Out on their own
Those who go without realtors still may opt for marketing help
By Brenda J. Buote, Globe Staff | September 11, 2005

After buying and selling two properties in Revere with the help of an agent, Mike DeSimone decided to cut out the middle man and close his next real estate deal on his own.

''It meant more money in my pocket," said DeSimone, 35, who now lives in River View, Fla., just outside of Tampa. ''I figured there was no point in paying someone a big sales commission to do something that I could do myself."

And the payoff?

DeSimone accepted an offer within the first two weeks. A young couple bought the townhouse for $296,000, just shy of his asking price of $299,900 and considerably more than the $205,000 he paid for it in 2003. After paying the couple's agent a 2 percent commission, he walked away from the settlement table with a tidy profit: $85,080.

Tales like DeSimone's are causing some sellers to question the need to pay an agent a commission to peddle their property. Each year, about 6 percent of the 70,000 Massachusetts residents who sell their homes do so without an agent, according to John Dulczewski, spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

At a time when some sellers are spending big bucks to hire experts to primp, prune, and paint their homes to ensure a quick sale, others are choosing to go it alone. This plucky group is putting its marketing and negotiating skills to the test to avoid paying a broker the traditional commission of up to 5 percent.

For a home worth $364,900 -- the average price of a detached, single-family home in Massachusetts -- that could translate into a savings of $18,245.

It may seem like a good money-saving strategy for those who can't afford to pay an agent or have little equity in their home, but sellers should tread carefully. Experts in the real estate business, and not just the agents and brokers who have sales commissions at stake, are quick to point out that selling a home involves a lot of work.

''Getting top dollar for your home in any market requires brains, creativity, and hard work," said Bruce N. Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Foundation, a national nonprofit group based in Arlington, Va. ''Many sellers don't have the requisite time or inherent marketing skills to market their own home effectively."

Those with full-time jobs or many other responsibilities might want to take the traditional route and hire an agent, Hahn said, because sellers face tough questions when they put their home on the market: How do I know the buyer is qualified? How much of a deposit should I require? Who should hold the deposit? How do I market my property? What should I include in my sales contract to protect me?

With so many questions to answer, and so much at stake, sellers who forge ahead without the help of an agent might be wise to consider hiring other experts -- an appraiser to determine the right price for the property, a handyman to make necessary repairs, and a real estate attorney to review contracts.

Savvy sellers are turning to the Internet to market their properties and seeking companies that will put their homes on the Multiple Listing Service, the database used by all real estate agents, for a flat fee.

''We've put together a listing sheet with a detailed description of the home and photos of its best features -- the vaulted ceilings and renovated kitchen -- and put a bunch of 'For Sale' signs around the neighborhood, but even with all the foot traffic that comes through this area, we thought that might not be enough," said Megan Cronin. She and her husband, Paul, are trying to sell their two-family home in Salem, by the House of Seven Gables, for $589,000. ''So we paid a broker to list our home. We saw it as a way to expose the home to a large audience, and still save on commission."

In Merrimac, Helen Hodgdon owns and operates the You Decide Realty Coop, a company that places properties on the multiple list and provides assistance to sellers for a flat fee of $699.

''We help with the transaction, look over the contracts, and act as escrow agent if the seller asks us to," said Hodgdon, who has been a real estate agent for 21 years. ''The only thing that we do not do is show properties. We leave that to the owners."

You Decide was the perfect fit for Elyse Simmons, 47, who was wary about selling her two-bedroom Peabody condo on her own, but didn't want to pay a hefty real estate commission. ''I can call Helen at any time, and she advises me. She even pre-qualifies people, so I'm not wasting my time showing the condo to people who aren't serious about buying."

Several sellers in the region who chose to go it alone said getting their properties placed on the Multiple Listing Service and publishing detailed descriptions and photographs of their homes on the Internet were key to successful sales.

''I believe our condo sold because of Pat's program," said Karen Pesa, 30, of Wakefield, referring to Pat Rioux of listforless.com, a company that charges sellers a flat fee of $555 to place their homes on the multiple list and market the properties on real estate websites. ''The couple who bought our home had seen it on the Internet.

''Some full-service realtors will insinuate that people need them more now because of the recent slowdown in the market, but that is not true," said Rioux. ''No matter what the market is doing, a home will sell if it is a good value for the money."

DeSimone's advice: ''Make the house as presentable as possible. Do your homework and price it right. In the end, it's all about patience and timing."

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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