How to Buy a House for Sale by Owner

By Austin Kilham · January 17, 2024 · 7 minute read

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How to Buy a House for Sale by Owner

A home that’s for sale by owner opens the door for you to buy the property without a middleman — though you may choose to use your own real estate agent to facilitate the transaction. A for-sale-by-owner deal can differ from a typical real estate transaction in a few important ways, so study this guide before you start perusing listings.

Buying a House for Sale by Owner

When homeowners choose the FSBO (“fizz-bo”) route, they take on all of the responsibilities real estate agents would typically shoulder in the homebuying process, from listing the house and showing it to negotiating and closing the deal.

The main motivation for doing so is often cash. Sellers who go it alone can save money on the real estate commission fee. If neither side uses an agent, the deal sidesteps the typical 5% to 6% the seller would typically pay in commissions.

On the buyer’s side there can be a number of benefits of buying a house for sale by owner. First of all, the lack of a listing agent means you have more direct contact with the seller, which might give you more negotiating power. The seller will also likely have detailed knowledge of the house and neighborhood, which can be a bonus as you decide whether or not you want the property.

However, you may run into some pitfalls with FSBO properties. A seller may love her home and overprice it, potentially complicating matters when you get an appraisal.

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Using a Buyer’s Real Estate Agent

The home’s seller may not want to use a listing agent, but you can still engage the services of a buyer’s agent. You may already be working with an agent who can contact a FSBO seller for you. Or you may need to look for an agent who is willing to take on the job.

In some cases, buyer’s agents may be hesitant to work on a FSBO property. They may be wary of taking on extra liability, or extra work for which they will not necessarily be compensated.

That said, a buyer’s agent can negotiate the sale on your behalf and walk you through the complicated paperwork. If the seller is putting the contract together, your agent can also check the work to make sure you don’t run into any problems.

Sellers typically pay the agent commission. Just be sure the seller agrees to pay the buyer’s agent commission in the purchase agreement or be prepared to factor it into your own expenses.

Here’s what to expect in the FSBO buying process.

Shopping for a Mortgage

Before making an offer on a home, it’s a good idea to shop for a mortgage to get an idea of the terms different lenders offer and how much you are likely to pay each month.

A mortgage calculator can help you understand how down payments of various sizes will affect the numbers. And you may consider getting preapproved for a mortgage to see exactly how much you can afford to spend.

In an FSBO situation, homeowners may have no experience with the home financing process, and getting prequalified or preapproved for a home loan may remove some roadblocks on your path to making a purchase.

Viewing the Home

Your agent can contact the seller and set up an appointment to view the home. When you visit, be on the lookout for sagging floors or cracks in walls that might indicate structural issues. Test windows. Look for water damage on ceilings or walls that may be a sign of a leaky roof.

Since the seller will most likely be showing the house, take this opportunity to get as much detail about the home’s history as possible. What repairs have been made recently, and which ones haven’t been made in a while? It’s smart to ask about any warranties, and to be sure they will remain after a sale.

Recommended: What to Look for When Buying a House

Getting an Inspection

When buying a home for sale by owner, it’s not in your best interests to skip an inspection. Home inspectors go over the house with a fine-toothed comb, looking at structure, plumbing, electricity, and appliances to see whether they need repair now or in the near future. (This home inspection checklist shows you what should be covered.)

If the inspector finds any problems, you can ask the seller to fix them, credit you the cost of repairs, or reduce the sales price. If you’ve already signed a purchase agreement, severe problems found during an inspection can be a reason to pull out of the contract.

Negotiating a Sale Yourself

If you decide not to use a buyer’s agent, you and the seller will have to negotiate the sale and write up the purchase contract yourself. You may also choose to hire a transactional agent or attorney who can help you write the contract and ensure it is done legally and in a way that protects your rights. If you do decide to go it alone, below are a few things to keep in mind.

Recommended: How to Buy a House Without a Realtor

Making an Offer

Before making an offer on a house, check comparable properties in the neighborhood and see if the listing price is reasonable. Doing so can help you pin down what a reasonable offer is.

Consider offering less than the listing price. The seller may ask you to come up in the asking price, but if you start too high, it’s difficult to negotiate down again. You can use the neighborhood comps you’ve researched as a negotiating tool.

Including Contingencies

Contingencies are certain conditions that must be met in order to close the deal. Some common contingencies are a satisfactory home inspection and property valuation, also known as an appraisal. If a home is appraised at less than the agreed-upon price, a lender may be unwilling to loan the buyer the money. In that case, the appraisal contingency can be an opportunity to negotiate the sales price.

A clear title is another common contingency. The title is a document that shows who has owned and now owns the home. The title company will make sure there are no liens or disputes associated with the property. If there are unresolvable issues, the clear-title contingency gives the buyer a way out of the contract.

Negotiating Fees

It can’t hurt to ask for seller concessions, closing costs that the seller agrees to pay. A seller may agree to help pay for property taxes, attorney fees, appraisal inspections, and the like. Even in a seller’s market, if the property has been sitting, possibly because the price was too high, a seller may offer a financial incentive to move the home.

Putting Earnest Money in Escrow

Your earnest money deposit is the money you submit with your offer to demonstrate your serious intent to buy.

The listing agent would usually put this money into escrow. But if you’re going it alone, it’s a good idea to engage a title company or escrow company to hold the money for you until the sale goes through.

If you give the money directly to the seller, they may refuse to give it back to you if a contingency causes the deal to fall through, which could mean suing to retrieve your cash.

Determining When You’ll Get Possession

Be sure your purchase agreement specifies when you will take possession of the new house and receive the keys. Possession may take place immediately after closing, or the contract may give the seller time to move.

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The Takeaway

Buying a house for sale by owner can come with challenges and opportunities. It may make sense to engage a professional real estate attorney to help you negotiate and deal with the documents. Another option is to engage a buyer’s real estate agent who can help safeguard your interests.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

+Lock and Look program: Terms and conditions apply. Applies to conventional purchase loans only. Rate will lock for 91 calendar days at the time of preapproval. An executed purchase contract is required within 60 days of your initial rate lock. If current market pricing improves by 0.25 percentage points or more from the original locked rate, you may request your loan officer to review your loan application to determine if you qualify for a one-time float down. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate this offer at any time with or without notice to you.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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