By ARIAN SMEDLEY
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Savanna Forbes grabs a Swiffer mop to pick up a few stray dust bunnies before the open house she is holding in her Manhattan apartment. She has already printed out full-color flyers and tucked away dishes, books and personal items she considers unsightly.
It's all part of her effort to take on the risky real estate business without the aid of a real estate agent. Forbes is selling For Sale By Owner — FSBO, in real-estate speak.
"This is not normal living," she said, laughing. "It's unnatural. I'm a tidy person, but not a paper is out of place."
But despite all her efforts, Forbes is prepping a home for no one to see. Her open house gets no visitors.
In the past, people who sold their own homes could pocket the commission that otherwise goes to a broker. But in today's tough housing market, doing it yourself isn't so easy.
"Two years ago, homes were selling overnight, and all you really needed was a yard sign," said Steve Udelson, CEO of owners.com, a resource site for buyers and sellers.
Now, sellers need to be more flexible by sharing the work - and commission - with a buyer's agent, Udelson said.
The National Association of Realtors says 12 percent of home sellers went it alone in 2007, a drop from 18 percent in 1997. But Udelson says that number is misleading because it fails to count the nine percent of sellers who went without a real estate agent but added their homes to a home listings database.
"When you add that into the 12, we're really talking about 21 percent of the market sells by owner. It's a hidden trend," he says, adding that subscriptions to his site have increased over the last seven years.
Forbes is prepared to offer 3 percent of the sale price to an agent who brings in a buyer. She's even listed on a Multiple Listing Service, for about $400. It'll be worth it if it brings in more people, she said.
Mark Camphaug, president of freefsbo.com, another buyer and seller resource site, said many sellers fail because they're "marketing-challenged." It's no longer enough to list in local papers and free online sites. Investing in the Multiple Listing Service is "a no-brainer," he said.
Having a clean and staged home could also mean a quicker sale, says Sabrina Soto, host of HGTV's Get it Sold. Staging highlights the best features of a home during an open house.
"Look at it as a buyer," Soto said. "Buyers tend to overestimate the cost of repairs. And in the market we're in right now, nobody wants a to-do list."
Forbes takes the extra work and the extra cost in stride because she knows it's part of the process - even if it means she has to clean the dishes after every meal. But she realized her apartment, priced at $495,000, was too much. With the help of a friend who's a real estate agent, she compared it to prices of recently sold apartments in the area and settled on the new price of $439,000. Since the price change, people have come. She's even shopped around for a real estate lawyer who'll take over once she receives an offer.
"I think the new price and stepped-up marketing has helped," she said.
Even for the experienced seller, finding the right price is the hardest part of selling, said Mike Malkasian, president of fsbo.com, another listing and resource site. Sellers tend to overprice because of an emotional attachment, he said.
In Brooklyn, Sheryl Miller put her two-family house up for sale last summer. After living there for 10 years and making significant upgrades, she thought her first offer of $700,000 was too low. The house appraised at $800,000; her asking price was $750,000.
She decided to wait.
"If I could do it again, I'd price it below $750,000, but try to keep it above $700,000," Miller said. "I should've priced more aggressively. I lost out on
After three months with no other offers, Miller took it off the market. The dream of her family living life at a slower pace in Maryland will have to wait.