How to Buy a House for Sale by Owner

The standard narrative of buying a house involves a real estate agent. The Realtor acts as your tour guide, guiding you not only through available homes, but also through the complicated process of becoming a homeowner.

However, some independent sellers prefer to sell their home without a real estate agent’s services. As a prospective buyer, you would interact with the homeowner instead of a Realtor.

home for sale by owner

This process, known as a sale by owner or FSBO sale, offers potential buyers the opportunity to bypass some traditional real estate transactions, which may save money on agent’s commission fees. FSBO sellers handle every aspect of the sale, including setting the listing price, marketing the house for sale, and negotiating the purchase price.

FSBO sales differ from a typical sale, as they require the home buyer to assume tasks that a real estate agent would usually handle. This includes finding FSBO listings, validating property details, and negotiating the sales price with the FSBO seller directly.

Key Takeaways

  • A For Sale By Owner (FSBO) transaction allows buyers to negotiate directly with sellers, potentially bypassing real estate agent commissions but requiring extra due diligence.
  • Buyers should secure mortgage preapproval, verify property details through CLUE reports and title checks, and consider hiring a real estate attorney or title company to manage legalities.
  • Closing a FSBO sale involves setting up an escrow account, preparing extensive paperwork, and understanding post-closing steps like utility setup and managing property taxes and insurance.

An Overview of the FSBO Process

A FSBO sale, where an owner sells their house without a real estate agent or a listing agent, differs from a typical sale. Understanding the intricacies of these real estate transactions can be vital to a smooth closing. FSBO sellers handle everything from setting the listing price, marketing, negotiating, and closing, offering more room for direct communication and price negotiation.

However, an FSBO transaction requires the buyer to take on tasks typically handled by a real estate agent. Unless you are working with a buyer’s agent, closing can be complex. You may be on your own for a home inspection. Getting an appraisal and negotiating a selling price will be up to you. Completing the title search and other tasks usually falls to the seller’s agent.

Prepare for the Purchase

Buying a home is exciting, but it’s also a venture that requires substantial financial planning and understanding. Preparing for the financial aspect of your purchase can increase your chances of a successful transaction and make the overall home buying experience less stressful.

Determining how much house you can afford is the first step. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is essential. You’ll also need funds for a down payment and closing costs. Buying a FSBO home is similar to purchasing through a real estate agency.

Assess Your Credit Score

Your credit score is a key player in this process. It has a significant impact on your ability to secure a home loan, dictating your interest rates and loan terms. Before you start shopping for an FSBO house, check your credit score and, if necessary, take steps to improve it. This may involve paying down debts or correcting any errors on your credit report.

Secure Loan Preapproval

Once your credit is in check, securing preapproval for a home loan can give you a head start. This process involves a lender checking your financial history and assessing whether you’re a viable candidate for a loan.

Upon preapproval, you’ll know the maximum amount you can borrow, which helps you set a realistic budget for your house hunting. A mortgage broker, with their extensive knowledge and resources, can guide you through this process and help you choose the best loan for your needs.

Set Aside Savings

Additionally, it’s essential to have savings set aside for a down payment and closing costs. Down payments typically range from 3.5% to 20% of the home’s purchase price. Closing costs, on the other hand, usually amount to 2% to 5% of the loan amount. These costs can add up, so preparing for them can prevent financial surprises down the road.

Ensure a Mortgage Contingency

Lastly, when setting the terms of the purchase contract, ensure it includes a mortgage contingency. This clause protects you if your final home loan approval falls through, allowing you to back out of the deal without financial repercussions.

Research the Property

Buying an FSBO home requires thorough due diligence and understanding your local market’s dynamics.

Familiarize Yourself with the Market

Familiarize yourself with FSBO listings in your desired area. Assess the features of various properties, their listing prices, and how long they’ve been on the market. This exercise can help you gauge a fair price for the property you’re interested in.

Verify Property Details

In FSBO sales, buyers need to take extra care when verifying property details. These include, but are not limited to, ownership history, physical condition, and any past insurance claims related to the house for sale.

