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Do you need a real estate agent?


Vancouver Island resident Barry Christie has been having a hard time selling his house thanks to a glut in inventory. He started out using a real-estate agent about a year ago, but after several months -- and little progress made -- Christie decided to go rogue, putting up a for-sale sign on his front lawn before posting an ad on Craigslist.

He had a glimmer of hope when he got a response on the local classifieds website soon after. However, after a few email exchanges it became clear the person on the other end wasn’t sincere — instead of asking to see the home, he asked Christie for his bank-account information.

Christie's situation highlights the struggle many buyers and sellers face -- should I hire a real estate agent or take my changes with the DIY-route?

“The market isn’t great here right now,” Christie says. “But the amount of money that goes to realtors in commissions is just ridiculous.”

There’s no denying many Canadians feel the same way.

According to a Harris/Decima poll conducted for the Property Guys, a franchise network that offers real-estate marketing services to people wanting to bypass realtors, 74 percent of respondents said they believe real estate agent commissions are too high. Sixty-four percent said they would consider selling their home through non-traditional means to avoid paying an agent.

There’s no shortage of ways to sell without a realtor; consider websites like For Sale by Owner, services like those offered by the Property Guys, sites like Kijiji, or the classifieds section of local newspapers.

However, there’s more for home sellers to consider than real-estate agents’ commissions, says Toronto lawyer Martin Rumack.

“Overall, agents have the background knowledge to advise clients,” says Rumack, who has specialized in real estate law for 30 years.

“Sometimes I have clients phone me where it’s a private deal, but I can’t tell them anything about the neighbourhood, the area, the schools or whether the home is a reasonable price.

“Agents filter telephone calls to determine whether somebody is a serious buyer and sets up appointments; do you want to have to be home all the time if selling yourself?” Rumack asks. “Plus, I’d say the average person doesn’t have the insight, background, and experience in dealing with and negotiating an offer.

There's also the emotional attachment to consider when selling a home. “I remember when I sold my first home; it was very emotional for me. An agent is a buffer," Rumack says.

Buyers and seller: Do you homework

If people decide to use an agent, they need to do their homework. Ask for referrals and seek someone with a proven track record.

“When people are talking to an agent, it’s important that they ask some questions, not just about the commission," Rumack says. "What’s their experience? What type of real estate do they concentrate on? Do they know the area?”

In fact, focusing solely on a realtor’s potential commission is a big mistake, according to Canadian real estate expert Don R. Campbell.

“This often leads to the home seller making a decision that will cost them money rather than save money,” Campbell says. “Often times, if you have the right realtor on your side they can attract the buyer who is willing to pay more for the property than you could get if you sold or listed it yourself.”

Campbell says there are several factors to take into account when determining how you’ll sell your home.

1. Will you be comfortable negotiating the deal? 

“Most people are not comfortable with the actual process of negotiations, especially with a savvy buyer,” Campbell says. “Most believe that negotiations are simply saying a number, the other party says a number, and then you come to a final agreement somewhere in between." 

A professional negotiator knows there is much more to it than that and can often times can ensure that maximum dollars are won.

“When dealing with a $300,000 property, this knowledge can easily save or make an extra $10,000 or more. If you have a tough time getting a good result when you are buying or selling a car, you may not want to risk negotiating a multi-hundred thousand dollar deal.”

2. You’ll want to have a lawyer review the documentation in advance of the final agreement.

“This will be an additional cost in many cases,” Campbell says. “One poorly worded clause or misrepresentation on your part in the advertising or declarations can lead to thousands of dollars in lawsuits or costs. Sadly, these mistakes are becoming more commonplace as deals are being written up by buyers and sellers who aren’t aware of all of the legal requirements.”

He suggests being clear on how real estate contracts work and what specific clauses mean. Also, make sure the contract aligns with local and provincial laws. 

3. When you list your own property, you become the marketing manager.

“Sticking the property on MLS and just waiting is no way to sell a $300,000 asset,” Campbell says. “You’ll want to get the word out to attract as many buyers as you can. This will cost money, meaning newspaper and online ads, flyers, posters, signs, and open houses.  Your marketing ability — your ability to drive traffic to the home -- will make the difference to moving it quickly at a good price or having it become old and stale on MLS.”

Even if you list your own home, you may still have to pay the buyer’s agent’s commission, Campbell notes. If you're dead set on selling your home yourself, here are some strategies to consider.

Step 1. Put your own sign on the lawn (make sure it looks good) and place a couple of ads to see if there are any quick buyers. 

“Sometimes a neighbour or fellow community member is interested and will contact you right away.  By starting with this, you find out if there is any ‘low-hanging fruit’ or easy sales around,” Campbell notes.

Step 2.  If the property doesn’t sell within 30 days (or whatever timeline you’re comfortable with), list it on a discount MLS site (such as or

Step 3. If still nothing happens in another 30 days, get a professional realtor on your team and have him or her provide a complete marketing plan.

“Make sure they do the marketing plan so you know what you are getting as part of their professional services,” Campbell says. “If it is ‘I’ll list it on MLS then work hard for you,’ that’s not a marketing plan as you’ve just done that. Make sure part of the plan is to manage the MLS listing so it doesn’t get old and stale or lost.”

Whatever you decide, you need to be brutally honest with yourself about how much money you’ll be saving by selling yourself.

“At the end of the day, your house is only worth what you and a willing buyer can agree upon,” Campbell says. “It is often not the number in your head.”