Tips for selling your own home.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When we decided to put our first house on the market a couple months ago, our main reason for doing so was financial. We needed to cut our mortgage to prepare for a second baby, and because of that, a friend suggested we try selling the house without the help of a realtor. "For sale by owner." I was very hesitant at first because I just wanted out of the house as quickly as possible, and we'd never sold a house before. But the more we researched it, the more we felt right about at least trying. We'd save as much as 3% by not having to pay a realtor, so we felt it was worth a shot.

Going in, we decided we'd give it two weeks on the market. If the house didn't sell in two weeks, we'd turn it over to our realtor to show and hopefully sell while we were out of the country.

I should also make this disclaimer: we have several dear friends who are realtors and I definitely don't want to devalue their work. I just think many people (including us) don't even consider trying to sell the house themselves - and in our situation, it ended up being the right option.

If you haven't followed our story, since October 2013, we've now bought two houses and sold one. We definitely didn't plan to do this, but we've learned a whole lot along the way. So if you're thinking of going the "for sale by owner" route, I thought I'd share a few things we learned.

Know the market. First, know whether or not to try selling it yourself. From the outset, we knew the real estate market in our area was extremely active at the time. Just walking out of our house, I was stopped twice by passersby who handed me their information and asked, "If you know anyone who's selling or renting soon, will you give them my information?" We knew there would be plenty of interest in a house that needed no fixing up, was on a dead-end street, and was in a desirable neighborhood near a park and close to downtown. Had we doubted that our house was sellable (i.e. slower market, needed fixing up, etc.), we probably wouldn't have tried to do it ourselves.

Secondly, know how to price your home. We ended up pricing ours quite a bit higher than we'd originally paid, but only after extensively researching comparable houses in our area. We settled on a price and then determined a slightly lower price that was our cut-off - we wouldn't accept anything lower, especially in the first couple weeks on the market.

Declutter and de-personalize. This rings true whether or not you're using a realtor. Our house wasn't cluttered before as we'd lived in it less than a year, but I was still able to box up two full car loads of stuff and bring it to a friend's garage to store. The boxes were full of framed photos of our family and other personal items. You want to make sure that when people walk into your house, they can picture themselves living here - not you. At the time, all of our wall colors were very neutral. Had they been something brighter, we would've repainted to make sure the house appeared move-in ready.

Meet with someone who's gone the "For Sale By Owner" route before. We had several friends who had successfully sold their homes without a realtor, and their wealth of knowledge was invaluable through every step of the process. It really helped to get their advice, especially when it came to negotiating a contract. It may also be helpful to have a friend in the real estate field (realtor, closing attorney, etc.) look over your contract to make sure there are no red flags. (And offer to pay them, of course.)

Borrow or rent a lock box. A friend let us borrow a lock box like this one to hang on the front door. This way, we didn't have to be present for each and every showing to let the potential buyers in the door. We could simply give the lock box code to the buyers' realtor, set up a time for them to come, and they would let themselves in and out. Much more convenient, much less awkward for all parties. If you have potential buyers who don't have a realtor (we didn't), I'd definitely suggest staying at the house and letting them in and out yourself.

If you don't feel comfortable staging and photographing your house, ask someone who does. Since Shawn and I both had experience in staging and in real estate photography, this part was fun for us. But just remember that pictures sell houses. Or at least get people in the door, which sells houses. Don't skimp on this part. If you don't know anyone who has a good camera with a wide angle lens, hire someone who does. It will be money well spent.

Put together a brochure. Maybe. I only say "maybe" on this one because I kind of wish I hadn't spend the time and money making one when our house sold so quickly. I had dozens of flyers left. But if you have ideas of where you could post these - or even hand them out to friends who may have friends that are looking - it may be really worth it. There are tons of templates online for professional looking real estate flyers.

Buy an MLS listing. For us, this was absolutely worth it. These run about $200, and whenever you post the listing, it goes up on all the major real estate websites immediately - Zillow, Trulia, etc. We used Select Premium Properties to do this, and they were so helpful to give us a step-by-step of how to go about this. They even had a portal where realtors could request a showing and we could "ok" it from our phones or email.

Know that it will feel like a full-time job. That's why realtors work full-time and often around the clock! There's so much paperwork and so many deadlines that you have to treat it like the main gig in your life. You'll spend lots of time fielding calls, scheduling showings, answering emails, scouring Google with questions, and driving around the neighborhood so your toddler will take a nap while people look at your house.

When all was said and done, we had 7 showings on the first day and 1 offer, and we accepted that offer the following morning. It was as stressful as can be, but very much worth it. And we don't plan to do it again for a very long time.


  1. Hi Whitney! I have been following your blog for some time now and am continually inspired by your crafting, decorating, parenting, and heart for the Lord. :) My husband and I are looking to sell our home next summer and your tips for how to sell it on your own have been very insightful and helpful. We are also looking to buy a new couch and love seat before our baby arrives in February and I love the white couch and chair in your living room! Would you be willing to share where you got them? :)

    1. Thanks, Leigh. Good luck to you with selling your home! I hope it goes as quickly and smoothly as it possibly can.

      The white couch (more like light beige) was a Craigslist find back in Chicago about 6 years ago. I think we paid $300 and the cushion covers come off and can be washed - a lifesaver with kids. I wish I had more info... I'm not even sure what brand it is.

      The chair was a Pottery Barn kids chair in red that I recovered with painter's drop cloth and white piping. (See this post: I'm pretty sure that project put me into labor - I literally had Liam the next day - but it was worth it. :)

  2. Hey Whitney! Now that you have moved, and tips on how to make moving easier?

    1. Oh goodness... I wish I had tips on that! Maybe just "get as much help as you possibly can." :) Our church family was so wonderful to come and move us out, and then the next day, to move us into our new house. We had about 12 people each time and have no idea what we would've done without them.


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