An ancient irritant in the real estate industry is the homeowner who is convinced they can save money by selling their home without a real estate agent. The “For Sale By Owner” listing, affectionately known as a FSBO, has been the subject of ongoing debate for years. Today there are a number of real estate companies that help homeowners sell their own house with promises of big savings.

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When asked if a FSBO client can save money with the discounted FSBO model, traditional real estate professionals will emphatically say no, claiming these properties take longer to sell and consumers leave money on the table. Of course, the For Sale By Owner companies claim just the opposite.

Insightt decided to shed a little light on this issue by looking at the data, which is our specialty, but more important is factual. We compared key sold data for FSBO sales versus sold data from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) MLS sold data for 2021.

The first metric we looked at was Days on Market, the number of days that it takes to sell a home, using the FSBO method versus MLS.

Figure 1 below shows that FSBO freehold properties took approximately 2.5 times longer to sell than freehold properties listed on MLS with an agent.

Figure 1: FSBO Days on Market vs MLS Days on Market for Freehold Properties

Month FSBO MLS
Jan 45 17
Feb 28 10
Mar 19 10

Source: TREBB and Insightt

Likewise, condominium properties in the GTA took longer to sell than condominium properties listed on MLS as demonstrated in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: FSBO Days on Market vs MLS Days on Market for Condominium Properties

Month FSBO MLS
Jan 59 31
Feb 66 20
Mar 38 11

Source: TREBB and Insightt

We then reviewed the sale price to list price for FSBO sold properties and the overall GTA market as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Selling Price to List Price in the GTA

Freehold

Month FSBO MLS
Jan 102% 104%
Feb 105% 108%
Mar 107% 107%

Condominium

Month FSBO MLS
Jan 99% 100%
Feb 99% 103%
Mar 100% 105%

Source: TREBB and Insightt

As you can see, both freehold and condominium properties sold by FSBO companies had a lower sales-to-list ratio than the overall MLS market for the first two months of 2021. With a red-hot freehold market combined with low inventory, FSBO sales-to-list ratios matched the GTA market in March of 2021. The same could not be said for condominiums, which were lower than the overall GTA market in the first quarter of 2021.

Putting it all into perspective:

If the average savings a FSBO customer realizes is two per cent of the selling price through a lower listing commission, the selling price to list price for the GTA market shows that these savings may be offset by a lower selling price alone.

Of course, this is not a scientific “apple to apples” comparison because there may be other unknown factors at play for this particular data sample.

Here are a few other observations we uncovered in this analysis:

  1. The sample size of FSBO sold properties is small compared to the overall GTA MLS market sample. We estimated the FSBO market share to be one per cent of total sales in the GTA, which is a small sample size and welcome news to the traditional real estate professional.
  2. We also looked at a number of FSBO listings and it certainly felt that they had more than their fair share of complicated and challenging properties, which can also skew the results.
  3. We are in a sellers’ market with low inventory, especially for freehold properties, which is forcing Realtors to find properties any way they can regardless of listing model.

While we are not able to pick a clear winner to end the debate, we have at least shared some insights into this widely contested conversation.  We believe that we can put this debate to bed when the market returns to a normal and balanced market. Insightt will be tracking the FSBO sales on a monthly basis.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Sylvia R
    In regards to Daljinder Gill’s remarks about Realtors providing value: I am a Realtor in the Windsor area & have cut client’s grass, cleaned their fridge & stove & have even washed & painted their walls to help them sell their home. (at no extra cost)

  2. As I’ve often commented over the decades, when agents do a CMA for a would-be seller and the CMA proves useless to the seller at the moment, netting no listing, I advised that agents need to open a save-for-later file. And periodically stay in touch. And best of all you create a go-to readymade opportunity file for your own use for when you by happenstance come upon a perfect match buyer down the road. Done like dinner. Another double-end, sometimes having created a six-part string of transactions all tied together.

    So with FSBO’s. You put a lot of work into trying to convince the seller to give you permission to “market” their listing with no real intent to sell it, except by happenstance, just like any other listing you take.

    The agency “system” (set up by government ministries) doesn’t want you to sell your own listing. Ideally whatever listings you have, the listing is meant to attract buyers to your quiver so you have a buyer to sell some listing some place. Sellers have not known this is how the real estate system is designed to operate (to help the listing agent to get more listings and to sell a buyer some other house. A listing is just a marketing opportunity. Sellers are paying you to allow you to use their property as a marketing tool if the truth were told.

    When I was first in the business four decades ago, the listing brokerage seemed thrilled when I double-ended 60% of my listings, that when I wrote the listing it was clearly my intention to “sell” it.

    I advertised it truthfully, promoting it aggressively with the intent to get the seller the best price the market would bear, in a logical timeframe, with the least amount of aggravation. In all cases it worked. It literally became the secret to my success; but I thought everyone did what I did.

    I didn’t know I had a unique way of doing business. I never told a FSBO that I had a buyer ready willing and able as I learned over time that many agents did. I simply said IF I came across such I buyer I would advise the seller.

