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 A Simple FSBO Guide

How To Sell A House - For Sale By Owner

in the Upstate, Central & Western New York Regions
(includes Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Finger Lakes, & Buffalo)

By Robert J. Piazza, Real Estate Broker and Owner of Northern Star Realty
All Rights Reserved 2013

Northern Star Realty's Flat fee MLS programs allow the for sale by owner to continue selling on their own without any commissions if they sell to their own buyer so here is some basic knowledge to help you do that or if you want to try selling on your own first. Many of these tips apply no matter how you are selling. Many of our customers have sold FSBO with all the exposure we got them through our proven Flat Fee MLS programs. The more successful our customers are, the more successful we are, it's that simple. It is a win win as word gets out!


STEP 1: Pricing a For Sale By Owner listing

 Most sellers generally have a pretty good idea what their house is worth but at times it can be difficult especially if you have been in the house for a long time or in rapidly changing market conditions. When pricing a house, you should price it the same as appraisers, lenders and RealtorsŪ do. They use recent sales as comparables going back 1 year or sometimes 6 months. The sales comparables should be of the same style, same general area, and similar square footage. Features are important too but not as important as what was previously mentioned. Keep in mind, it does not matter at all what you paid for the house. The real estate market is very similar to the stock market in that a house is worth what it is worth on a given day. The market changes based on supply and demand.  In this region, pricing has been pretty steady over the last 20 yrs or so without a lot of huge fluctuations up or down unlike other parts of the country. In addition to recent sales comparables you will want to see what the competition is selling for since buyers will be shopping your house against the competition before making an offer. It would be helpful also to see what has expired (has not sold while listed) and what is "pending" or awaiting closing but that info would be difficult for a FSBO without having MLS access. You can find current competition however on a variety of public MLS sites and "for sale by owner" properties on various sites as well. You can find "sold" comparable through public records. Bottom line is you have to compare yours with others that have sold within a year or so, those "pending" now, expired from the market and current competition. Keep in mind the lender will require the appraiser to find those very houses once your house is sold or they will not be giving the buyer a mortgage. Your price has to be in line with the comparables or it will not appraise and thus no sale.

Public MLS sites (for viewing available listed competition)  

 Rochester NY Public MLS Site
Buffalo NY Public MLS Site
Syracuse NY Public MLS Site

Albany NY Public MLS

Public Records  (for finding out comparables on any property)
Note : Some of the local town tax sites have property info also

Public records

Don't make the common mistake of starting at a high price to "test the water" or "I can always come down" type thinking. Price it right from the start when it's new to the market and activity levels are highest. You will get more money. The longer a house is on the market, the less money you will get. If you are looking to buy a house, isn't the first question "how long has it been on the market?" This is the single biggest mistake a seller will make. Everybody thinks their house is the best but if you start out too high, you will lose the high initial traffic new listings get and once you lower it, the traffic will not be there. The buyers for that will have moved on and you will be selling to new buyers who want to know how long it's been on the market. If you ignore all the other tips in this article, don't ignore this one!

STEP 2: House Research

Square Footage
You have to have all your ducks in order when selling a house FSBO. You will need to know the correct square footage so you can get comparables and to advertise to buyers. Most town tax offices (assessor) have square footage on file, many are available online. Square footage listed on tax records is not always 100% accurate so if you want double check it, you will have to measure the outside of the house length x width x the number of stories. Basement square footage can only be counted if it is heated, has full size windows, and has a separate walkout. It's best to round down conservatively when not sure rather than overstate. The appraiser will verify the square footage once the house is sold and it better be close or you may have a problem with your buyer.

You will need to obtain the "true" taxes on your property. True taxes are the actual amount without any exemptions like NYS Star exemption, veterans exemption or senior exemption. There is a town & county figure, a school figure, and possibly a village or city tax. You should advertise the "true" figure but you can tell buyers about possible exemptions. All MLS listed properties reflect "true" taxes as well. Here are the big "3".

Rochester Area  Find Monroe County Property Tax Info Here

 Syracuse Area   Find Onondaga County Tax Info Here

Buffalo Area  Find Erie County Tax Info Here

Albany Area  Find Albany County Tax Info Here

You will want to find out what all the schools are for your house including district, high school, middle school, and elementary school. It would also be helpful to know if kids have to walk or take the bus. You may not have kids in the system but your prospective buyer may.

improvements & warranties
You will want to round up all your receipts of all your improvements to the house. Some sellers make a little book of them to show with brochures of the items. It is good selling practice for sellers to list or advertise when certain items were improved and who did them. Also find any transferrable warranties that might apply. Buyers feel at ease knowing when items were replaced and that the house was properly cared for by the seller. You spent the money on the improvements so why not advertise them?


