29 June, 2008

For Sale By Owner, or, Firing Our Real Estate Agent

We fired Mom's real estate agent two weeks ago.

P., the agent, was little more than a glorified secretary, scheduling appointments for people to look at the house but not going over himself, not following up with the buyer's agent until weeks after an appointment, and certainly not giving us any advice on what to do to make the home more marketable in a down market. In ten months, we've had numerous people walk through, but no offers. In fact, we had some people come in two and three times, but we didn't know until way after the fact, when P. would offhandedly mention it. What do you mean this was the third showing to the same people? What do you mean you weren't over there to talk up the place and answer questions?

Seriously, in this market, you want your agent to put some effort into the sale. After all, when you're forking over 5-6% in commissions, you want to see something for the money.

We had been talking about how best to break the contract with P., but I think the last straw was when he called to talk to Mom and I said, "She's out; you can call her on her cell."

P: I don't think I have her mobile number.

Me: What? I've given it to you before. (Me thinking: Idiot--why don't you have that programmed into the phone?)

P: Well, I don't think I have it. Can you just tell her I called?

Me: (Thinking that he should at least have asked for it again) Um, okay. (Idiot)

That night, Mom read him the riot act on the phone. It's a tough market, and not everything is his fault, but the agent has done little to guide us in this process, and I think that's what he's there for. Getting feedback from potential buyers and passing on that info to us is critical, I would think, but he never did anything like that.

Anyway, before she could actually fire him for non performance, he offered to dissolve the contract. Yay! Now we can find a better agent and list it again with a new MLS number.

Only we can't. If we list again within 90 days, the previous information will pull up in the MLS and it will show as having been on the market since last August. Did P. bother to tell us that? No. We found that out from a realtor acquaintance of ours.

We first met Shawn Daly six years ago, when he was the seller's agent for the condo Ted bought around the time we started dating. Every year we get a Christmas gift from Shawn, as does every other owner in the condo building. I guess the thought is that when those units are ready to sell again, he'll be the go-to agent.

We met him again last summer. Shawn was actually the seller's agent for a house we looked at, and for a while strongly considered. He not only remembered Ted from before, but the condo's address as well. (He, and not a secretary, sends out those Christmas gifts, apparently.) We didn't hire Shawn for our two-flat search with my mom because we wanted a buyers-only broker who would give back a percentage of the commission, although we'll strongly consider him when it is time to put Ted's condo on the market. (For those new to the blog, we rented out the condo in Chicago rather than try to sell it at this time.)

Anyway, from last summer until last weekend, we hadn't encountered Shawn again, but ran into him at Custer's Last Stand, an arts festival here in Evanston. He not only recognized all of us, but even remembered which house—of the many properties he represented--that we looked at. We'd hire him in a second to sell Mom's place if his territory stretched out that far.

Although he couldn't be our agent, he was gracious enough to give us some free advice. He's the one who said we'd have to wait 90 days to get the property back into the MLS with a new number, and that it's probably better to wait and have it show up as brand new for a whole new crowd of buyers. But he advocated For Sale By Owner (FSBO) in the meantime, saying that most agents (although they should be) are not working properties very hard right now. He boasts that he's still selling pretty well in a down market, and I believe it, because I've seen a number of his properties sell in the past year. He offered several ideas that we might try if we're feeling aggressive, so in the next few months I'll be chronicling what's going on at the other house as well as work we're doing here at The Box House.

So, for the moment, Mom's house is off the market. We're going over next week to work on a few more projects to spruce things up before doing the FSBO route. But, if anyone out there has sold their home "by owner," I'd love to get some feedback on the process--particularly how you marketed it and how you followed up with people who came to take a look at the place. I just picked up Robert Irwin's new book For Sale By Owner, which was written for a down market and has tons of great advice. But I'd love some firsthand accounts as well.


Jean Martha said...

Oy. A goof agent really is worth their weight in gold. I listed my house a few years ago when we thought we wanted to build something closer to the city. The agent I hired didn't even return calls from interested buyers. People were googling my address and calling me AT WORK to ask to see the house since the agent didn't call back...

Sorry for your Mom, I'm sure she'd like closure.

Jean Martha said...

goof = GOOD

NV said...

WOW! What a tale of two agents. Good luck with getting it sold. Who knows? You may be able to pull it off on your own and save the commision. :)

Anonymous said...

I've sold one house and two condos on my own, but those were during seller's markets, and I sold both condos to people I knew. It's a lot easier to do a FSBO in a good market. That said, I found the best way to get people in was to advertise an open house, and then make sure the house is sparkling and looking it's best. Also go to other properties in the area when they have open houses, so you can compare the features and price of your mom's house to the competition. Remember, her house either has to be better or cheaper.
Good luck!

Marilyn said...

Eep! What a nightmare. We were huge pains so we ensured that our agent earned ever penny of commission. Otherwise we felt it was just too easy. Things should definitely improve for you all now.

Joanne said...

ILU! Jeez, I thought our agent was bad! The last thing you should be doing is fielding calls yourself if you have an agent.

NV! Thanks for the good wishes!

Anonymous! Thanks for the input. If we weren't already acting as landlords for two of our properties (The Box House and the condo), I'd never even consider trying a FSBO and marketing it ourselves. But what's the worst that can happen? We don't find a buyer ourselves, that's all. Glad to know other people have tackled this successfully.

Marilyn! We weren't after the agent as much as we should have been, because we were so tied up with the new place. But no more slacking. :-) Thanks for your kind thoughts.

Anonymous said...

The Australian website 'Buy My Place' is a good tool that provides great FSBO tips and information. It also allows you to sell your house online without spending a fortune on real estate agent fees.

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