    I arranged with a couple of local lawyers to put together a legalities package along with an assortment of legal forms, including blank offer forms so FSBOs could review various small print procedures, and a few sample bits of my sold property marketing pieces and current listings in case they might’ be interested in actually buying one. I was very careful not to leave behind anything personal they could share with their cousin an agent, maybe newly licenced.

    Inspect every FSBO. Move “slowly” with the owner so as to engage in conversation building a rapport. With a clipboard in hand. Take copious notes, insert personal findings and opportunities to suggest to the seller what he ought to do to enhance his chances of success if you got a call back to list, per chance. Pay attention to things such as pointing (in regard to a great paint job), as most agents wouldn’t even notice; that small thing was the trigger that got me many listings.

    With his permission you might even want to quickly measure, explaining why; so you can discuss with a potential buyer various particular room sizes. That attention to detail in my walk-through seemed a unique process as many FSBO sellers were so impressed, telling me no one else had done anything the way I did.

    And yes, I did say if in my efforts to find the perfect buyer, I would arrange to show their property using the decades old (Board supplied) “letter of permission to sell” (to cover my commission rather than an actual board exclusive listing.

    But when the seller simply wasn’t really ready to sell, just testing the market, that was okay by me, too.

    A few times on a not busy day, since I read the newspapers anyhow, I tore out the pages with private for sale ads; often just a few lines of type. High-end properties would often provide a business phone number (talk to my secretary). But occasionally you could speak to an owner. I would simply say I was not interested in listing their property, just in learning more about it in case I came across a would-be buyer… could I please inspect when the owner was home. I wanted the ower to see my procedure style in person. Many times a few days later I would get a call: please come list my house. I never had asked for the listing during my introductory initial contact call.

    And of course not knowing any better I set about to actually sell it. And often did. And they told two friends who told two other friends and of course people at their office at times. Always buildng business for the future (a unique concept) truly because I didn’t know any better. And no one told me I shouldn’t be doing that. That I was doing it all wrong all the years. Selling on average year after year my own listings. And turning the sellers into buyers. Building my career annual 24% market share in my trading area. WOW! How could I have been so dumb.

    Carolyne L 🍁

    • Carolyne excellent comments about the past:You state -“When I was first in the business four decades ago, the listing brokerage seemed thrilled when I double-ended 60% of my listings, that when I wrote the listing it was clearly my intention to “sell” it.” Carolyne, if I was to list my home today with a real estate company I would fire the broker/listing agent if I understood they didn’t want to sell my home because it was a conflict of interest. Why would any seller pay thousands of dollars to any broker not working in their best interests. Nothing wrong with double dipping provided the buyer understands the rules of the game. We all double dipped 4 decades ago and yes the broker and seller and most of the time the buyer were very happy. If a buyer today wants to be represented then they should hire an EXCLUSIVE BUYER AGENT. RETURN to SUBAGENCY + EXCLUSIVE BUYER AGENCY. In many situations today a buyer can represent themselves and could save paying the buyer agent commission.

      • Thank you, David for acknowledging.
        btw – are you the one who posted to Brian a number of weeks back that you were/are a private investigator as well as an agent. Are such licenced to work only provincially?
        Carolyne
        Sent from my iPhone

        • That is not me. Although the industry needs to be policed I am enjoying retirement. Not licensed as a Realtor or private investigator. DD

  3. Pointless article with pointless stats. Asking price means nothing, only sold price does. So the percentage someone realized above or below asking price is meaningless. What were the actual difference in SOLD prices, comparing apples-to-apples properties, over a long period of time? Those are the only meaningful stats.
    Best to take this article down. It’s misleading. Am disappointed in REM for running it.

    • This was a very helpful article as it clarifies that properties take longer to sell than those listed by a realtor. Then is clarifies there may be little difference for sale price because of many different factors. Great article. Thank you for sharing REM

    • Agreed. These new companies offering marketing and selling real estate and charging lesser
      Commissions is what some buyers and sellers are looking for – basically in essence charging for limited services they provide. Nothing wrong with what they do – they are feeding a need.

      I agree it is pointless what percentage of asking to sales is. Sold prices reflect the market value – inflated or otherwise – it is market value of that day.

      Realtors think there is only one correct way to market and sell – it’s not – hence the introduction of all the varieties catering to needs and wants of buyers and sellers.

  4. ONE SHOE FITS ALL NOT IN CONSUMERS BEST INTEREST
    Technology and the internet has and will continue to change the way real estate is bought and sold. Unfortunately, Realtors have been resistant to change and still believe that most consumers want a full service approach to selling their properties. The ONE SHOE FITS ALL approach is not in the consumers best interests. Realtors need to offer a menu of services provided to the buying and selling consumers. For example, why not offer consumers a FSBO ASSIST program. If the seller finds the buyer why not reward them with lower fees. I expect in the future brokerages will be required to advertise fees and services to consumers and this will improve competition and be in the consumers best interest. It will also reduce the number of agents in the business by tens of thousands.