STEP 3: Preparing To Show as a For Sale By Owner


You  don't get a second chance at a first impression. A well-manicured lawn, shrubs, and a clutter free exterior welcome prospects, so does a freshly painted or freshly scrubbed front door. The fewer obstacles between prospects and the true appeal of your home, the better. Remember when a potential buyer is standing at your front door ringing your doorbell or knocking, they are looking around. Is there peeling paint or shoes laying around or any kind of mess, dirty glass, anything at all to turn them off as they wait? Does the doorbell even work? Make the front entrance inside and out shine, that is where the 1st impression will be made!

Here's your chance to clean up in real estate. Clean up in the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. If your woodwork is scuffed or the paint is fading, consider some minor redecoration. Wash the windows. Prospects would rather see how great your home looks than hear how great it could look with a little work. Clean houses sell faster, much faster. Clean, clean, clean!!! Get rid of the clutter! Paint gives you the biggest bang for your buck, use neutral colors only like beige, tan, or white.  It makes rooms look new, fresh and smell better.

Put all family pictures and portraits away. Buyers need to see a neutral type house where they can envision them living and that is hard if there is a picture of a relative in every room. When you go in a model home, do you see a picture of any relatives on the wall? Hard as it may seem, take the personal pictures down off the walls. Try to make your home look like a model home when it's being shown.


Dripping water rattles the nerves, discolors sinks and suggests faulty or worn-out plumbing. Burned-out bulbs leave prospects in the dark. Don't let little problems detract from what is right about your home.


If cabinets or closet doors stick in your home, you can be sure they will also stick in the prospect's mind. Don't try to explain sticky situations when you can easily plane them away. A little effort can smooth the way towards a closing.


Homeowners learn to live with all kinds of self-set booby-traps: roller skates on the stairs, festooned extension cords, slippery throw rugs and low-hanging overhead lights. Make your residence as non-perilous as possible for visitors.


Remember potential buyers are looking for more than just comfortable living space. They are looking for storage space too. Make sure your attic and basement are clean and free of unnecessary items.


The better organized a closet, the larger it appears. Now's the time to box those unwanted clothes and donate them to charity. Make sure it's well lighted too. The closets need to look as large as possible.


Bathrooms sell homes so let them shine. Check and repair damaged or unsightly caulking in the tubs and showers. For added allure, use your best towels, mats and shower curtains.


Wake up prospects to the cozy comforts of your bedroom. For a spacious look, get rid of excess furniture. Colorful bedspreads and fresh curtains are a must. Let the light in!

"For sale by owners" might consider hiring a professional stager. Stagers use props and redecorating techniques to make the house appear more presentable. Quite often houses that are staged sell quicker. The downside is it can be expensive and impractical if there is a family atmosphere since stagers make the house look almost like a model house with limited furnishings.

STEP 4: Showing the house

Let the sun in. Pull back your curtains and a drapes so prospects can see how bright and cheery your home really is. Be sure your windows are sparkling clean and open them for some fresh air if weather permits.


Turn on the excitement. Turn on all your lights, both inside and out, when showing your home in the evening (or day). Lights add color, warmth, and make prospects feel welcome.


Dogs and cats are great companions, but they are not when you're showing your home. Pets have a talent for getting in the way. Do everybody a favor: keep your dog or cat outside if you can, or at least out of the way. Also, be sure your home does not have any pet odor that could make the buyer feel uncomfortable. Put dog dishes, beds, litter boxes out of sight. Clean up the pet mess in the yard too as buyers will likely be walking around the yard. Having them step in something will not help matters!


Rock 'n roll will never die, but it might kill a real estate transaction. When it's time to show your home, it's time to lower the volume on the stereo and put on some soft music instead. Prospects do not want to be talking over music and will concentrate better if it's low.


Be friendly, and don't try to force conversation. Prospects want to view your home with a minimum of distractions or interruptions.


No matter how humble your abode, never apologize for its shortcomings. If a prospect volunteers a derogatory remark about your home, let it pass and don't argue or try to defend. You must remember that although your home has many pleasant memories, to a buyer it is just more merchandise on the shelf to inspect. Don't take it personal.


When a prospect comes to view your home, don't distract them with offers to sell your furnishings, lawn mowers, and articles. You may lose the biggest sale of all, your home. Include any personal items you are leaving with the house on the fact sheets.


When prospects want to talk about price, terms and conditions, or other real estate matters, it's best not to negotiate verbally. If someone is interested, have them submit a written offer through their attorney.

