Sell Your Home Online, Where the Buyers Search

Market Your Home Online as Well as in Real Life

When selling your home, you must market it online because that's where the buyers are, says Scott FladHammer, a Fort Wayne, Ind., real estate investor and president of the Real Estate Investors Association.

"The Web is the best way for sellers to reach buyers," says FladHammer. "It's not shocking to see real estate newcomers harnessing the power of online marketing and even outperforming industry veterans."

Indeed, many sellers have had success using sites such as Trulia, Craigslist and eBay to put their homes in front of buyers. And increasingly, according to FladHammer, some sellers are even choosing to use online platforms in lieu of an agent. But whether you choose to sell solo or work with a pro, marketing your property online takes some work and some know-how. Here's what you need to know.

Go Wide but List Smart

When you're selling a home, it's usually not a question of which site you want to list on, says Rich Urban, a real estate investor in Miami Beach, Fla.

"You're marketing the property, so you want to get in front of as many potential buyers as possible," Urban says.

These days, there are a lot of sites to choose from. Urban prefers Craigslist because it's free and well-targeted to a local area. But other sites have their advantages, too.

But no matter where you list, Urban says it's important to consider price and presentation. Write a succinct ad that addresses the kinds of details buyers want to see. High-quality photos that showcase the property's best features are also a good idea.

Should You Go it Alone?

When it comes to marketing a property, some sellers might be inclined to do it on their own. That's their prerogative, says Tupper Briggs, a broker who heads the Re/Max office in Evergreen, Colo. But he points out that many clients self-list online first before hiring him because they didn't price or market the property as well as they could have.

But the more experience you have with pricing and marketing, the less likely you are to need a broker. If the broker offers online marketing and not much else, Urban says he's not sure that's a bargain.

"Online listings are really inexpensive, and on some sites they're free, so it's not a major selling point for a broker to offer an Internet marketing package," Urban says.

As for pricing, use all the tools, but take the data with a grain of salt. Each platform uses its own methodology for computing comparable listings.

Before you forgo the broker altogether, remember that brokers are likely to be the only people who have firsthand knowledge of the area's listing, according to Briggs.

You Won't Escape Agents

If you choose to list your property for sale by owner, don't expect to bypass real estate agents entirely.

"You're going to hear from a lot of agents who want the listing," says Hunter Phoenix, a Los Angeles life coach and actress who bought and sold property on Craigslist without an agent.

Sellers can cut off cold calls from agents by including language in their ad that discourages that kind of solicitation. But there's a good chance you'll work with agents anyway, because many buyers bring their own, Phoenix says. Sellers shouldn't avoid buyers who hire agents, Phoenix says, but the buyers should pay the commission.

Working Without an Agent

Listing the property on multiple platforms and creating good marketing materials are the easy part. What comes next is something most sellers don't see their brokers do, and for some people, it can be enough of a hassle to hire a professional.

"Sellers need to be able to sort through the looky-loos to find real, qualified buyers," says Urban. "That's always part of selling a home, and online is no different. But without an agent, the seller needs to field and filter those requests."

Depending on the area and the price, that can mean a lot of calls and emails.

Sellers who work without an agent will also need to stage and show their property, says Phoenix. But there are a lot of free, online resources that offer tips on doing that.

The Transaction

Many sellers list and market their homes on their own, and then hire a professional to handle the transaction. The reason is simple, says Joshua Marks, a real estate lawyer with JM Law Group in Philadelphia: "There are a number of legal issues that can come up that laymen just aren't equipped to handle."

Often, sellers will push back on the price after an inspection turns up needed repairs. Deciding who should pay, how much, and what kind of warranties come with that work raise issues beyond the reach of most laymen, Marks says. Then there sometimes are questions of easements and other property issues. Sellers who choose to go it alone may unknowingly expose themselves to liability years after the sale, Marks says.