FSBO, Powered by the Web

Marjorie Shepherd could be a poster child for the burgeoning online real estate marketplace, which is increasingly equipping home sellers and buyers with information and tools previously available only to real estate professionals.


Earlier this year, Shepherd listed her Punta Gorda, Fla., house as For Sale By Owner on RealtyTrac, a website that allows homeowners to post and market their homes for sale to the millions of buyers and investors who visit the site each month.


Within two months she had sold her home and purchased another one that she found while browsing the same website.


“I listed my home for sale by owner … and I’m amazed at how quickly (the) site worked for me,” she said. “My property … sold after only 6 weeks of being listed on the site.”


Storm sale

The property Shepherd sold was located a few blocks from the ocean on Florida‘s Gulf Coast and was big enough to be subdivided into three lots. She had owned the property for 17 years, but it was “slaughtered” by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm that battered the area in 2004.


“We got hit by both eye walls by (winds of) about 200 miles an hour, so we had some extensive damage,” she said. The hurricane left the property unlivable, so Shepherd, her husband and their sons moved in with Shepherd’s brother.


Shepherd didn’t want to return and renovate the property. Not only was it in a location that could bear the brunt of future hurricanes, it was bigger than the couple — who just recently became empty nesters — needed. The best option, Shepherd decided, was to sell.


She searched online under real estate and selected RealtyTrac after perusing several websites that allow homeowners to market FSBO property on the Internet. She posted the property, and it immediately attracted interest from potential buyers.


“You could look and see how many people had viewed your property, which was kind of interesting to watch because between April 3 and June 5 I think we had close to 700 hits from people who had actually looked at the listing,” she said.


There were no serious bites from buyers for the first month, but then Shepherd received three in quick succession. The third came from the man who eventually purchased the property.


“Exactly six weeks to the day after I listed it this man called me from New York and he asked me a bunch of questions about it,” she said. “He drove all the way down from Long Island. He looked at several different properties, but he liked the layout and liked the fact that I had three lots.”


Shepherd said that even though she had never sold a property before, she was comfortable negotiating directly with the buyer, who wanted a quick closing.


“He just submitted (the offer) directly to me and in fact I didn’t accept his first offer,” she said, noting that she researched online MLS listings in the area to help assess her home’s value. “I said ‘you’re going to have to come up a little bit.'”


A local title company handled the closing and provided Shepherd with the proper information and paperwork to make sure her interests as a seller were protected in the transaction. She characterized the entire FSBO selling experience as relatively easy.


“I can’t really say that there was anything hard about selling on your own because the site itself does all the work for you,” she said. “All you have to do is be available to contact the people and go out and show it to them.”


Home again

Ever since the hurricane forced them out of their home, Shepherd and her husband had been looking to purchase another property that was smaller, not so close to the Gulf and had a fenced-in yard, among other amenities. After searching for 22 months and visiting at least 50 homes, they finally found their dream home — another FSBO listed online with RealtyTrac.


“This was the last day we went out to look at a home,” Shepherd said. “I had seven houses written down that we wanted to go see. And it ended up being the very last house that we saw that we fell in love with.”


By diligently searching RealtyTrac for properties that matched her specific criteria, Shepherd was able to schedule a showing of the property only two days after it appeared online. She credits the website’s flexible search engine with helping her quickly and conveniently pinpoint homes of interest.


“Looking for a home is frustrating enough, let alone having a site that keeps saying ‘no, no’ you can’t find what you want,” she said, adding that a local real estate agent she also found through the website helped her schedule viewings of properties.


All the searching paid off when Shepherd and her husband moved into their newly purchased home.


“We were all just kind of jam packed together for two years so we were very excited about getting a home,” she said. “And we’ve got it and we love it and it’s everything we wanted and more. And it’s probably $30,000 to $50,000 less than the other properties we were looking at … It worked out really well.”

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