The trouble with FSBO (for sale by owner) for real estate

Some people like to do “For sale by owner” real estate deals, and that’s okay. Each to their own. But when they try and write their own ads, well, they take things to a whole new level. Here’s one I came across in Craigslist. Would you ever do something like this?

“Ok Asheville, I get it. People is broke these days. Therefore I dropped the price on my house to $224,900. Go look at it, and if you don’t like it, then screw you, but I think you will like it.
If you like awesome houses that are recently fixed up. You can jam your loud ass kids in the basement and have some freaking peace and quiet. So if you hate peace and quiet, then look at another house.
If you want your kids to suck as basketball, then also look at another house. This house has a freaking basketball court, for gods sake. There might be some rust around the rim, but your kid can’t dunk, so don’t worry about. I know you think you can dunk, but you can’t, so buy this house.”

It’s just a shame that the photos used were also taken by the owner (rather than a professional like you find here at, so they don’t do justice to such a superb home.

But then maybe I’m missing something, because this honesty seems to be the way it’s done on Craigslist. Here’s another home in Pennsylvania:

“Do you want a low-maintenance home in a relatively stabby-free neighborhood? Do you want to live within walking distance of 5 bars? In the event of a cardiac emergency wouldn’t it be nice to be only 3 blocks away from Lancaster General Hospital? Well, I have the home for you.”

What about those FSBO photos?

So far we’ve talked about sales copy used in FSBO listings, but what about the photos they use?

A lot of real estate agents use bad photos as well, as a site like Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos will tell you:


However, a lot of agents have learned through trial and error, and through the marketing of dozens or even hundreds of properties, that image quality matters. For owners doing a FSBO, that opportunity isn’t available to them – they have to get it right the first time.

So in my view, one of the biggest problems with FSBO is the poor quality marketing, and unfortunately a lot of FSBO real estate websites give advice to the owners on how to take better pictures, rather than advising them to hire a professional photographer.

For example, suggests:

“The 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers shows that 92 percent of buyers use the Internet in their home search and 50 percent use a mobile website or app. With the Internet and mobile apps being so driven by images, it’s never been more important to have high quality, attention-grabbing photos in your listing.”

They then go on to list 7 things that FSBOs should make sure they get right when they are taking their own pictures.

If photos are so critical (and they are), why encourage owners to take their images? It doesn’t make sense.

Now I get that this is perhaps what a lot of FSBO sellers are looking for, as they’re the type of people that try and cut costs everywhere. So they try and save on hiring a real estate agent, just as they try and save on hiring a professional photographer. It’s a big mistake to make. I went looking through the website, and most of the photos I saw on those FSBO listings made the houses look dark, small, and worth far less than they would if they had a quality professional real estate photographer.

Fortunately some FSBO sites like properly understand the importance of having a professional:

“Properly lit, high-resolution photos are the only type of images that should be used in an FSBO home marketing campaign. Like any other sales effort, visual cues are half the battle. Photos taken with a smartphone often turn off potential buyers, and simply can’t measure up to the quality of pictures a professional real estate photographer can deliver.

Resist listing your home until you have photos. With so much competition available online, you only have a few seconds to catch potential buyers’ attention. If they do an Internet search and your home is listed without pictures, they will most likely skip ahead to listings with photos, and won’t come back to yours.”

They also have a marketing package (though admittedly only their top-priced one) that includes professional photography – “We hire and arrange a professional to photograph your home.”:

FSBO real estate

That’s great to see, and I hope more and more FSBO companies are giving similar advice or services to their clients.

Here’s a real estate agent talking about the advice he gives FSBOs, and he says:

“Always make sure that you invest in your photography. … If you are not privy to taking quality photographs, then it’s a good idea to hire a photographer.” 

You can watch the full video here:

One area where an FSBO may struggle is in the negotiating of a sale. That’s where real estate agents say they have the advantage:

“Most buyers today work with a buyers’ agent to represent their interests. If you choose to sell your home on your own, you’ll be negotiating with a professional and relying on your own skill to finalize a contract. Not only could you end up selling your home for less money, you could leave yourself open to potential legal problems unless you have the contract vetted by an experienced real estate attorney.
FSBO transactions can be successful, of course, but 90 percent of homeowners prefer to work with a professional rather than risk an unsatisfactory home selling experience.”
– From – “Why FSBO sales fail

However, some of these FSBO sites question that. For example, at they say that the opposite is the case:

“Studies led by Stanford University and Northwestern University conclude that homes sold for “sale by owner” (FSBO)-style without an agent sold for an average of 4 – 11 percent more when no agent was involved.”

Final tips for real estate FSBOs?

If you want to do it yourself, and save yourself some money instead of hiring a real estate agent, then at least make sure your marketing is the best it can be. Consider hiring professionals to help with your photography and other marketing services, and for a low cost, you can stand out up and above other homes for sale in your area, even the ones that some poor quality real estate agents are offering where they also try and cut corners by taking their own photos.

However, be prepared to work hard for the sale, to negotiate well, to follow-up with all of those potential buyers, and to avoid becoming emotionally involved in the sale … and that’s probably the hardest thing. You are selling your home and all of those memories – can you emotionally distance yourself from that? If you can’t, and that’s entirely normal, then maybe it’s better to bring in a real estate agent instead.

Update: November 8, 2016

Here’s an interview with Tom Panos talking about a For Sale By Owner service that is popular in England and is now advancing in Australia, PurpleBricks:

It’s interesting to hear the point from Tom Panos that PurpleBricks is an up-front payment service. In other words, you are paying for the opportunity to list your home with them, not the result. However, when you hire a real estate agent to sell a home you only pay them a commission when they actually make a sale, and so you pay them a percentage of your sale price.