When the time comes to move, some tenacious homeowners in Chicago are eager to take over the reins of their home sale and figure out how to sell a house by owner.
A house is typically a person’s largest financial asset, and the decision to sell solo is often understandably driven by a desire to save on commission fees and pocket more equity from a hard-earned investment.
In recent years, the hot Chicago real estate market and a steep rise in equity added extra incentive to maximize profits.
Impulsive home purchases also weren’t unheard of during the pandemic, so maybe you haven’t owned your Chicago home very long and are concerned about covering the cost of selling your house. As the market shifts, you may have new concerns about how much you can get for your home and the amount of your net proceeds.
With millions of homes sold each year, a modest portion of sellers — about 7%-8%, historically — choose to list “For Sale By Owner” (or FSBO — pronounced fizz-bow).
While the method can work for Chicagoans, it does come with some risks. Selling a house is a pretty rare event for most people, so you don’t know what you don’t know.
In this guide to selling FSBO in Chicago, we’ll cover what can be the most difficult aspects of selling by owner in the windy city, including the steps that might be harder than you think. We’ll also provide a comprehensive overview of the full process to prep, market, and close on your home without the assistance of a real estate agent.
Note: Once you’ve seen what’s required, you can roll up your sleeves and get started with your FSBO sale. Or — in the event you’d prefer to work with a real estate agent — HomeLight would be happy to introduce you to highly-rated professionals in your Chicago market who can help you command top dollar and provide a low-stress selling experience.
How does selling by owner (FSBO) work in Chicago?
Disclaimer: While we’ve done our best to research laws, guidelines, or policies for FSBO sales in Chicago, HomeLight always recommends that you look into the local regulations for your area and when in doubt, consult with a legal advisor.
FSBO is a method of selling your home without the involvement of a listing agent. In a FSBO scenario, the seller assumes the responsibilities that would normally fall to their agent such as pricing the home, marketing it to potential buyers, arranging showings, and negotiating the deal.
In an agent-assisted sale, the seller typically pays a commission amounting to around 6% of the sale price, which is then most often split 50/50 with the buyer’s agent. That 6% is deducted from the seller’s proceeds at closing. By selling FSBO, a seller can eliminate the cost of the listing agent’s commission (so around 3%), though they may still need to offer a buyer’s agent commission.
Buyers’ agents will expect compensation for the work they do to bring a buyer to a sale, such as arranging showings and helping to tee up and qualify the buyer. Plus, when a seller isn’t working with an agent, the buyer’s agent may end up carrying more of the weight to get the deal to the finish line.
Next: Consult our guide on who pays closing costs when selling a house by owner for more details.
Finally, a FSBO sale does not mean that a seller won’t need any professional assistance. In Chicago, sellers are not required to hire a real estate attorney, but FSBO sales typically warrant legal and professional oversight of some kind to avoid an abundance of legal risk.
Most people who sell by owner will need to hire an attorney to review and prepare key documents and make sure paperwork is filled out properly, such as the seller’s disclosures. We’ll address what disclosures are required when selling a house in Chicago later in this post.
Why sell a house by owner in Chicago?
The top three reasons people cite for selling FSBO include: “did not want to pay a commission or fee” (36%); sold to a relative, friend, or neighbor (30%); or that the buyers contacted the seller directly (8%), according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
To get a firsthand perspective on selling homes in Chicago, we spoke with Ben Lalez, a top agent who works with 74% more single-family homes than the average Chicago agent. We also spoke with Steve Genyk, a top real estate agent in Chicago who sells properties 70% faster than the average Chicago agent.
The No. 1 reason people try to sell their own homes involves the commission – “and they’re not bashful about saying that,” says Lalez. “They don’t see the benefit of hiring a professional.”
Genyk agrees that Chicago FSBO sellers “don’t associate much value with Realtors®.” He’s had experiences with numerous Illinois homeowners who think they can handle it and want to save money by doing it themselves.
However, 2022 data from NAR shows that “FSBO homes sold at a median of $225,000, signiﬁcantly lower than the median of agent-assisted homes at $345,000.” This NAR data contrasts the median prices among all FSBO homes (for which we have limited data) against all agent-assisted homes, regardless of distinctions like square footage. However, an independent study from 2016 to 2017 which does adjust for square footage also shows a significant price difference: FSBO homes sold for an average of 5.5% less than agent-marketed sales.
As you can see, FSBO is a mixed bag. So, before we share our selling tips, let’s lay out some pros and cons to help you decide if this is the route for you.
Pros of selling a house by owner
- Ability to save on listing agent commission fees, usually around 3% of the sale price.
- You’re completely in charge and can manage the sale as you please.
- No “go-between” in your communications with buyers.
Cons of selling a house by owner
- FSBO listings tend to sell for less, statistically speaking. Genyk estimates a 10% price difference – “sometimes more.”
- Unless the seller already has a buyer lined up, FSBO listings can take longer to sell.
- Managing all communications and negotiations yourself is time-consuming. Not having a communication buffer can be a downside if the buyer pushes back or says negative things about your property.
- You’ll be negotiating without help from an expert, which could mean leaving money on the table.
- Setting the listing price is challenging — you may be tempted to go too high. You could also risk under-selling with a low price.
- Marketing your home is time-consuming.
- Your listing won’t get enough exposure. Lalez says that “97% of buyers use an agent” and that “agents don’t look on FSBO platforms.”
- You’ll still have selling costs, which may include transfer taxes and settlement fees. Not having agent representation could also lead to paying more in seller concessions.
- Without the help of an agent to guide you through the disclosure process, you may put yourself at legal risk to be held liable for potential future problems with your home.
- Buyer’s agents in Chicago “don’t love FSBO and are not dying to support the endeavor,” Genyk says.
