Do you need a real estate agent to sell your home?


A skilled real estate agent can help you sell your home more quickly, and with more revenue than if you tried to do it yourself. But the majority of agents charge a commission based on the home's selling price, which can eat up your proceeds from the sale. 

You might not need one, technically, but there are plenty of pros and cons to consider—especially in today's highly competitive housing market.

Do you need a real estate agent to sell your home?

Do I need a real estate agent to sell my house?

Home sellers are not required by law to use a real estate agent, broker, or realtor (a member of the National Association of Realtors or NAR). Depending on the situation, the services provided by these professionals can actually be accomplished by a smart and resourceful seller.

However, a Sell-by-Owner (FSBO) deal requires time, knowledge, and trust. If you're not sure you have all three, hiring an agent — a professional who knows the ins and outs of successfully listing and selling homes — pays off. Let's look at some of the key factors to consider.

Why is it worth working with an agent

According to NAR's most recent home buyer and seller profile, 90 percent of sellers have worked with an agent, and it's easy to see why. NAR data shows that the typical home sold with the help of a real estate agent in 2021 went for $318,000, while homes without an agent on board went for $260,000.

"A good agent can help determine the optimal price for your listing," says Rick Sharga, executive vice president of market intelligence for ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data company based in Irvine, California. Additionally, agents can "advice on whether it is better for you to start at the top of the market and get some room to negotiate, or to start at a lower price to attract more people to bid and bid against each other to drive your price higher," Charga says.

Most importantly, agents are well aware of all the disclosures sellers need to make in a real estate transaction. These disclosures are required by law.

Agents can access the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as well, which is a database that aggregates listings in a specific area for other real estate professionals, as well as for online portals like Zillow. 

Along with promoting your listing through MLS, an agent can help differentiate honest buyers from those who are "just looking" or aren't serious about making an offer.

“An agent can put your home on your regional multi-listing service, which will broadcast your home for sale to other websites with huge audiences,” says Chuck Vander Stilt, a Northwest Indiana-based agent and founder of the real estate website Quadwalls. "This gives you the best chance of getting the offer you want."

With the agent, you'll also have guidance from an expert when negotiating, weighing, and accepting offers, says Rajeh Saadeh, an attorney based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. "You'll receive professional advice on what to include and what to leave off your list, as well as the types of photos and videos to take — and you'll have someone committed to doing the vast majority of the work involved in marketing and selling your home," says Saadeh.

Agents also excel at organizing a home for sale, either by themselves or with a professional agent, ensuring that your home will look its best to attract more buyers. However, keep in mind that if you hire a professional investor, you will get some extra cash to make your place look more attractive.

Your agent will also host open houses and specials, and can coordinate with all the other sellers involved in the sale, including appraisers, home inspectors, property agents, and notaries. In addition, he is available to answer your questions, address your concerns immediately, and guide you through the reams of paperwork needed to sell your home.

"Real estate is often a very emotional deal, but a good agent doesn't let emotion stand in the way of a good deal," says Benny Waller, a professor of real estate at the University of Alabama.

Disadvantages of the agent

The biggest potential drawback to working with a real estate agent is that in most cases, you have to pay him or her a commission based on the selling price of your home. This is often 4 percent to 6 percent, but it can be as high as 1 percent if you work with a "discount" broker with fewer services.

"Some dealerships offer discounted services," Shargha says. "They will accept a lower commission, usually in exchange for the home seller taking on more of the agent's responsibilities, such as doing the staging and taking pictures."

If you work with a real estate agent who charges the usual rate, the commission can cost you thousands.

Additional downsides to working with an agent

In addition to the commission costs, "you also have to sign the listing agreement with the agent," says Saadeh. “This means that you will have to work with this person for a set period, as described in the agreement, unless the agent agrees to allow you to cancel the contract.”

This could be a problem, for example, if you start to hate your agent or question your marketing, sales or negotiation tactics.

 Although agents have a fiduciary duty to protect your best interests, you can also get advice otherwise. “For example, an agent may secretly ask you to quickly sell your home for less than you might deserve so that [they] can get paid quickly and move on,” says Saadeh.

Another downside? If they control the process, you will have less control over it. “Your agent may be strict about making the bulk of decisions about selling price, timing, marketing strategies, execution, negotiations, and, in some cases, the selection of outside vendors,” Sharga says.

