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To avoid paying real estate commissions, some LIers try to sell their homes themselves

Sylvia and Arek Piatkowski show their Old Bethpage

Sylvia and Arek Piatkowski show their Old Bethpage home for sale to Colleen O'Hara and her daughters, Molly and Quinn. Credit: Johnny Milano

People who decide to sell their own home are a rare breed. And for good reason.

The tasks include doing their own marketing, figuring out the price, getting it display-ready, taking photographs, fielding offers, showing it and doing their own negotiating. They will need to fix any problems revealed by a home inspection and at some point hire an attorney for the legal formalities.

Only 8% of homeowners try this route, according to a recent report by Washington, D.C.-based trade group National Association of Realtors, and their homes spend the longest time on the market. Sellers get less money for their properties than those who list with an agent, the study says. Also, says Jessica Lautz, the association's vice president of Demographics and Behavioral Insights, most people in this category advertise only with yard signs or open houses and usually end up selling to a neighbor or friend, 

“They don’t know how to market the home or price it and many resort to going with an agent eventually,” she says. “They really do struggle.”

People like Marc Sacco, 45, who owns an insurance agency in Levittown and is selling his Rockville Centre home himself, says he doesn’t see it that way at all.

“I enjoy it,” he says. “I meet people and get to talk about my house and negotiate. I love all that.”

But a home is a major investment and it simply doesn’t make sense not to use an expert to sell it, says Ann Conroy, president of the Long Island division of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

“It would be like taking $500,000 and putting it in the stock market without getting any advice,” she says.

A good agent, for example, settles problems before the seller even realizes they are there, she says. They can spot things that torpedo a sale, such as roofing, mold or insect issues. Some come with a stable of staging specialists, repair teams and attorneys at hand. Knowing an area’s market values — what sells at what price along with what comparable properties have sold for — helps them realistically value your residence. Real estate companies have tools not available to the layman, such as search engine optimization, to ensure maximum exposure to their listing.

One of the major problems //he says he finds/ with such transactions is that sellers become excited over an offer only to find out later the person can’t get a mortgage, says Frederick Giachetti, a Huntington-based attorney. “An agent is like a quarterback moving the ball forward,” he says. “Selling it is their touchdown.”

Using an attorney to hold your hand through the home-selling process can get expensive, says Raymond Radow, a Great Neck real estate lawyer. Fees can range from $1,000 to $3,500 and up depending on how much work is involved, he says. Some people expect an attorney to virtually be their agent, he explains, and can run up the attorney tab, although it likely will be less than a 6% commission cost. “Sometimes a client will call and say they want a potential buyer to talk to me,” he says. “I tell them my job is to talk to the buyer’s attorney. I’m not selling the home. I can’t go over there and say, 'Hey look, this is really nice marble on the floor and the toilet never gets plugged up'.”

Jake Posey, author of the 2015 book “Check, Check, Sold: A Checklist Guide for Selling Your Home for More Money Without an Agent,” says he knows all this can be daunting. Ask him what stops most people from pursuing it and his answer is unequivocal.

“Fear,” he says. “Every single seller I interviewed who has sold at least one house on their own says that they will never go back to using an agent again."

The carrot is obvious. Saving money. Someone selling a home for, say, $600,000 on their own could eliminate a 6% commission and put an extra $36,000 in their pocket. A homeowner does most of the work involved in the transaction, such as negotiating, showing the home and being present during inspections.

A real estate attorney can help guide you through the process, at least to a degree, Posey says. Get references from friends or find a lawyer on websites such as Avvo or Martindale-Hubbell, he adds. Ask what services they provide, if you need to hire a title company and where the closing would take place, he says. 

Having an agent with a team of specialists ready to handle a nervous homeseller’s problems isn’t a bad idea, Posey says, but not enough of them operate this way. Of course, selling a house yourself does require some research and rudimentary technological know-how.

“If you can’t operate a smartphone, you probably shouldn’t be doing this,” he says.

SELLING IN OLD BETHPAGE

When Sylvia Piatkowski and her husband, Arek, renovated their home three years ago, they made sure it had all the bells and whistles. In addition to touches such as a custom kitchen and wide-plank hardwood floors, Arek, 40, who installs smart home systems, added items such as efficient lighting, ceiling speakers, a security camera, temperature controls that can be activated via cellphone and a basement with three TVs for gaming.

When they decided to put the home on the market, the Piatkowskis chose to sell it themselves. Sylvia, a 39-year-old homemaker who once had a real estate license but now takes care of their three children, says she likes the challenge.

“I’m one of those people who watches HGTV all the time,” she says, “so, I thought, why not try it since I always wanted to do it myself.”

Saving the commission money was a consideration, but she concedes going it on their own is work. Still, they feel that no one can show their home better than they can, Sylvia says.

