Sell Your Property on Your Own vs Using an Agent

It’s the KIWI spirit to Do-It-Yourself and this extends to private sales of homes. After all, who doesn’t like to save money? To many, selling a house may seem nothing more than taking photographs, putting them on TradeMe and doing open homes. According to some, “real estate agents are ‘parasites’ who are ‘raking it in’ by doing nothing since the house will sell itself.” 

In this article, I set out relevant factors you should consider when deciding between conducting a private sale and using an agent to sell your house. (Full disclosure: I am a real estate agent.)

Why would you conduct a private sale?

1. COST

Of course, savings on the real estate commission you would otherwise pay to an agent is the biggest factor. You can calculate a rough estimate of how much you save based on the sale price. Here is a quick estimate – 3% of sales price. Given that Eastern Bays’ properties generally cost upwards of $1 million dollars, that’s generally a $30,000 saving!

However, the exact commission may differ (based on agency/particular agents) and buyers can do the same calculation (and may estimate a larger amount) and expect to fully benefit from the savings. Otherwise, why would they buy privately? 

In a stable/stagnant market with more listings than potential buyers and longer listing times, the bargaining power will not lie with the sellers. The ‘commission’ saved will likely accrue mostly to the buyer who buys significantly below true market value. You will therefore need to consider the local market conditions. Also, the marketing costs will sometimes be covered within the commission if the sale is successful. This reduces the amount saved. 

Moreover, buyers of private listings will often need to obtain a registered valuation for the purposes of obtaining the mortgage. Such a valuation may be significantly less than that of what you (and a competitive market) value the house at. In short, expect to deal with many low-ball offers and unrealistic buyers.

2. Control

In a private sale process, you may think you have more control of the sale and negotiation process because you will:

  • deal directly with potential buyers,
  • hear their feedback,
  • specify viewing times, and
  • design your own advertising campaigns.

You think you know your own property best, so you are able to let potential buyers know about its outstanding features. All these may be absolutely true from a factual perspective.

But think from the buyer's perspective!

However, some buyers are not comfortable about looking at your house while you are there. Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Will you criticise a seller whose house has dated carpet and kitchens, along with a bad paint job? Most will not because they feel inhibited about discussing things they do not like.

Agents can better respond to common objections given their experience and are better placed to address the concerns potential buyers may have and help them arrive at a solution

For example, we recently had a listing in Remuera where buyers were commenting that the house smelled damp and dark. As agents, we were able to objectively state that there was no such smell and it was because the house is old and has not been renovated for over 20 years. The lack of light can be easily solved by changing the tinted door which blocks the natural light.

In another instance, we were selling a 3 bedroom house with a separate 2 bedroom annex in Glendowie. Many families with 4 children commented that they didn’t like how their children could not all be under one roof. We suggested installing a simple Louvretec roof to connect the two separate accommodation and yet still keep the configuration of the house flexible for the time when their children leave home and they have guests over.

Why not let the agent do the hard work, faster and better

Can you also rush home from work every time someone wants to view? Probably not but a good agent can plan open homes and house viewings around your schedule with proper communication. My day often consists of shuttling between my office at Patteson Ave, Mission Bay to other listings. Buyers often do not give much notice when they want to see a house and that one timing might be the only time they are available before they have to go out of town for a while. Do you want to miss a potential sale because you could not accommodate the timing of that buyer?

Real estate agents can help you:

  • draft attractive advertisements,
  • filter out the time-wasters and only show homes at specified times,
  • negotiate with the bargain-hunters (there is a reason why these people often show up in private sales, looking for a deal from an inexperienced vendor), and
  • highlight features that are relevant to particular segments of buyers.

For example, large closet space and backyard space may be attractive to a family but less relevant to a professional couple who values a low-maintenance garden. 

Agents work with buyers all the time and are likely to be better placed to portray your house in the best possible light to the appropriate audience. 

This does not mean that you should outsource everything to the agent. You can certainly do so if you so wish. However, the best outcomes often occur when the agent works closely with the vendor to understand the vendor’s personality and the property’s characteristics. This then translates into a better marketing campaign that everyone is happy with. (Read more here about my guide to picking and working with your agent.)

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3. No Harm Trying

Some sellers think that they will try selling privately first and if they fail, list with an agent. That may work in some situations. However, what they fail to consider is that active buyers are often familiar with the local market and new listings. When a property has been on the market for a couple of months, buyers will suspect there has previously been little/no competition for the property and reduce their offer. This is so even after the old listing has been taken off and then relisted.

Time is money. You may also have missed the best season to sell by wasting time doing it yourself. 

Owners who are approached by private buyers are often tempted (by the buyers) to sell privately to them and “cut out the middleman”. Although the idea is enticing and the price may even be “attractive”, one should thoroughly consider the following points:

  • While advertising and open homes may often be viewed as troublesome, they are necessary to give your property maximum exposure to the widest possible pool of buyers. The reason why buyers love private sales (and shun auctions) is precisely the lack of buyer competition (and therefore price competition) to your detriment. Is the price offered a really good price in the absence of buyers’ competition?
  • Why not consider a quiet listing with an agent? No public promotion or advertising is carried out. Instead, potential buyers from a large database of buyers are introduced to the property. In this case, you will benefit from increased exposure of your property to a larger pool of possible active buyers and price competition, without undergoing a full blown advertising and open home campaign.
  • Who is truly benefiting from the absence of commission? You or the buyer who lacks legal recourse to agents/REAA should anything go wrong and presumably has factored that discount and risk into his/her offer?