Decide what is right for you

Every situation is different, and you may still be wondering, "Do I need an agent to sell my home?" If you are considering whether to sign on the dotted line with a real estate agent, consider these key questions to determine if you need their services:

  • Do you have a solid understanding of what your home is worth? The real estate agent will look at companies - similar properties in your area - to find the right price list. However, there is nothing to stop you from doing the same. If you have an understanding of what other places like where you are in the market have ordered, you have a good starting point for selling your home without an agent.
  • How much time do you have on your hands? Selling a home takes a lot of work. Taking professional quality photos, advertising the property online, checking home buyers and welcoming them on the tours are just a few of the many tasks you will need to tackle if you decide to do it yourself. If you have an open calendar and some solid marketing experience, you may be able to put together the work that the real estate agent will do.
  • How comfortable are you in uncomfortable conversations? A home is a very valuable asset, and you may be very proud of the work you have done in it. Remember, however, that the buyer wants to get a good deal. You may receive a much lower offer than you think is fair. Without an agent as a buffer, you have to deal with holding back telling the buyer you won't budge.

Alternatives to using a proxy

Instead of listing your home with a real estate agent, you can list your home as an FSBO and sell the property yourself. In 2021, 7 percent of home sales were sold by owners, according to NAR.

“You can list your properties for sale on publicly available media and online platforms centered around real estate buying and selling,” says Saadeh. “The success rates of finding a buyer using these platforms, rather than using a traditional real estate agent, depends largely on the seller’s marketing skills, availability to respond to interested buyers, and their flexibility in working with buyers who own properties with agents who expect commissions.”

However, with the FSBO course, there is a chance that your home will not be popular in the market, either due to a lack of marketing prowess or an improper pricing strategy. This can hurt your chances of selling quickly and for the most dollars. You may also encounter some logistical challenges: According to NAR, some of the most common problems for FSBO sellers include home repair problems and difficulty understanding and preparing paperwork.

"There are some risks in trying and failing at an FSBO," Sharga says. Agents and buyers often take notice when a landlord offers the property and pulls it off the market. This can sometimes make it more difficult to sell the home at full market value.” You may have trouble getting an agent later if you decide to switch your strategy.

Going with a discount broker to save some money is another option—"but most discount brokers will put your home in MLS and not much more than that," says Vander Stelt. “Some offer additional services on demand or on an hourly basis. This puts your home in front of a large crowd, but you are up to yourself to manage everything else.”

The third option is to sell your home directly to iBuyer, such as Offerpad or Opendoor. These companies make a quick and easy sale—just complete an online form and iBuyer will give you an instant cash offer on your home—but they come with a caveat.

"The benefits are speed and certainty: There's no need to go through the hassle of organizing, listing and hosting open houses," Shargha says. “However, iBuyer offers are always below full market value because they need to buy the home, repair it, and resell it at a profit. So you won't get top dollar for your home.”

How home sellers can cut costs

If you prefer working with a real estate agent but hope to reduce costs, there are still opportunities for you to provide:

  • Negotiate Your Agent's Commission: Try to negotiate a commission with your agent beforehand. "Many agents will negotiate commissions, perhaps saving you 1 to 2 percent of your home sale," Sharga says. “Other agents will lower their commission if there is no buying agent involved in the transaction.”
  • Don't Overdo Home Improvements: If you're not careful, it's easy to spend too much on great staging or expensive upgrades that don't offer a great resale return on your investment. Talk to your agent or appraiser to see which improvements, if any, might actually result in returns.
  • Close ASAP: Sellers may save on closing costs if they move quickly. Saadeh suggests "try to speed up the closing process, which could reduce property taxes, homeowners' insurance, and mortgage interest fees that will accrue until closing."


A real estate agent's commission fees can cut into the money you make selling your home, and it's entirely possible for well-prepared sellers to successfully sell their homes without the help of an agent. But as with many things in life, you get what you pay for.

“During [the height of] COVID-19, I thought a lot about cutting my hair myself — but I was definitely happy when the barbershop opened again,” Vander Stelt says. "Just because you can sell your home yourself doesn't mean you should."

"You have to honestly decide if you have the time and knowledge to accurately price your property, expertly market your property, as well as negotiate effectively with buyers and their agents," says Sharga. This includes knowing what disclosures your state requires — an area in which you likely won't be an expert unless you're a very experienced seller.

Ultimately, Saadeh says, “It is understandable that sellers want to avoid paying commission. But a good agent is supposed to increase the selling price to compensate for the commission, so that the seller makes more money selling with an agent than if he tried to sell without an agent.”

And no matter which path you decide to take to sell your current property, you can always choose to buy your next home without a real estate agent as well.

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