Sell Your House by Yourself - FSBO

The original way to sell your house has always been to sell it by yourself, also known as "for sale by owner," FSBO for short.  The obvious benefit to selling your house by yourself is that you will save a lot of money by not paying any Realtor fees.  Another benefit is that you have complete control over the entire process. 

Here’s how to sell your house by yourself for free in four basic steps which are:  


  1. Get your house ready

  2. Market it

  3. Review, negotiate and accept offers

  4. Open escrow


First step is to get your house in “show ready” condition and to price it.  Pricing is a process that in the interest of keeping this article from getting too long, look out for my article on "How to Price Your House Using Zillow." 

Getting your house show ready means to get your house to look it’s best for photos and all the prospective buyers who will look at it.  I’m going to focus on easy things you can do for no or little money.  And for most of us, the number one thing you can do is to declutter.  In your kitchen, clear your counters as much as possible.  In the living room, remove everything except for your basic furniture.  And don’t stash everything in the closet, buyers will most likely open the closet, you don't want things falling out of there. Get rid of things you don’t use by selling or donating them rather than trashing it. 

Then clean the house top to bottom, inside and out.  Take care of simple fixes that you can do by yourself with a screwdriver or other tools you have.  Clean up your yards, again get rid of things that you don’t use or hide them away.  If there are some bigger repair items, you might want to consider either paying to get those fixed or be ready to take that repair cost into consideration when pricing your house and looking at offers.  I don’t recommend doing any major renovation or remodeling.  The reason why is when you start to take things apart, inevitably some other problem is revealed and things that should be addressed “while you’re in there…”  In my experience, renovation projects always end up going over the original scope of work and budget.


Now that your house is in "show ready" condition and has been priced, the second step is market your house.  Start by taking photographs of your house, and don't worry, you don't need a fancy camera, your smartphone camera should do.  Take photos of the front and back of the house, the yards and then the inside of each room including any pantry, laundry room and garage.  Take photos from the corners of the rooms to show the size as much as possible.  Try to also take photos to include entry ways to each room or area to try to give a sense of the layout.  If your house has special architectural details, be sure to photograph that.  When taking photos, keep in mind that you’re selling the house, not the furniture. 


During this time, you also want to research which escrow company and title insurance service you want to use.  The choice of these two services is negotiable between buyer and seller so it’s good to have your picks ready and to negotiate to use them, so you know a reputable company is used.  It may also be that the buyer will not have a preference. Escrow will hold all the money from the buyer and title transfer to the house until all the paperwork is completed.  Once completed, escrow will pay you the money from the buyer after paying off any loans on the house and other costs and then release title to the buyer.  Escrow will make sure you get the money and the buyer gets the house.  Escrow is a highly specialized service that unfortunately, you will not be able to do yourself. 


Title insurance is not always needed but buyers are recommended to have it and it will be required if the buyer will use a loan to finance the purchase of the house.  Title insurance insures that clear title passes to the buyer.  It’s will protect both the lender and buyer in case there’s any dispute as to ownership of the house later on. 

Find out what these services providers charge and ask for a brief explanation of how they work or operate so you know what to expect. You definitely want to have these two service providers ready so you can immediately open escrow once you accept an offer. You don’t want to accept an offer and cause a delay in the transaction process and have to scramble to find these services. 


After taking photos, use Zillow’s “sell your home” feature to list your house on their site.  So many people are on Zillow, it’s a great way to get your house in front of all the buyers looking in your area.  Write a description of your house stating the basic room count, any special features, any upgrades, additions or anything a buyer will not be able to tell from looking at your house. 

Also include a description about the neighborhood and what you like about both your house and the area.  Read descriptions of other houses to get a sense of how to write it.  Be careful not to write anything discriminatory in the description. 

When uploading the photos, arrange them in a way as a buyer would see it if they were to come over to look at it in logical progression.  Start with the front of the house then going through the front entrance, the rooms after the entrance and so on.  Enter the price you want to sell it at then activate the listing on Zillow. 


After your house is online, people will contact you to see your house so have a showing plan ready.  Will you show your house at a moment’s notice, any time someone wants to see it?  Will you show it only in the evenings after work or only on the weekends?  Safety and theft should also be a part of the showing plan.  Complete strangers will be in your house so have a plan for any kind of emergency.  Let others know when you have showings and have them check in with you afterwards.  Don’t leave valuables out in plain sight, preferably locked up.  And in this day of covid-19, will you require people wear masks inside your house?  Or provide proof of vaccination before the showing, sign waivers, etc?  It’s your house, you set the rules.  


Pretty soon you’ll get offers and step three is to review, negotiate as necessary, then accept an offer.  The key things you should look for in an offer are:  
  • How much are they offering
  • How are they going to pay for it, cash or down payment and loan
  • Did they provide a bank statement showing they have the cash or a loan pre-approval letter (or both)
  • What contingencies are they asking for
  • How many days are they asking for to close
  • What costs, if any, are they asking you to pay
  • Are there any special or out of the ordinary terms or conditions 

The price they are offering will obviously be the biggest factor, but how they are paying should be considered as well.  Someone might offer less but will pay cash and close quickly.  The time saved from a quick close could mean you will save in monthly carrying costs.  Someone might offer you more but may be putting less down and using a bigger loan that could have stricter underwriting criteria.  Stricter underwriting could lead to delays and even possibly a cancellation if the buyer can’t get the loan to work.  You also want to make sure their bank statement shows they have enough cash for the down payment and closing costs. Not having enough cash ready to go, for instance they plan to cash out an investment fund or are awaiting gift money, could delay and jeopardize their ability to close.


When you get an offer, you have three ways to respond:  accept, reject or counter.  If you like the offer, you can accept and open escrow.  If you don’t like it, you can reject it.  If you like some parts of the offer but not the others, you can negotiate for a better deal by sending back a counter offer asking to change those parts you don’t like.  If you counter, the buyer now has the same three options you had.  They can accept, reject, or counter, your counter-offer so in the worst case scenario, they could reject, just something to keep in mind.  If they counter back, this process can go back and forth as long as it takes to come to terms.  In a multiple offer situation, you can counter one, several or all the offers to try to get the strongest buyer and best offer possible. 


Once you’ve accepted an offer, the fourth and last step is to open escrow.  After the offer is signed by both parties, send the fully executed offer to your escrow company.  Your escrow company will use the offer as escrow instructions and send separate instructions to you and the buyer with paperwork to be completed.  During escrow, you will have to provide the buyer state required disclosures.  If the buyer has contingencies, refer to the offer/escrow instructions to keep track of these and communicate with the buyer when the contingencies need to be removed or exercised.  


Once all the contingencies are removed, the buyer is pretty much committed and you should begin packing your stuff, if you haven’t by now, and get ready to move out.  Refer again to the offer/escrow instructions as to when the buyer is to get possession of the house, typically it’s the day escrow closes, be ready to be moved out by then.  On the day escrow closes, you’ll have money in the bank and the sale will be completed.  


Congratulations!  You just saved yourself a lot of money by selling your house by yourself without a realtor.