The For-Sale-By-Owner Problem No One Talks About

Real estate has many ways it can be sold, and each approach has secrets. You can dig around online or talk with industry professionals and learn many of these secrets.

However, that does not mean you will be aware of every obstacle.

This is the case of one big unspoken problem for For-Sale-By-Owner (“FSBO”) transactions that frequently impedes the sale of homes by their owners.


First, let me give a quick background, then I’ll discuss the problem and its impact.

As most know, For-Sale-By-Owner is popular for some homeowners for a variety of reasons. For some, it is the avoidance of real estate commissions, while others in super-hot markets can find this approach easy enough for the owner.

For Sale By Owner

There are also a few people who choose this approach as a matter of financial principles (regardless of the money). These are the anti-Realtor people, and some may even take less money for their home just so they don’t participate in the traditional real estate brokerage model.

Conversely, some owners avoid FSBO due to various challenges (which, whether you agree or not, are often cited by real estate agents).

These oft-spoken challenges to For-Sale-By-Owner include establishing a viable, market-correct listing price and access to marketing for the home on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Then add in the hesitancy of some agents to bring buyers to FSBOs, and the paperwork and process challenges of moving a home from “For Sale” to sold.

The Best Solution is The Best Solution

I want to be very clear that while I am in the real estate brokerage business, I am not anti-FSBO.

If my team is doing their job right, and other agents are doing their job right, we should provide a better outcome than alternatives. If we fail in our duties, then that failure is on us, not the consumer who finds a better solution.

I believe that the best solution for the customer is the best solution.

The real estate market is huge, and there will never be one singular market approach. I believe there is room for both For-Sale-By-Owner and the brokerage models in their many versions.

Why Has FSBO Not Gained More Market Traction?

When we decided to take leadership roles at Lake Homes Realty, we first spent fifteen months evaluating all types of real estate business models.

During this evaluation, one of the questions I found particularly interesting was this:

chalk drawing of for-sale-by-owner-house with key in doorway next to $100 bill

In this day of easy access to information, including “how to sell a home,” why have For-Sale-By-Owner transactions not made a bigger dent in market share of real estate across the country?

There was a time where real estate brokers were the almost sole keepers of “how to sell a home and complete the transaction.” But that day is long gone.

So if the “how to” is now easily available to anyone online, and many MLSs now allow listing FSBO properties, what’s keeping FSBO from dominating real estate?

The Secret Problem No One Discusses

The answer to my question includes the challenges I noted above. This includes how to obtain market exposure and concerns about properly executing the paperwork.

There is also one other problem confronting FSBO sellers, the unspoken challenge: Greater than normal “price separation.”

Put another way, the sellers AND buyers both believe THEY should get the money that would have gone to agent commission.

And that is a monster obstacle in negotiations.

For Example

Let me explain it like this: Bob is selling his home using a For-Sale-By-Owner approach. He has done a number of real estate transactions before and has the home listed on the local MLS. Bob has embraced FSBO to save the cost of agent commission.

Bob is comfortable with the process, knows what he is doing, and sees no reason to pay an agent for work he is very capable of doing himself. This is reasonable and practical.

Here’s the hitch. Sally, the potential buyer for Bob’s home, knows Bob won’t be paying a commission. So Sally believes that without a commission to be paid, the price should be discounted.

FSBO Buyers are “Looking for a Deal!”

In other words, buyers often look at FSBOs when they are looking “for a deal.”

In exchange for “a deal,” buyers will accept some additional discomfort with risks (perceived or real) of buying a home without an agent’s assistance. But there better be a price advantage!

The buyers may not even be able to verbalize this feeling. However, their logic has some method to it.

FSBO home buyers shaking hands

The voice in their head tells them that if comparable homes sell for some consistent price, which includes the agent commission, then by logical deduction those homes’ actual value must be less.

Since this seems logical, the buyer believes they deserve that amount as a price discount. And any owner who wants to keep that amount is often seen as greedy and unreasonable.

This leads to the buyer and seller having a much larger than normal gap between them about price expectations. And this occurs with no third-party in the middle to explain or negotiate this gap.

Each party genuinely believes they are right and cannot understand why negotiations struggle (if there is even an offer to begin with).

The Odd Agent Impact on Price Separation

This price separation is a reason I believe many former-FSBO homes sell faster once represented by an agent. Why? Once buyers see an agent is involved they tend to lose some of the  FSBO-anchored expectation of getting “a deal.”

Are there homes where the owner really will drop the price and the home sells?  Of course.

However, this action actually perpetuates the expectation for other buyers that FSBO is where you find the lowest prices. That is, it reinforces the believe that FSBO is where you go to find low price “deals.”

Stacking pennies for for-sale-by-owner home purchase

And yes, there are many transactions where the FSBO owner and buyer negotiated a price they both found acceptable.

These can occur anywhere but is most common in very active “hot” markets, where marketing is not as critical and buyers know homes will sell in only a couple of days.  This is a feeding frenzy that negates the buyers thoughts of finding a low price. They just want to get a house before they are gone.

Outside of these transactions, many FSBO owners finally give up the approach and engage a real estate agent. What they don’t realize is that in addition to whatever skills and tools the agent brings, this action alone changed buyer expectations to some degree (regardless of the capabilities and skills of their new agent).

Is There a Solution?

Is there a solution for For-Sale-By-Owner sellers to this issue (beyond engaging a real estate agent to represent them)?

I can’t say. And not because I need to defend the brokerage model. (Heck, if I could solve this challenge, there is a big business opportunity in having that answer!)

This problem of an exaggerated price separation is not limited to FSBO, it is just greatly enhanced. It remains true that buyers and sellers the world over often disagree on an acceptable price.

What I can say is that FSBO sellers and buyers have to work through more issues than each may realize.

It can be done, but it is always best to plan your financial transactions by understanding as much as possible about the property, the transaction process, the market, and, of course, the target customer (the buyer).

While it may not always work, my suggestion for the FSBO seller is to address this unspoken challenge head-on.

Talk with potential buyers about the FSBO approach and have very good data to support the current market value of the home.

Sellers will either get better engagement from buyers or they will learn more about the market behavior of these buyers.

2 thoughts on “The For-Sale-By-Owner Problem No One Talks About

  1. Great article. I think it’s true. We bought our first house for-sale-by-owner and I think it was priced at market value. It was exactly what we wanted and we really didn’t haggle. I think that both the sellers and us were reasonable about the price…so it can be done.

    That being said, it would not have worked if the house was not in great condition. We really could have used a real estate agent to make sense of the home inspection report and determine if the deficiencies noted were “normal” or warranted a price reduction. It was only after talking to several of my coworkers and friends that I realized that the deficiencies were not egregious and we agreed to go through with the sale.

    There was a fair bit of anxiety about not having any representation or guidance, and the closing moved fairly slowly as a result. I took my time researching each step. The sellers did not rush us, and if they had, I’m not sure that the transaction would have gone through.

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