4 Things I Learned When I Tried to Sell a House on My Own
For the past year, my girlfriend and I have been on an epic journey through adulthood as we attempted to sell the house she was raised in. Only a few days before this column goes up, all paperwork will be signed and our mission will be accomplished: we, having had no prior experience whatsoever in the world of real estate sales and possessing zero knowledge of the inner-workings of that world, sold a house. We learned quite a bit about real estate sales, but mostly we learned that the whole process is an enormous pain in the dick and it's better to live out your remaining days in a crumbling house until you're eventually killed by a collapsed wall.
We went into the process with empty heads, and we're walking out with so many learned lessons packed into our skulls that if we were to sneeze on you, you would become a licensed realtor. If you want to learn a thing or two about selling a house via our mistakes, massive screw-ups, terrible decisions, and just plain stupidity, read on.
Our first lesson is ...
Zillow Brings Human Spam to Your Door
On four separate occasions we showed the house to a potential buyer, only to find out at the end of the tour that the wholesome family man checking out the place alone (because his "wife" was at "work" and his "kids" were with their "grandparents") was actually a real estate agent who wanted to poach our sale and probably murdered and ate his actual family. That's what happens when you put your house on the market through an online real-estate-listing service like Zillow.
Zillow is like Craigslist for houses. Put the place up for sale, then sit back and let the prospective buyers wave fat stacks of money at you in a screaming mob like old-timey stock market traders. That's what we thought was going to happen. In reality, putting a house on one of these sites as a "for sale by owner" is like giving your email address to a "Fuck Hot Singles in Your Area" banner ad on a porn site: all you're doing is inviting the pure, concentrated, evil essence of spam mail into your life. Email services filter out spam before it reaches your inbox. Unless my girlfriend had a motion-activated gun turret on her front lawn, there was no way to stop the onslaught of real estate sharks from using every creepy tactic in the real estate chapter of The Necronomicon to slither into our lives.
"Coat walls with virgin's blood to cleanse the space of unwanted souls."
As I mentioned at the top of this entry, four separate realtors lied to us, telling us they were prospective buyers so they could tour the house, only to whip out their business card before they left and doing everything short of sacrificing a goat in our honor to convince us to hire them. I guess they expected us to be impressed with their ability to smooth-talk their way into our home, like we were putting together a crew for a heist and we needed a grease man.
"I kinda, sorta broke into your home. Let me handle your money for you!"
Other charming tactics included leaving notes that they had shown up at the house entirely uninvited during work hours for a surprise tour, which is something a psychopath does to torment his police detective arch-rival. Another tactic was to call once a day, every day, for weeks on end, and make blind cash offers so pathetically low they would be better suited as a down payment on a Barbie Dream House playset.
This went on for months before we'd had enough. This was our sale. It was time to start taking matters into our own hands. That's when we learned ...
The Difference Between Internet Marketing and a Sign on a Lawn
My personal experience when it comes to getting the word out about a house can best be summed up by the moral lesson of Return of the Jedi: a scrappy, technologically disadvantaged insurgency can defeat the technologically advanced army.
"Plenty of closet space. Modern architecture. A fixer-upper."
After weeks of hearing exclusively from real estate sharks, I went to Home Depot and picked up a "For Sale by Owner" sign. We wrote all the relevant information, and then hammered it into the grass on the front lawn. As I was hammering, a car pulled up and the driver asked for a selling price. I say again: before the sign had been fully stabbed into the flesh of the Earth, we were already getting interest from real people.
In the following weeks, my phone was bombarded with upwards of 10 calls a day, all from people who were legitimately interested in the house. We had multiple showings, and some (not great) offers were made. An $8 "For Sale" sign hammered into the front lawn generated more interest than a website specifically created to help advertise houses on the market. You bet your ass "Yub Nub" was ringing through my head for the next several weeks.
We had proven, once and for all, that cold, shallow technology will always lose to the tangible, resilient forces of the real world. As an unexpected consequence, however, this meant we had to start dealing with the real world -- real buyers, real money, real interest, and real realtors. Shit was about to get real, and we were entirely unprepared to handle the next step of the process ...