Try to let customers look at the house when it's convenient for them. It might not be a good time for you but you may not see a second chance with those customers as there are many houses to look at and they may find something else while you are rescheduling. This is one of the biggest mistakes a seller will make by not allowing buyers through when requested. Make the house accessible and easy to get into! Consider an open house at least once preferably twice a month. In upstate NY it is customary for buyers to "wait" for open houses. This is another huge mistake sellers make is not having open houses where practical.

STEP 5: Marketing as a For Sale By Owner (fsbo)

Traditionally sellers had no choice but to advertise in newspapers but things have changed. The newspaper still works but it is very expensive and readership is way down. The internet has changed the game. There are many sites some free, some not. What you need is exposure to sell a house nowadays. Most of the most popular real estate sites are reserved for MLS listings but there still are some for FSBO's like Craigslist.

Fact sheets & Signs
Provide prospective buyers a hand out fact sheet of the house. Mention features and improvements and try to include pictures so they don't confuse yours with others they may be looking at. You could even include a web link to a video of the house so they can "see it again" when they get home.  A sign out front is very helpful and will get the word out fast. A brochure box near the sign with these fact sheets is also helpful for drive by lookers as are new text messaging systems.

Videos/Virtual Tours & Photos
Consider hiring a virtual tour company to produce a online tour of your house or make your own and put on Youtube. The music backdrop makes watching these quite easy and could save time and effort for both you and your prospective buyer. The more photos and videos you have, the better.
Make sure all your photos both online and in print are light and not dark, uncluttered, and with no people or pets in them. Replace winter photos with green grass and sunny ones when possible. Nobody likes looking at winter snow shots of a house in June. Make sure the photos are clear!

Listing options if the house doesn't sell FSBO
If you have tried selling on your own as a FSBO or "for sale by owner" without success, you may want to consider listing with a Realtor before the listing gets "stale". The longer houses are on the market, the harder they become to sell. There are 2 options here. Option #1 is a full service listing or a "exclusive right to sell". This is where you typically pay 6% commission at closing and the Realtor does all the work including open houses, advertising, setting up appointments, negotiating, etc. Note: With this type of listing, even if you found your own buyer, you would still have to pay the full commission. This is the traditional kind of listing you see. The seller of a $150,000 house would pay $9,000 in commissions using a full service broker.
Option #2 is a Flat Fee MLS listing like Northern Star Realty's Flat Fee MLS Program. With this type of listing called an "exclusive agency", you reserve your right to sell on your own without paying any commission and continue on as a FSBO yet you have it in the MLS (Multiple Listing System) at the same time. This gives all the local Realtors access to your listing and you decide how much commission you would pay them when you list, typically 2-3% of the sale price paid at closing. With this type of listing you are either going to save 100% of the commission if you sell on your own or save 50% of the commission if a broker brings you a buyer (3% commission instead of 6%). With this type of listing, you act as your own "listing agent" since you will be setting up appointments and showing the house. We also coach you when you get an offer should you decide to use our service. 

STEP 6: Offer Process & Negotiating

So you have a buyer who wants to buy the house or make an offer, now what? Do not negotiate verbally or it will cost you. All offers should be in writing and generated by the buyer. Do not write the buyers offer for them! The buyer should have their attorney write it on their form and then they should present it to you. There are many items to consider such as mortgage qualifications, inspections, seller concessions, possession, repairs, contingencies, etc. Make sure you get your attorney's written approval on any offer you are accepting. The hardest part for any FSBO is negotiating a fair offer for both parties while protecting the sellers own interest. It would be nice to have someone to coach you during the process since it takes years of experience to learn the art of negotiating and to keep up with all the current mortgage and governmental regulations. Your attorney may be able to help you with projected closing costs by doing a seller net sheet so you can see how much you would actually walk away with.

STEP 7: Closing

Once an offer is accepted, you must stay on top of it. Make sure all inspections get done in a timely manner per the contract. Get a mortgage update from the buyer at least every 1-2 weeks. Make sure to stay informed of any sale contingencies too if there are any. Check on the appraisal to make sure it has been ordered and done since the sale won't happen without that. Talk to your attorney weekly to keep informed of progress on any title work that has been ordered and any potential title or survey issues. Be prepared to let the buyer do a final walk through within 24 hours of the closing.

Selling a house "for sale by owner" is not easy but it can be done even though the odds say you will eventually be listing on the MLS and that's when we hope you will consider using our successful Flat Fee MLS Program to save at least 50% of the commission since we do not charge a listing commission. Good luck with your sale!

Northern Star Realty
Div. of  Northern Star Real Estate, LLC
Robert J. Piazza, Real Estate Broker

Rochester 585-392-8222
Buffalo       716-240-4825
Syracuse   315-760-4594
Albany        866-781-1296
Toll Free     866-781-1296

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