Most homeowners who attempt to sell without using a real estate agent do so in order to save the commission. In other words, the impetus to sell without an agent is to net more money from the sale. The irony is that the median price of for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) homes in 2004 was 15.4 percent less than the median price for home sales where an agent was involved.

One risk of selling without an agent is that you sell too low. FSBOs tend to attract buyers who are looking for a bargain. Like FSBO sellers, FSBO buyers want to save money by paying less. The FSBO seller hopes to save the cost of the commission; so does the buyer. Unless the asking price is clearly below market value, a FSBO buyer is likely to think he can negotiate an even lower price because there are no agents that need to be paid.

Another factor contributing to the lower sale price of FSBO properties is that many sell before they even hit the market. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that approximately 17 percent of FSBO sellers sold to a relative, friend or neighbor. Nine percent sold to a buyer who contacted the seller directly.

Maximum exposure is the way to ensure that you sell for the best possible price. Multiple offers and higher sale prices are the result of exposing the property to multiple buyers, not simply to a friend or neighbor.

A big problem for FSBO sellers is determining what price to ask. If you don’t know how much to ask, it’s understandable that you might inadvertently leave money on the table by selling too low to the first buyer who expresses serious interest.

HOME SELLER TIP: You may be able to find out what price you should ask by interviewing potential listing agents. However, if you don’t expose the property, you’ll never know if you could have sold for more on the open market.

There are certainly reasons why you might choose not to openly market a property, even though it means accepting less money at closing. One couple sold to a neighbor in a direct sale that netted them approximately $200,000 less that they could have received on the open market. But, health and timing considerations made this an acceptable deal.

Most sellers, however, won’t want to give up a significant profit just to avoid having to pay an agent. In fact, according to the NAR, the number of sellers choosing to sell without an agent has decreased in recent years from 18 percent in 1997 to 14 percent in 2004.

FSBO sellers take on other risks. The cost of a commission could be minimal compared to the risk a seller might take for failing to fulfill disclosure and compliance obligations. Disclosure requirements vary from state to state. If you do decide to sell without using an agent, be sure to hire a knowledgeable real estate attorney to help you abide by mandatory disclosure requirements.

Another risk of selling without an agent is that many direct sale transactions never close. Some deals fall apart because the buyers aren’t properly qualified for financing before they enter into a purchase contract. A good real estate agent will make sure that you don’t accept an offer from a buyer who isn’t qualified. Prequalification and preapproval can be accomplished quickly if you know who to call for assistance and when it’s appropriate to do so.

Another reason why many FSBO deals collapse is that there’s no one with experience working to move the transaction along and resolve problems when they arise. This often involves negotiations.

THE CLOSING: It can be difficult for sellers to negotiate face-to-face with a buyer.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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