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DODGING COMMISSIONS TRYING TO SELL YOUR HOME BY YOURSELF CAN SAVE A BUNDLE

Here's a quick way to save about $7,000: Stick a "For Sale By Owner" sign in the yard; slap an advertisement in the paper; light a few scented candles for an open house, and sell the joint for $100,000.

Easier said than done.

While the watchwords of the real estate community are "location, location, location," the important words in selling a house yourself are "patience" and "pricing," according to several local home owners.

Selling a home on your own might not be easy, but it can be done. About 13 percent of sellers in 1997 sold homes without real estate agents, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The primary motivation in 59 percent of realtor-free sellers was saving the commission, according to an NAR survey. That sentiment may run even higher in the Buffalo area where some sellers cringe at the thought of paying a 6 percent to 7 percent commission considering the diminishing real estate values of the mid 1990s.

"With the amount of the commission realtors get, I don't think that it's worth the effort they put in," said Linda Dugan, who is selling her home on Whitehall Avenue in South Buffalo.

Ms. Dugan held her first open house earlier this month, but had no visitors. She was not the only owner playing the waiting game that day. Janice Schoenhals had her first open house in Cheektowaga the same day and also drew no shoppers.

Several local owner-sellers said August has been a slow month and they expect interest from buyers to increase after Labor Day.

"It's been slow for me. I think I missed a good part of the selling season," said Janet Curry, who recently put her three-bedroom home on Rogers Road in Hamburg on the market. "If I had to do it again, I would start in the spring and I would start with more open houses."

Owners who can find their own buyers have more pricing flexibility. Avoiding the commissions typically charged by area real estate brokers allows sellers to drop their prices by a couple thousand dollars while still pocketing more money than they would if they used an agent.

"I think the commission for a realtor is way overpriced. I used the commission and put it into more competitively pricing the house," said Robert Bonilla, who recently sold a four-bedroom colonial in West Seneca for $125,000.

Bonilla sold his house through America's Choice, an owner-assisted real estate marketing company in Amherst. Sellers willing to pay $595 can use America's Choice for professional signs, advertising, assistance with buyer screening and other services.

America's Choice President David Schembri said he thinks commissions charged by real estate brokers lead many owners to overprice homes. The pricing analysis offered by some brokers is suspect, because a good way to get listings is by leading sellers to believe their homes are worth an inflated prices, Schembri believes.

"We never have a reason to fib to the customer. When you put someone in a position of gain, there is no longer a straight line, and that's an issue we see with the real estate community," Schembri said.

The America's Choice system works for some sellers. Bonilla sold his home in about six weeks, for $1,000 under the asking price. He also sold a home in Lackawanna with America's Choice four years ago.

For sale by owner homes are limited in exposure because they do not go into the multiple listing system, a regional data base of houses on the market. Real estate agents often search the system by home size, features and price to find properties to show buyers.

Choice's marketing. America's Choice homes are often sold after a real estate agent brings a buyer to the table, and receives a partial commission from the seller, leaving the "zero commission paid" logo inaccurate, according to one local real estate official.

Hollander said real estate agents give sellers a lot in return for the commission, from full exposure of the home to market knowledge and negotiating experience. Real estate agents also manage deals to the closing table through buyer financing, home inspection and other legal steps.

"The seller perceives that all there is to getting a house sold is enough advertising and someone will pop through the door and buy it, that couldn't be further from the truth," Hollander said.

Other members of the real estate community also feel their skills are well worth the price. As local real estate trainer Thomas Cusack is fond of saying: "You can save a lot of money selling your house yourself. You can also save a lot of money removing your own appendix."

Ms. Schoenhals said she respects the work of real estate agents, but wanted to try selling her three-bedroom ranch to save the money. Her family is building a new home in Newstead and the commission savings could go into the new house.

"I think that in time, we will sell it ourselves, but if it comes to mid-October and we're not getting anything, I'll probably turn it over to a real estate agent," Ms. Schoenhals said.

Some local sellers said they would go to America's Choice if they have no luck on their own, Ms. Schoenhals said she would go straight to a broker.

"I didn't feel like those companies could do any more than we could. I felt, why should I pay $600? I can make fliers and hold open houses," Ms. Schoenhals said.

Ms. Curry said she has realized there is an art to representing property.

"The first couple of callers, you're a little hesitant in boasting. I imagine that's where the realtor probably has the spiel down a little better," she said.

Ms. Curry said she plans to be her own agent for about 18 to 24 months. She has time to wait, which is an important element in the world of "for sale by owner."

"It's a waiting game, waiting for the right person to come along," Ms. Dugan said.

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