As one of the few home inspectors that receives a lot of business from buyers looking for for-sale-by-owner houses (“FSBO” for short) I hear a lot from my clients about how they’ve come to find these houses. Given that the Buffalo housing market is starved for inventory, hunting for FSBO homes is a great way for sometimes cash-tight buyers to gain an advantage over those shopping for real estate in the open market.
What is a FSBO?
FSBO stands for “for sale by owner”. Just as it sounds, owners of these homes feel that using a real estate agent isn’t the right thing to do. FSBO homes aren’t listed on the multiple listing service used by real estate agents and brokers, so the house may essentially be invisible to those using an agent to help them buy a house. FSBOs may not even be advertised for sale!
Why do homeowners choose to go down the FSBO path?
Most of the time, those who are selling via the for sale by owner path are looking to save money on the sales commission that’s split between real estate agents involved in the sale.
Traditionally in the Buffalo area, sales commissions amount to between 5-6% of a home’s sale price, with the fee being split between the listing agent and buying agents. To get more specific, the brokerages that these agents represent typically get significant takes as well, but they always are taken out of that 5-6% total.
Some owners of real estate aren’t even actively trying to sell their house, townhome, patio home or condo. Instead, they are encountered by a creative home shopper who took the initiative to get creative in order to save themselves some serious money.
What are some creative ways to find a FSBO property?
As the owner of Alto Home Inspection, LLC I’m always curious when I hear that a client is buying an unlisted property. Occasionally I hear of novel ways that the buyer came upon the opportunity to by the home.
Much of this creativity is driven by the desire for buyers to actually be able to afford a house. They often have tried buying a home through a real estate agent, only to have been either outbid numerous times or in general just been outpriced out of the limited number of homes that were on the market.
I was surprised to learn that sellers often weren’t even looking to sell until they connected with their buyer. They were contacted at just the right time, and chose to sell the house and begin making moves that maybe they were thinking about for years.
What are the best ways to find FSBO homes?
There are a variety of ways that creative buyers use to seek out for sale by owner properties. These are just a few that I’ve hear about from my home inspection clients:
Posting on local or neighborhood Facebook groups has the distinct advantage of bringing your message close to the neighborhoods that you’d like to buy into.
Join groups for the town, village or subdivision that you’d like to live in, and post a message that describes the type of home that you’d like to buy. Be clear about the size of the home, location, lot size and anything else that might help the message resonate with the owner.
If you are lucky, the owner or their friend might see the message and lead to a golden opportunity for you.
Old-fashioned bulletin boards
At least one of my home inspection clients has found a FSBO townhome after posting a flyer on a bulletin board in the association clubhouse or office. The home shoppers simply visited the neighborhood office and posted a direct and clear message on the clubhouse corkboard. The same approach can be used for a condo building or patio home community center.
Make sure your message is direct and to the point, stating that you are looking to buy, and providing your name and contact information. If you are in the position of being able to buy with cash, make that known as well since it’s a major advantage for you in the eyes of the townhouse owner.
FSBO Listing Websites
FSBO listing sites such as FSBO.com, Zillow and forsalebyowner.com are great marketplaces that can connect buyers and sellers. If you’re looking to avoid working with a realtor, then these are solid choices.
But these sites won’t help you dig out opportunities that didn’t exist before you asked. The other methods I described above I think are best if you’re trying to produce an opportunity to buy that simply wasn’t there before.
Cautions when buying FSBO
A traditional residential real estate transaction in Western NY involves a real estate agent for both the buyer and seller, and also an attorney for both sides of the transaction. This framework brings with it advantages and disadvantages.
As the buyer, make sure that you have an attorney on your side. Although a real estate transaction in Erie county can take place without one, an attorney’s fee is relatively inexpensive compared to the other costs involved in buying a house.
In terms of home inspections for FSBO buyers, my observation is that the sellers are generally unaware of the customs involved in certain aspects of the process. And I’ve noticed that buyers sometimes are looking for direction when it comes to the results of the home inspection.
A few tips:
- Ask the seller to be away from the home during the scheduled home inspection time. It doesn’t help anything to have them there, and it can make things more difficult.
- Engage the services of a real estate attorney and plan ahead so that you have a plan for what to if the home inspection reveals that expensive repairs are required. Typically when a real estate agent is involved, the results of a home inspection are used as a point of negotiating on the sale price.
- If you don’t know the seller, bring someone with you when you look at the home. You never know who the seller is, and you don’t want to risk personal harm.
How to set your offer on a FSBO?
The general approach for real estate agents is to research recent sales of comparable properties, determine a cost per square foot of the home, adjust that cost up or down based on the quality of the property (and years of experience + magic), and then apply that cost per square foot to the size of the subject home.
You can do this same research by searching for comparable sales on realtor.com, Zillow or others, and attempt to come up with a good offer. Without a real estate agent on your side, this all can become quite tricky.
Is it better to use an agent?
This is impossible to say, because everyone’s situation is different. I know without a doubt that some Alto Home Inspection’s clients wouldn’t have been able to buy their homes if they were using an agent. The personal approach that the buyers took in finding the unlisted property simply wouldn’t have worked if an agent was involved.
In more complicated situations a real estate agent would be able to read the situation differently, perhaps saving the buyer lots of $$$.
In the end it’s the choice of the buyer. If nothing else, make sure you have a qualified real estate attorney on your side, and that they are guiding you through the process.