The hot real estate market has driven more homeowners to sell their homes without a realtor. For sale by owner (FSBO, pronounced “fizz Bo”) sellers are primarily looking to avoid paying a realtor commission fee. Before you buy a home directly from a homeowner, let’s walk through how buying a FSBO home differs from buying a property that’s listed by a realtor.
Pros and Cons of Buying a FSBO Home
Greater flexibility on price: FSBO sellers are not paying a realtor commission so they’re saving a substantial amount of money (about $7,000 per $100,000 in sales price). As a result, they are often more willing to negotiate the price with you.
FSBO homes tend to be underpriced. FSBO homes can sell for up to 26% less than homes marketed by realtors.
Direct communication: There is no middleman in FSBO sales. You talk directly with the sellers, who have the best information about their home.
Uncertain disclosures: FSBO sellers often are not well-versed in legal requirements and may omit providing you with important information about their home. Sometimes direct sellers are not direct about known problems with their homes such as mold, roof damage and plumbing issues.
Emotional decisions: Most homeowners tend to be emotional about their homes and that can lead to emotional reactions from sellers, especially to your requests to reduce the price or to make repairs. Realtors can help keep those emotions in check and encourage cool-headed decisions.
No experience with sales process: Most homeowners who sell their homes have no experience with real estate. With little knowledge, they may balk customary requests for information or repairs and may not know exactly how to move the process smoothly to a timely closing.
The Steps to Buying a House from The Owner
The process of buying a house can feel overwhelming in general. To make things less confusing, here are the five main steps most people will follow to buy a home that’s for sale by owner.
Remember: if you’re thinking about buying a FSBO home, make sure to consult with one of our experienced real estate attorneys.
Up Front Questions to Ask the Seller
Its very important to get information before you consider making an offer on a home. Here are some things you’ll want to ask:
How long as the home been on the market? Currently (2022) homes in Pennsylvania are on the market for about 60 days. If the home you’re considering has been on the market significantly longer than the median, it may indicate that the home is overpriced, has problems or other attributes that make it less desirable.
Was the home ever listed by a realtor? If it was and it did not sell, that’s a very good indication that the home either has problems or the seller was unable to get along with their realtor. Both of those are red flags for a potential problematic transaction.
When can the seller close? If you need to move into the house within a certain period of time, you’ll certainly want to make sure that the seller is prepared to move out so that you can move in. Make sure the seller has a place to go and isn’t trying to sell their house in order to purchase the place they plan to move to. If their other home deal goes under, that could result in the seller wanting to remain in your home longer.
Do Your Homework
Its very important to engage in a preliminary investigation of the property before you a make an offer. Your investigation should include the following:
Ask for a Seller’s Property Disclosure: The Pennsylvania Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law requires sellers of residential property to provide a written property disclosure form, describing all material defects with the property known to the seller. A “material defect” is a problem with the property that would have a significant adverse impact on the value of the property or that involves an unreasonable risk to people on the property. Any seller who fails to disclose a known material defect, either by misstatement or omission, permits a buyer to recover actual damages caused by violation of this Law.
Check Comparable Prices: “Comps,” or comparable sales, refers to homes located in the same area and very similar in size, condition and features as the home you are trying to buy or sell. Buyers should look at comps when deciding what price to offer on a home. Consider the following websites next time you look for house comps:
Zillow: Zillow has great features for estimating property value and list price, but this website is also a good resource when searching for comps.
Redfin: Redfin has a “Find a Home” feature with information on properties that were sold within the last 3 years.
Trulia: Trulia can provide buyers with detailed information on properties based on property type, purchase price, date sold and more.
Property Shark: This is yet another tool with information on recently sold properties within an area.
Can You Still Use a Realtor?
Yes, you can. However, the seller would need to agree because the realtor will want to charge the seller a commission. Sellers typically are not agreeable to that because avoiding a realtor commission is almost always the primary reason they are selling their own home.
Once You Agree on Price, What Happens Next?
This is the point where you’ll need to work with someone who has experience with real estate sales. You could agree with the seller on a settlement service or retain an attorney. The best option for buyers is to retain an experienced real estate attorney. They will be able to assist you with the following important steps:
Prepare a Sales Agreement. Its very important to get your deal on paper and include terms that protect you. You’ll want to reserve the right to have property inspections, engage in a title search and make your agreement contingent upon getting approved for financing (if you need it).
Hold the Deposit Money. You should not agree to allow the seller to hold your deposit money. In the event of a dispute with the seller, it will NOT be easy for you to get your money back from the person with whom you have a dispute. Your attorney can hold the deposit money pursuant to written terms of your sales agreement.
Get a Home Inspection. Although it's not required, we would not recommend buying any house without a proper inspection. A trained home inspector reviews the house’s major systems, appliances and structure during their visit. This process is a great way to find out what may need repairs now or in the future. If repairs are needed, your attorney can help you work with the seller on these sometimes difficult conversations.
Conduct a Title Search and Examination. A property title search examines public records on the property to confirm the property's rightful legal owner. The title search should also reveal if there are any claims or liens on the property that could affect your purchase.
The Bottom Line
Buying a home that’s for sale by owner (FSBO) can mean savings for you. While the owner will most likely save by not using a listing agent, it may introduce some problems to the home sale process.
As the buyer of a for sale by owner home, it’s up to you to take control of the deal, scrutinize the property carefully and do your research to make a fair offer. Working with one of Fiffik Law Group’s experienced real estate attorneys can protect you from overpaying for the home and running into problems with the purchase agreement and other documents.