“We’re passionate about our home,” she says. “I know real estate agents can be passionate, too, but not like when it’s your own.”

$986,000

Their two-story home at 159 Haypath Rd. has four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a finished basement a block from the Bethpage State Park trail. It is on a .18-acre lot with annual property taxes of $24,000 in taxes. The owner can be reached at 718-662-8183.

SELLING IN ROCKVILLE CENTRE

Marc Sacco, 45, says he has a sentimental reason for choosing to personally sell the Rockville Centre residence his family has lived in the past three years.

“I don’t even like to call it a house,” he says. “It’s a home. We have made so many memories there, and I want the person who buys it to make it their own.”

The 1930s structure has been completely renovated, says Sacco. He says he made sure to retain its older charm, which includes archways, hardwood floors and crystal doorknobs. It was briefly listed on the market with an agent, but Sacco later decided to try to sell it himself with an assist from a real estate attorney. They almost sold it recently, but the buyers backed out after a family tragedy, he says.

Sacco says he will be buying a home a few blocks away owned by his in-laws, who are planning on downsizing. They agreed to wait until his sale goes through before moving, Sacco says.

“If we sell our home today, or in six months or a year from now, it doesn’t matter.”

$699,000

Located at 102 Jackson Ave., the three-story English Colonial contains three bedrooms and two bathrooms in the heart of the village. It is on a .1-acre lot with annual property taxes of $16,000. Contact the owner through Zillow.

SELLING IN ALBERTSON

Bill Cossavella says he was more than ready to handle the negotiations when his mother decided to sell her home in Albertson and move to an assisted care center.

“I’ve been down this road before,” says the 61-year-old pharmaceutical salesman who sold his own home in Levittown years ago and, more recently, his Florida condo. “It’s a bit of work, but it’s not insurmountable.”

He and his sister helped keep up the home over the years by painting the rooms. Plus, his mechanic dad, now deceased, made electrical, plumbing and heating upgrades. Its upstairs dormers and 2½-car garage set it apart in an area of smaller homes and it is close to parks and the hamlet’s downtown, says Cossavella. He came up with a price for the home by comparing it with others in the area, and he says he is not intimidated by personally negotiating with people having been in sales his entire life.  "Avoiding agent commission costs was the major incentive," he says.

“Mom needs all the money she can get out of the house,” he says.

$680,000

The center hall Cape,  at 29 Berry Pl., has four bedrooms and one bathroom. It is on a .15-acre lot with annual property taxes of $10,786. Call the owner at 631-835-7176.

IF YOU WANT TO SELL A HOME YOURSELF

Selling your home yourself can be a long journey. Here is a checklist for the trip compiled from Long Island real estate agents, attorneys and other housing sources.

GET A REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY Having an ally who knows the legal intricacies of the real estate world — and the mountain of paperwork that goes with it — is a must. An experienced lawyer will know about state and local laws that could affect the sale. They can advise you on choosing a title company or adding contingency clauses such as a time frame to inspect the property for requested changes or repairs. They can check that all names and addresses are correct at the closing, and the list goes on.

PRICE IT RIGHT One of the major challenges is estimating the value of the home. Too high and it won’t sell. Too low and you leave money on the table. See what comparable (same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.) residences are selling for in your area and mentally set a high and low price for negotiating room. Consider hiring a real estate appraiser to come up with a number to show potential buyers.

DRESS IT UP Make your home presentable for a showing. Paint the walls, declutter and put away that velvet painting collection. Don’t throw everything in the basement because buyers will look there, too. Prep each room and take great pictures. Or, have a pro do it. Power wash the outside, mow the lawn and fix any broken windows.

LOOK FOR TROUBLE Check out your home for plumbing leaks, electrical problems or termite damage and get things shipshape before putting it on the market. Although it may not be required for a mortgage loan, a savvy buyer will ask for a home inspection. Finding an unrevealed issue could sink a sale. Or, delay it.

GET THE WORD OUT One of the perks of having a real estate agent is their access to a large network of home shoppers. That is your job now. Put a description and pictures on Facebook, Craigslist, Instagram, Snapchat, Zillow and Trulia for free. Consider other sites such as HomeFinder, For Sale By Owner and FSBO.com, which charge fees that offer more features and exposure as the price goes up. Put out flyers and yard signs. Advertise in the local paper. Spread the word to everyone you know.

GRAB THAT BUYER You will be showing your home to everyone from voyeurs to serious shoppers. If they are interested enough to make an offer, be sure they are preapproved for a mortgage so you don’t waste your time.

COUNT YOUR MONEY (some of it anyway) If you are not represented by a real estate agent and your buyer isn’t either, you can avoid paying a commission. If your buyer found your house through an agent, then you must pay their fee, which usually runs around 3%.

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