There’s a reason nearly 90% of sellers use a listing agent: Selling a home takes time, knowledge of neighborhood trends, and negotiating skills. So while eliminating the agent’s commission—6% of the sale price, on average—sounds mighty tempting, try to resist.
The agent’s chief tasks are to help set the right price and then get buyers in the door. Agents have access to the most up-to-date information about recent sales of comparable homes (“comps”) and competing listings in your neighborhood. “The market is shifting every day. It’s the agent’s job to keep abreast of those changes,” says Ryan Fitzpatrick, director of sales for New York real estate agency CORE.
A good agent also will market your home aggressively. That means recommending staging techniques to make the place look great, maximizing the listing with professional-quality photographs, and showing the house to prospective buyers. Most important, the agent will vet potential buyers so you can deal only with serious prospects.
Once you’ve found a buyer, the agent will negotiate counter-offers, track the paperwork, and generally hand-hold through the most nerve-racking part of the process.
If you’re determined to go it alone, discount programs like ForSalebyOwner.com and HelpUSell allow you to pay only for the services you choose, including listing your home on the same local multiple listing service agents use. Even so, many direct sellers offer commissions to buyers’ agents as an enticement to bring their customers to the home. Owners who pay 2%-3% are 25% more likely to sell than those who offer nothing, according to For Sale By Owner.
Before skipping a full-service agent, think hard about the time and effort you want to spend, particularly if the process drags on. The average home takes about four months to sell (six in the slowest cities), according to National Association of Realtor statistics. If costs are a concern, you should feel comfortable having a frank up front conversation about how and how much the agent expects to be paid.
Once you’ve found an agent you feel comfortable with, sign a contract for the shortest possible period, say 30 or 60 days, Fitzpatrick says. That should give you enough time to evaluate the agent’s performance; besides, “if the home is properly priced and properly marketed,” he says, “you will be reaching your most serious buyers in the few weeks of listing.”