  • CLUE Report: A good starting point for property research is the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, also known as CLUE. This database contains up to seven years of insurance claims history for properties. Requesting a CLUE report can provide insight into any past damages or issues that have led to insurance claims. This information helps when assessing the overall condition of the home and can play a role in price negotiations.
  • Check the Title: Another important element in property research is checking the home’s title. The title outlines the history of property ownership, and any issues, like liens or disputes, could complicate the transaction. You might want to consider hiring a title company or a real estate attorney to ensure a clear title, further securing your investment.

Conducting extensive research on the property not only aids in making an informed decision but can also arm you with valuable information during price negotiations.

Understand the Legalities

Buying a house is not just a financial commitment, it’s a legal one too. Understanding the legal aspects of real estate transactions can protect you from potential complications, particularly in a FSBO sale, where you might not have a real estate agent guiding you through the process.

Hire a Real Estate Attorney or a Title Company

In a traditional real estate transaction, a buyer’s agent handles the legal paperwork. However, in a FSBO sale, buyers often need to manage these tasks themselves. This is where a real estate attorney or a title company can help. These professionals can assist with the legal aspects of the transaction, including:

  • Ensuring the house is a separate legal entity operated correctly, free from liens, and without any outstanding claims.
  • Conducting title searches to confirm the legitimacy of the property’s ownership.
  • Assisting with the closing process, ensuring all necessary documents are correctly filled out and filed.

Review the Purchase Agreement

The purchase agreement is a binding legal contract between the buyer and the seller. It outlines the final purchase price, terms of the home sale, and any conditions that must be met before the sale can be finalized.

Given its importance, it’s recommended to have a lawyer review the purchase agreement before the buyer and seller sign it. This review can ensure that all the stipulations are in your best interest and that there are no potential loopholes that could cause problems later.

Pricing and Negotiations

FSBO sales often provide room for more negotiation when it comes to the home’s asking price. This flexibility can result in a lower purchase price, potentially saving you money.

Home Appraisal

A home appraisal can be an essential tool during these negotiations. An appraiser evaluates the property and provides an estimated market value. This estimate is based on various factors, including the home’s condition, location, and comparable homes in the area.

With an appraisal in hand, you have a foundation for negotiating the home’s price with the seller directly. It gives you a benchmark, helping to ensure you don’t pay more than the property is worth.

Handling a Low Appraisal

A FSBO transaction can become complicated if the appraisal is lower than the agreed-upon purchase price. In this scenario, you have a few options:

  • Request a price reduction: If the appraisal comes in lower than the agreed-upon price, you can ask the seller to reduce the price. They may be willing to do this to keep the sale on track.
  • Challenge the appraisal: If you believe the appraisal was inaccurate, you can challenge it. You’ll need to provide compelling evidence, such as recent sales of comparable homes that were not included in the original appraisal.

Handling these situations tactfully can keep your home purchase on track while ensuring you get a fair deal. Remember, every real estate transaction is unique, and dealing with these challenges may require professional guidance from a real estate attorney or a buyer’s agent.

Home Inspections

Investing in a home inspection is a prudent step in the homebuying process. A comprehensive inspection can reveal potential problems or necessary repairs that may not be immediately apparent. This is especially critical when buying a FSBO property, as there might not be a real estate agent involved to facilitate this step.

Choosing a Home Inspector

Finding a qualified and experienced home inspector is paramount. Look for inspectors who are certified by a national association and who have a good reputation in your local market. Your home inspector should evaluate the following:

  • Structural elements: walls, ceilings, floors, roof, and foundation.
  • Systems: plumbing, electrical, and HVAC.
  • Other components: insulation, ventilation, windows, and doors.
  • Outside: drainage, driveways, fences, sidewalks, and any potential safety hazards.

After the Home Inspection

Once the home inspection is complete, you will receive an inspection report outlining any identified issues. Depending on the findings, you may:

  • Request repairs: If the inspector identifies any issues, you can ask the seller to make necessary repairs before closing.
  • Renegotiate the asking price: If there are significant issues that the seller is not willing to fix, you might renegotiate the price to account for the repair costs.
  • Walk away: In the case of severe problems, such as foundational issues or extensive water damage, it might be in your best interest to walk away from the sale.