    • Hi Joe:

      Insightt is a leading innovation consulting firm that helps companies accelerate innovation and achieve next-level growth in the real estate industry. Insightt also publishes weekly research reports on new trends and solutions that are impacting the real estate industry to give our clients the insights they need. To learn more about insightt, visit http://www.insightt.ca.

  5. I wouldn’t call a DIY discount brokerage that uses MLS a FSBO. I have never seen a private sale net more than when organized, listed and exposed to the market through a “professional agent”. The issue is what does the agent do to get more? Unfortunately a lot of agent just merely place you on MLS and wait, this is becoming the norm. You find an agent that actually has a proven network and they will almost always net you more, significantly more. This is the only profession I know where a new agent right out of school charges the same as a seasoned professional.

    • Surely you don’t think that agents can do more than just expose the property to a bigger audience of Buyers and sellers. MLS does most of the work. Buyers work with their agent who gets all the info from the mls.- and the Listing agent put all his info into MLS – that’s basically 99% of transactions. And yes LA educates and assist the seller in making good decisions and the SA does the same for his Buyers – so tell me what exactly more of the “ organization, listing and exposing through a PROFESSIONAL AGENT” are we talking about.

      “Professional Agents”, if asked to make a list of all the extras they do that really makes a difference to bringing value to either party, will be hard pressed to outline real value added services. So let’s stop using this old adage.

    • I agree that a FSBO shouldn’t be a FSBO. They should get a professional on their side, especially in these days of multiple offers. But sorry Omer, I couldn’t disagree with you more about ‘why’ you should hire a Realtor, based on ‘what does the agent do to get more’ scenario. It sounds like you’re telling me that if I list my home with you based on your network of Buyers, then that will fetch me a higher dollar. Wow! Your Buyers aren’t looking for good deals? They would rather pay more, than less? You’re not an expert negotiator looking to get your Buyer the best deal possible? I’ve got a bunch of old junk worth about $10, so you can get me $20 for it? Give me a break… Also, 95% of all residential transactions sold on MLS involve two Realtors, the one representing the Seller, and the one for the Buyer. So, you’re also saying you’re double-ending more than the industry average, based on your network of Buyers that want to overpay? And, what is it that you do over and above MLS that merits such rewards for your Seller? Heavy marketing that doesn’t work, open houses, fancy feature sheets, etc? Unfortunately, despite your efforts, and many other Realtors who market this way, the MLS numbers don’t lie. Again, 95% of homes sold involve two realtors. To me, it comes down to this…

      1. No MLS system = I need to market in all the media and hopefully find a Buyer, so I can get the job done for my Seller.

      2. Their is an MLS system = I’ve just exposed my Seller to everyone who works in organized real estate, and all the Buyers they are working with.

      We have an MLS system. It works for exposure. The sales prove it.

      If I was going to hire a Realtor, and they tried to fill me up with all that guff about getting me more money because he has a network of Buyers, or the potential to get those Buyers based on weak marketing ideas, then he’d be out the door in a minute. Show me someone who can answer questions, give me solid facts, understands the selling process, and the contracts involved by crossing T’s and dotting I’s properly at the outset (not trying to fix errors as we go), then that’s the person I’m hiring. And if you can show me honesty, comfort, with a friendly persona, then ‘where do I sign the listing’. Just sayin’…

  6. Interesting to see the metrics. You did not disclose where the data came from which removes the ‘scientific’ aspect and brings us back to just opinion.

    The other important metric missing is how much commission did the sellers pay? If there was a realtor on the buying side then the commission savings are reduced and really, ‘saving’ money is the FSBO goal.

    • Robert – thanks for your comments and we used TREBB board data and TREBB housing market sold data to put the data into perspective. We wanted to be impartial and since commission data is not reported on the co-op side, we could only provide a comparison of FSBO sold listings to the GTA market key stats to be impartial.

  7. Because many FSBO’s end up being sold by realtors, on mls, these numbers are somewhat skewed. It comes down to finding the right property for my buyer FSBO or not!

  8. Interesting data, however I have noticed over the years that FSBO properties are usually listed at a higher asking price than MLS properties, partly I suppose because FSBO’s tend to expect more or think their house is worth more. (We ALL tend to think or hope our house is worth more) Whereas a lot of MLS listings have agents who are playing the multiple offer, holding offer scenarios and purposely pricing at less than market value to attract multi bids. So overall it would seem like the FSBO sales are not doing that badly. Not that I am a fan of Seller’s marketing their own properties because it generally ends up in almost double the work for the selling agent.

    • So right Vivian. That price is usually higher was most sellers believe their property can get more $$$. Most FSBO not only want more but also dont want to pay commissions. Hence it’s reasonable to understand why they don’t sell as there are comparables for lesser $$$. Most Agents take this Listings at any asking price is that they hope it will see or at least get negotiated to Lower asking and sell. When that does not happen, FSBO turns to traditional realtor sales – selling at market vale – usually lower than their original asking price – that does not mean Realtors are better or magical.

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