Conclusion

For every successful private sale story (and likely in a buoyant/rising market with an attractively-priced property), there are many others who were entirely unsuccessful and/or dissatisfied with the process or the ultimate outcome. You can be sure their stories are left untold – who likes to publicly admit that they could have done better? 

Such experiences (which I have personally seen) include lengthy delays on the market, wasted showings to ‘potential buyers’, protracted negotiations with bargain hunters which becomes demoralising or an entire waste of time and shockingly-low final sale prices.

Why should you sell with an agent?

When you list your home with an agent, you are paying for their loyalty, experience, skills, contacts and professional regulation. Very often, complaints about selling with agents arise because those vendors chose incompetent and/or dishonest ones. It does not mean all agents are like that. 

1. Loyalty

Their loyalty is owed to you, the vendor and because you are paying them on a successful sale, you ultimately control the sale. 

Real estate agents work entirely on commission and are paid only when their work satisfies you (i.e. you have accepted an offer at a price with the conditions that you are satisfied with). Real estate agents also owe a fiduciary duty to you to act in your best interest. Therefore, they have a responsibility to you to achieve the best possible price for your property.

2. Experience

Real estate agents are experienced in selling houses and dealing with different parties in a typical selling process. These parties can include buyers, other agents, lawyers, brokers, valuers, building inspectors and council representatives.

A competent agent understands the local property market very well (including very recent sales that will not show up in publicly available databases and which offers the best comparative pricing for your property). They can therefore help price your property accordingly. 

An experienced and/or competent real estate agent (find out how to weed a bad one from a good one here) can help you:

  • get your house ready for sale,
  • point out building code or zoning violations, and
  • suggest improvements or staging requirements (or even none at all if that is appropriate for the target market) to help your house sell.

We recently appraised a starter home in Glendowie that had a slightly unusual configuration. However, with some creative thinking, we were able to suggest ways to stage a particular part of the living room so that it added more value for the house.

When dealing with buyers, real estate agents also weed out the serious ones from a dreamer or a curious neighbour by asking specific questions. These questions (for e.g. is finance approved?) may not be appropriate or uncomfortable for a private seller to ask. 

In a stable property market (i.e. when prices, sales volumes and buyer demand are relatively stable), experienced real estate agents — who have seen this phase numerous times and know how to operate in its dynamics — add value to the negotiating process for both parties to successfully bring a deal to fruition.

3. Skills

Selling your home can be a very emotional and stressful process. Having an agent keeps you one step removed and makes you less likely to make stupid mistakes such as overpricing your home, refusing to counter a low offer because you are offended or giving in too easily when you have a deadline for selling. Good agents have the necessary communication and negotiating skills to negotiate the best possible price for your property and maintain a professional relationship with various buyers and not get affected by their feedback. 

“A real estate agent can follow up with buyers without communicating a sense of eagerness or desperation; following up is what they are paid to do. When a seller repeatedly checks, it signals (rightly or wrongly) the possible desperation and willingness to accept a lower price.”

4. Contacts and large database

Nothing beats an army of real estate agents with a financial incentive to sell your home (nope, not even TradeMe). Even if you have a large personal or professional network, those people will be unlikely to have any interest in spreading the word that your house is for sale. 

Agents network with other agents all the time to understand the various properties on sale so that they can introduce the most appropriate property for the buyers they are in contact with. For example, I talk often with the Ray White Eastern Bays team to learn more about properties that they are marketing so that I can introduce suitable ones for my buyers. Similarly, agents are always in close contact with buyers who may have specific requirements and they will likely encourage these buyers to view suitable properties. Agents who may have buyers that are interested in your property will not introduce those buyers to a private seller because no commission is payable (nobody is willing to work for free, right?). These reasons explain why the pool of buyers for private sellers is significantly smaller, which consequently translates into a lower price. 

“A good real-estate agent should have a Rolodex of names and contact information so he or she can quickly spread the word about the property they just listed.”

5. Professional Regulation

Real estate agents are licensed professionals who must follow the standards set out in the Code of Professional Conduct and Client Care and meet their obligations under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008. There are numerous rules governing the conduct of real estate agents, including rules around conflict of interest, disclosure of sensitive issues and marketing. The Real Estate Authority will not hesitate to crack down on errant agents for misconduct (including deception) so remember to check the public register to see if there has been prior investigations or adverse rulings against particular agents. 

Such regulation do not cover private sellers. Hence there is a smaller pool of buyers who are willing to take the risk of buying a property from unregulated sellers. Sellers’ duties of disclosure to buyers can also be onerous and expose the sellers to legal liability. Good real estate agents have the experience and professional training to navigate such treacherous waters.

Overall conclusion

If you are thinking about whether to sell a property privately or through an agent, consider your personal circumstances, personality and motivation for selling. There are definitely certain (limited) circumstances that may suit a private sale. There are also private house buyers who offer cash for quick transactions. Tread really carefully – these are often the ones that make the news for the wrong reasons

In many other cases, going with a competent real estate agent who is active in, and understands, the local market and the ‘Art of the Deal’ and, most importantly, have your best interests at heart may be the more financially rewarding and less stressful journey.

If you are thinking about selling and would like to have an honest (absolutely no-obligation!) appraisal of your home or just want to understand the current property market in your area, feel free to get in touch.

Found this post useful and have more questions?

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Contact Ruoxi Wang

Ruoxi Wang, Eastern Suburbs' Specialist, ray white, orakei, mission bay, kohimarama, st heliers, st johns, glendowie, top real estate agent