Securing Financing

Once you’ve agreed on a sales price and completed the home inspection, the next step is to finalize your home loan. This stage requires careful consideration as it can significantly impact your personal finance situation.

Compare Mortgage Options

Start by comparing different mortgage options. Each loan type has its advantages and drawbacks, and the best one for you depends on your individual circumstances. A mortgage broker can be a valuable resource during this process, helping you understand the nuances of each option and finding the best fit for your financial situation.

Review the Loan Estimate

Mortgage lenders are required to provide a loan estimate within three days of receiving your application. This document outlines the specifics of your loan, including:

  • Loan amount: The total amount that you’ll borrow.
  • Interest rate: The cost you’ll pay each year to borrow the money, expressed as a percentage.
  • Closing costs: The expenses you’ll need to pay to finalize your mortgage, which can include origination fees, appraisal fees, and title insurance.

It’s essential to review the loan estimate thoroughly and make sure you understand all the costs involved. If something seems off, don’t hesitate to ask your lender for clarification. After all, this is a significant financial commitment, and you want to be sure you’re making an informed decision.

Closing the Sale

Closing a FSBO sale involves several key steps that vary slightly from a typical sale involving real estate agents. However, the primary goal remains the same: to legally transfer ownership of the property from the seller to you, the buyer.

Setting Up an Escrow Account

In real estate transactions, an escrow account is used to safeguard the earnest money — the deposit you make to show the seller you’re serious about buying the house. This account is managed by a separate legal entity, such as a title company or escrow company, ensuring the funds are protected until the sale is finalized.

Preparing the Paperwork

The closing paperwork can be quite extensive and typically includes:

  • The deed: This transfers ownership from the seller to the buyer.
  • The bill of sale: This outlines the terms and conditions of the sale.
  • The affidavit of title (or seller’s affidavit): This document states the seller owns the property and there are no liens against it.

It’s best to have a real estate attorney or a title company prepare these documents to avoid any mistakes.

Title Insurance and Closing

Your lender may require you to purchase title insurance. This protects both you and the lender in case any undisclosed liens or ownership disputes arise after the sale.

On the closing day, you and the seller will sign all closing documents. The funds held in the escrow account, including your down payment and closing costs, will be appropriately distributed, and the property’s ownership is legally transferred to you.

Post-Closing Steps: What Comes Next?

After the exhilarating process of buying a house, there are a few additional steps to take post-closing.

Utility Setup and Address Change

Ensure utilities are set up in your name, including water, electricity, gas, and internet. You should also update your address for any subscriptions, credit cards, bank accounts, and identification documents.

Understand Property Taxes and Home Insurance

As a new homeowner, it’s important to understand your obligations regarding property taxes and home insurance. Familiarize yourself with due dates and payment procedures to avoid late fees or potential complications.

Dealing with Potential Problems

If any problems arise with the home past closing, consult your home inspection report before paying for repairs out of pocket. If you’ve received a home warranty as part of the sale (which is different from home insurance), it may cover some of these post-closing issues.

Remember, buying a FSBO home might be more complicated than a typical sale, but the potential benefits, such as saving on the agent’s commission, make it an attractive option for many home buyers. With careful planning, research, and professional guidance, you can manage the FSBO homebuying process with confidence.

Conclusion

Though a FSBO transaction can be intimidating, with research and preparation, potential buyers can make the process go smoothly. Buying a house for sale by owner can offer significant savings and more room for price negotiation, as you bypass the real estate agent’s commission.

However, you need to remain diligent and informed throughout the process. Understand the local market, conduct a thorough home inspection, and engage professionals like a real estate attorney or title companies for a smooth real estate transaction. The homebuying process may be a marathon rather than a sprint, but with patience and perseverance, you’ll cross the finish line to your new home.

Dawn Allcot
Meet the author

Dawn Allot is a personal finance writer and content marketing expert specializing in finance, travel, real estate, and technology. In addition to her work at Crediful, Dawn regularly writes for Bankrate, GoBankingRates, and The Balance.