking price. They know how to generate traffic and how to handle a bidding war.
Ricky Chadha of Royal LePage Estate Realty in Toronto, says he welcomes change in the real estate industry, including discount services and ‘for sale by owner'.
But, he adds, agents are bound by regulations and a code of ethics. Members of the public are not. Even as a real estate agent, Mr. Chadha says - he would never sell his own house. He likens it to a lawyer representing himself in court. “If you ask any experienced agent they'll tell you - they won't.”
He appears horrified at the notion of homeowners being present for showings. They tend to lose their objectivity, he says, and start pointing out the investments they've made. “They oversell.”
The Doyles have looked at various options, which range from hand-painting a sign and banging it into the lawn to hiring a carriage-trade broker. Some companies charge a flat fee to upload a listing to the Multiple Listing Service operated by CREA. Some also offer a menu of options for those who need a little help.
The Doyles looked at such companies such as Home@Ease Realty Inc. and 99 to Sell. They decided on PropertyGuys.com and opted for a package that puts their listing on the MLS. They also have a lawn sign, photos and presence on the web site.
It's up to the sellers to decide whether they want to offer a commission to an agent working on behalf of the eventual buyer and the Doyles say they are willing to do so. They don't want to deter any agents from showing the house to their clients.
Ken LeBlanc, president of PropertyGuys.com, says his company's private sales franchise network has swelled over the past 14 years.
Results from a national survey commissioned by PropertyGuys and conducted on the Angus Reid Forum found that 82 per cent of homeowners polled agreed that a 5-per-cent commission is too much to pay. That figure comes from the typical transaction in Canada, which includes a 2.5-per-cent commission for the buyer's and seller's agents.
Mr. LeBlanc says that in Toronto's sellers' market , their sales-to-listings ratio is at the top.
“It's not even a ratio. It's pretty much 100 per cent,” Mr. LeBlanc says. The question becomes how long it takes for a house to sell. Sellers who are astute at setting the asking price can typically sell very quickly, he adds.
Mr. LeBlanc says the PropertyGuys service does not recommend asking prices because they are not licensed brokers but most clients have already done their own research anyway.
“They have a really keen idea of where they want to play,” he says.
Still, Mr. LeBlanc doesn't recommend that sellers try to orchestrate a bidding war. Those high-pressure scenarios can quickly become tricky.
“I think, quite honestly, there's some danger in that,” he says.
Mr. Chadha is also wary.
“Once you get all the offers in, do you know what all the conditions mean?” he wonders. “What if a clever, crafty agent comes in with some verbiage and they don't understand it?”
But Mr. Doyle has thought of that too. He has hired a lawyer to draw up paperwork and if a buyer presents forms from the PropertyGuys or their own agent, he will have 48 hours for a lawyer review it.
“It's not like there's a gun against my head.”
Mr. Doyle figures his property's location between Bloor West Village and the Junction is the major selling point.
“They're totally different neighbourhoods and they're both within walking distance,” Mr. Doyle says.
The couple has renovated throughout, including installing a new kitchen and bathroom, new floors and a drought-tolerant garden on the corner lot.
“In real estate speak it's ‘sun-drenched,' says Mr. Doyle. “We find all these cheesy words they use in the write-ups.”
Do they have any worries about drawbacks that might hold back a sale or deter buyers?
“We're currently in a sellers' market. If someone's got a better place that they can find, that's where they should go,” he says.
Ms. Doyle can understand why many people would opt to sign with an agent but she is willing to give it a go without one. “It's still very edgy, very ‘alternative',” she acknowledges. “I think we're at a time in the world where people are looking at the options and writing their own script.”
Mr. Doyle has already encountered some of the pitfalls of selling privately: He searched for legal forms on the web and found information hard to come by. He acknowledges that some people would likely be put off by the amount of work involved.
But they are confident they can sell – and fast.
“Anybody who's got any wits about them at all can navigate the ins and outs of selling a house,” Mr. Doyle says.