Strangers Walking Into the Home and Making Fun of It
Before you put a house on the market, it's best to scrub all bloodstains and brain matter from your murder attic, patch all the holes in the wall created by your 210 horsepower dildo sex contraption in your pleasure dungeon, and sand and repaint the family room/vomitorium. You know -- general fixes and patch-ups to make the place look nicer than it ever did before.
My girlfriend and I are not handy around the house. Recently, we felt a renewed appreciation for life after we spent a harrowing 45 minutes trying to install a ceiling light fixture. We told Death to take a hike, maybe to return in a few weeks when we use a three-foot step ladder to hang a picture. That being said, we fixed the shit out of that house thanks to YouTube tutorials and a series of under-educated guesses that miraculously worked out for the best. We were proud of our handy work.
It used to be a burned-down crack den.
Potential buyers could not say the same. They were too busy talking shit about the house, out loud and with passion, during their tours. And I get it. These people want to buy not just a house but a home. They're going to give up a lot of money for a building they might want to die within; they want a suburban mausoleum. It makes sense that they'd be critical.
On the other hand, it's also the place my girlfriend was raised in. Most of her fondest childhood memories happened in the rooms, hallways, and yards these people were callously talking shit about as they made their way through the house. She didn't even know she had such a deep affection toward the house until randos off the street told her the paint was ugly.
Selling a house is the only time we let strangers into our personal spaces so they can rip them down with the most petty grievances and complaints. The seller can do nothing but stand there and take it. We couldn't cut in and say, "HEY, BACK OFF, YOU PIECE OF SHIT! THE PAINT IS FINE! YOU'RE UGLY!" They don't care about the memories attached to every ding and scuff, every charming but retrospectively bad design choice your family made over the years. They see a festering, maggot-filled puss bucket ... albeit one with potential, but that patio needs redone and, ew, honey, have you seen that closet? I don't know who the current residents are, but I bet they're a pack of disgusting pig fuckers based solely on that closet.
Ugh. Definitely pig fuckers.
Dealing directly with potential buyers was exhausting and time-consuming. After about six months of trying to sell the place on our own, we angrily swallowed our pride and declared ...
To Hell With It. We Give Up. Let a Real Estate Agent Handle the Damn Thing
We lost all patience with the process. We flipped every table in sight and stormed off to find the number of a random real estate agent to let that bastard sell it for us. In our haste to find a good realtor, we made a teeny, tiny mistake: we looked for a realtor and not a good realtor.
I'm guessing our experience working with a realtor was not the norm. The extent of his involvement was to call and let us know a potential buyer was going to swing by to see the house at some point before the Rapture, and he, the realtor, the person now fully in charge of the process, would drop the phone in a toilet and leap out a window, land on his feet, and haul ass away from us at speeds as yet unimaginable by Guinness World Records officials. To say he was barely a part of the process is to say the Hindenburg was feeling a little farty that day.
Probably had a bad burrito or something.
This is where I learned the key difference between regular people and realtors: realtors have access to a list of other realtors who have legit, no-bullshit potential buyers as clients. That's it. The list is called the MLS, and anyone can access it ... assuming you have a couple thousand bucks and a couple hundred hours you're willing to dedicate to getting a real estate license, which to me is like saying I need to buy an ice cream truck and change my profession to ice cream man if I want to buy some ice cream. If I want ice cream, just give me the damn ice cream. I don't want to alter the course of my life for ice cream.
The realtor sent potential buyers to the house so I could deliver the sales pitch he should have been giving. This guy wanted 6 percent of the sale so he could pretend to be my secretary and I could pretend to do his job.
"Hello, Houses? Yes! Do you want sale?!" [honk, honk]
When this started, all we wanted to do was sell the house on our own, without the help of a realtor. And like something out of a tremendously dull but still scary episode of The Twilight Zone, that's exactly what happened ... by way of a lazy realtor.
For more from Luis, check out 3 Everyday Hacks to Make Reality Behave Like a Movie and 4 Uncool Fashions We Should Consider Bringing Back.
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