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DIY - Sell Your House Yourself: How To Get Started

Updated on April 23, 2012
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I sold my house myself, and here's how I did it

In 1984, my husband and I pooled our meager resources and bought a modest house in exurban Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It was a small house by the standards of the area—three bedrooms, one of them not much larger than a closet, and one bathroom. It was on an acre, however, and located in a quiet neighborhood that retained a great deal of the rapidly disappearing rural character once typical of Bucks County. We loved our little house and put in a pond and planted an apple tree in the front yard.

Twenty years passed, quickly, the way twenty years can. We made many changes to the house: A big deck in the back, a new roof, a kitchen remodel, a mudroom addition, a greenhouse, a garage, a re-routed driveway, more lush perennial gardens. We aged, yet remained ardent Do It Yourselfers, and 99% of what was done to our home, we did ourselves; I joked that the local Home Depot had added an addition and named it for us.

And then the unimaginable happened. One night my husband—fifty-one years old and in what all tests indicated was incredibly good physical condition—left to play ice hockey on the amateur team whose captain he had been for what was rapidly approaching twenty years. He never came home. He died from a massive, initial heart attack on the ice. At fifty-one, I was a widow.

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Five years passed, and in this case they passed with agonizing slowness. I plowed the snow off my long driveway with the Kubota tractor my husband and I had bought only a few weeks before his death. When the kitchen sink drain leaked, I fixed it with the tools he’d shown me how to use. I cut up the limbs shed from mature shade trees with his chainsaw; I painted the entire house, inside and out, alone. And in between I did—also alone—all the routine chores we had previously shared: Wash windows, clean out gutters, winterize the furnace, fix, repair, replace, renew, just do it, whatever it is, and do it alone.

Meanwhile, the internet had blossomed into a wonderful resource. Hesitantly, I placed an ad on a dating website. Tentatively, I went out on a first date for the first time in twenty-five years. More first dates followed; much chagrin followed as well, as I discovered that there are as many ways for a date to go terribly, horribly wrong as there are men to meet for coffee, drinks, dinner. And then a miracle happened: I met a sane, handsome, just plain old-fashioned great guy. We fell in love. Everything was perfect, except for one clear and obvious problem: He was a lawyer, and his office was over an hour from my house, and that hour would be spent in some of the nastiest traffic that might be conjured up in a nightmare.

And so it happened that on a beautiful, sunny morning in June, I stuck a For Sale By Owner sign in my front yard. Less than two months later, in the midst of the worst housing market this country has seen since The Great Depression, I followed a moving van as it drove out of my driveway—I’d sold my house the way I’d done everything else: by myself. I’m writing this series of articles to explain exactly, in detail, how I did it. My efforts saved me thousands of dollars, dollars we put toward buying a house that is not only nearly three times the size of the house I sold, but is much, much nicer in every possible way. And I’m here to tell you that you can do it, too.

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If I sold my house myself, you can too

I should also state up front that I am not a genius, a Realtor, a financial or marketing wizard (although I did have a job for many years writing real estate ads, and I have some great advice for you later in this series based on that experience.) My house was also not in some much-sought-after location; it was not a one of a kind historic home, nor did I sell it for below market value. There was no trick to my success, in other words, no special skills or magic. I sold my house the same way you will sell your house: by advertising it wisely at a fair price, by dealing logically with potential buyers, by persevering, by making some compromises but holding the line on other details. All of those are things you can do just as well as I; all of them are things I will talk about honestly and in detail in this series of articles.

Like all ambitious Do It Yourself projects, this one has many, many steps. Also like any major mission you undertake without the help of so-called experts, there will be nay sayers, doubters and cynics planting themselves square in your path along the way. There will also be missteps, minor disasters and disappointments. You will need to be flexible, willing to change horses in midstream if required by morphing circumstances to do so, and there will be moments—maybe even whole days or entire weeks—when you doubt that your path makes any sense at all. And yet—again, as is always the case with DIY—if you approach the matter logically, do the work needed and keep your focus intently on the desired end result, you will find yourself where I ended up: Happy, in a new house, and able to say proudly, “I did it myself.”

The very first step—before we talk about signs, writing ad copy, advertising or staging your home to show it to potential buyers, or even before we discuss how to develop a realistic asking price for your house—is to ponder what you are about to do in its entirely, and visualize the very scary trip you are about to launch. That may sound very vague and horribly touchy-feely, but I’m not talking about centering your chi (although that wouldn’t hurt!) but instead about understanding that at the end of the process will be another process, and another after that, and I’m hear to tell you bluntly that selling your house will be hard and emotionally draining, and so will finding a new house, and moving, and settling into the new house—all of it, every step of it, is demanding, patience-trying, hair-pulling, teeth-gritting hard stuff.

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Facing the reality of For Sale By Owner

So before we continue to the next article in this series, which is about setting a realistic asking price for your house, I want you to take a long deep breath, and ask yourself: Do I really want to do this? The traditional route for selling real estate exists for a reason. Brokers exist because sometimes having a middleman is a good thing, a softening-the-blow kind of thing, a pass-the-buck kind of thing. There are people who can confidently re-wire their entire houses themselves, but should not even consider selling their house themselves, and the reason is emotion.

Your own emotions may get in the way of your success in this particular DIY project, because a house is not just a house, it’s a home: It’s a very special place, your nest site, your sanctuary, your personal vision of what the word “home” conjures in the imagination. You will, inevitably, in the course of selling your little piece of the planet, run up against circumstances that will require that you take a dispassionate, logic-based, analytical stance and actively suppress your emotional response. And I am here to tell you that if I can do it, you can do it. I was just as emotionally involved with my home as anyone else—in fact, considering that it was not only the house I shared with my late husband, but one which we practically tore down and rebuilt over the course of time, I could argue that I was more emotionally invested in that little house than most people are with their homes.

But life changes, and so must we. When the time to leave is clear, the only choice is to go. If you are reading this, then I suspect you have already reached that conclusion, so let’s not belabor the warnings, let’s put our feet on the path that leads to the future, and start walking!

And what will be our first step? Well, in my next article in this series I will explain how I not only set a reasonable asking price for my house, I got it, even though two Realtors provided estimates that were a full $60,000.00 less that what I got for my house. You read that right: Two professional, experienced Realtors appraised my house significantly below the price for which it actually sold, and had I listed my house with either of them it would have cost me thousands of dollars, plus of course their commissions.

So now let’s talk about setting an asking price for your house!

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at RobertaLeeArt.com.)


Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

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    • DIYmyOmy profile image
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      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Have you bought or sold a house listed For Sale By Owner? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience!

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