By Jim Parker
Among the big ticket items of life, selling a house ranks up there with, well, buying a home in the first place.
Homeowners often work with a real estate agent for home sales, relying on the professional to put the house on the market at a list price, show the property to prospective buyers, write up contracts on possible purchases and track the sale through to closing.
These associates include Realtors, who earn a license through their trade group and keep pace through educational, training and specialty courses and typically make home buying and selling a career.
Realtors are trained in contract negotiation and execution, oversight of inspection results, providing advice of factors like building materials and flood zones. Agents focus on the details of home transactions, which factors in even as they are meeting with homeowners and house hunters to land a dream home or work out a profitable deal.
"There's a lot of legal documents, lots of ins and outs, and the hard work starts where the contract comes in," says Franne Schwarb, Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
Schwarb understands that unloading a home can be a major deal for owners that shouldn't be taken lightly. "I encourage my sellers to get a second opinion."
"One thing, Realtors are bound by the code of ethics," says Rob Woodul, agent with Carolina One Real Estate and former president of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. In other words, real estate professionals are charged with doing what's best for buyer or seller, whoever they represent, even if the Realtors wind up taking on a heftier workload or earn a lower-than-expected commission on particular cases.
"That's good for the client," he says.
Realtors use uniform state contracts drawn up by lawyers, which protects clients in case questions arise later on in terms of the agreements, says Ann Whalen, branch manager of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Mount Pleasant. "That to me is huge," she says, noting that the documents carry more weight than contract forms picked up at a home improvement store, for instance.
"I do contract classes with my agents once a week," Whalen says, noting the meetings take two hours.
In addition to the detailed paperwork, agents offer added value to clients in marketing their home for sale or ushering shoppers around the market such as agent caravans and open houses. Most Realtors take advantage of the centralized lock box system that protects houses from intruders and limits the number of people who can enter and exit at any time, she says.
"We do this for a living," Whalen says. "We bring value to every transaction."
For the services, the homeowner pays full-service associates a commission of around 3 percent, or with some brokers a comparable flat fee, once the deal wraps up.
Some householders may aim to save money and have the time and desire to market the home themselves, known as For Sale By Owner or FSBO. They'll be spared the agent's costs, which would be $12,000 on a $400,000 home. Owners figure they can research a sale price, be on hand for showings, and line up contract information through online research and download pertinent contract documents.
Pricing in particular can be tricky for FSBO properties. The typical For Sale by Owner home sold for $190,000 compared with $249,000 for agent-assisted home sales nationwide, according to the 2017 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
At least by one measure, the do-it-yourself method of home sales is at an all-time low at 8 percent of transactions, according to an October report from Inman News, citing figures from the National Association of Realtors. That's down from peak years of 2001-08, when 12-14 percent of home sales were handled by the property owner.
"The complexities of real estate, they haven't gotten any easier," Woodul says. "There's so much more to it than sticking a sign in the yard."