In spite of the cons, we’ll help you navigate the challenges of FSBO if you’re committed to selling your Chicago house without agent assistance. For some, selling a home FSBO is a challenge worth accepting, and success can be measured in more ways than one.
Steps to sell a house by owner
Next, let’s review the FSBO process step by step.
1. Prepare your house for sale
Whether you’re selling with an agent or FSBO, at a minimum you’ll want to get your Chicago home into respectable shape before any showings to increase your chances of receiving a fair price. Here are a few standard tasks to add to the list.
These efforts will go a long way toward impressing buyers looking for a home in Chicago:
It’s important to take an objective view of your home. FSBO sellers tend to be easier on themselves when it comes to preparing a home for sale, Genyk believes. “Realtors® are more critical.”
Lalez suggests getting a pre-listing inspection. Then, “do the top half of the list.”
Data from HomeLight’s 2022 Top Agents Insight Report shows that on average, “Buyers will pay 7% more for a house with great curb appeal versus a home with a neglected exterior.”
Some important curb appeal upgrades can include:
“It’s less about the property and more about the street,” Lalez observes. Buyers want wide, tree-lined streets – preferably without noise from trains or cars.
2. Do the homework necessary to set a competitive price
You’ve arrived at a critical moment in your FSBO process: setting a listing price. You don’t want to leave money on the table, yet you want to encourage activity on your listing.
Before listing a home, an agent usually conducts a comparative market analysis (CMA). This is a highly-detailed study of “comps” — similar homes nearby that have sold recently, are pending, on the market, or were previously listed but taken off the market. Some may have even been pulled off the market without a sale.
“Price is everything,” Lalez states. “Buyers are price-sensitive. They won’t come look at a property [if it’s the wrong price], even if you’re negotiable.”
“FSBO prices more accurately reflect what’s for sale,” Genyk says, “not what’s been sold.” That may be because those comparisons are easier to find. However, as an agent, he looks at closed sales and tax records for more in-depth and accurate information in setting a competitive price.
Without an agent, you’ll miss out on the complexity of a full CMA and the know-how to interpret it.
However, with a little time and money, you can set a competitive price yourself.
Conduct your own “CMA Lite”
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and research.
Start with an online home value estimate
As a starting point, look at several online estimators for your home’s value. HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator aggregates publicly available data such as tax records and assessments, your home’s last sale price, and recent sales records for other properties in the same neighborhood.
We also add a new layer of information to our estimates using a short questionnaire. Tell us a few details about your Chicago home, such as:
- How much work does it need?
- What type of home is it (single-family, condo, townhouse, or other)?
- Roughly when was your house built?
- Are you planning to sell soon?
Using these insights, we’ll provide you with a preliminary estimate of home value in under two minutes.
Whether you use Zillow, Chase, Realtor, or Redfin to get a home value estimate, think of any online home price tool as a first step (not your only source of truth) — and recognize that the data used may be limited.
Narrowly filter your search for comps
When you’re ready to find comps, you can choose from sites like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, or Realtor.
You’ll want to filter your searches to the area very near your house (within blocks if possible) and with similar characteristics. If you’re not finding any comps, expand your search map.
You’ll also want to filter results by details like:
- Listing status (look at recently sold, pending, and active)
- Number of bedrooms
- Number of bathrooms
- Square footage
- Home type (single-family, condo, etc.)
Beyond the above criteria, the more houses you find with floor plans and an age similar to yours, the better.
Use a site like Zillow to collect your data
As an example, let’s take a look at how to filter your search for comps on Zillow.
- Navigate to Zillow.
- Type in your address. If a pop-up with your home’s specs appears, close it.
- Filter by “sold.” Yellow dots should appear on the map surrounding your house.
- Now, filter by the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and check the box “Use exact match.”
- Next, filter by home type.
- Next, select the “More” box. Here you can specify square footage, lot size, year built, and — crucially — the “sold in last” (time period) category.
- Scroll down and select to view houses that sold in the last 30 days.
- If you find there are not many results in your area, try expanding to 90 days. However, the further back you go, the less relevant the comps.
- If necessary, click the plus or minus buttons to widen the search area.
- Once you’ve collected data for sold houses, revise or restart the search to view active and pending listings, as well.
Invest in an appraisal
If you want to reduce guesswork further, top agents recommend paying an appraiser to provide a professional opinion of value for your home. An appraiser will combine recent property data, research of the surrounding market, and information collected from a walkthrough of your home to determine an appraised value. For a single-family home, an appraisal will likely cost $500 to $600 — well worth it to avoid possibly over- or underpricing your house by thousands.
“An appraisal looks at historical data,” Genyk explains. “It’s sterile and doesn’t feel like ‘real time.’ The market in Chicago changes so fast.” Although getting an appraisal is going in the “right direction,” he believes it still lacks the “boots on the ground” insights only a top real estate agent in the market can provide.
Make sense of the research
Compare your home’s features against the nearby comps you collected. Hopefully, the houses you studied give an indication of an appropriate price range for your home. From there, you can make dollar adjustments based on characteristics that add value (patios, curb appeal, an extra bedroom) versus detracting from it (a busy street, deferred maintenance, less square footage).
Consider the differences and similarities of comps with the appraised value of your home to choose a price that will encourage activity (too high and it may seem out of reach to many buyers), but will also maximize your profit.
Chicago was laid out in a true grid, with 95% of properties measuring 25’ x 125’. “Any deviation affects pricing,” Lalez notes. Construction materials are “extremely important” in the windy city. Most buyers prefer brick, for its insulating properties, longevity, and beauty. Homes built from 1997 to 2004 with split-faced block generally sell for less. “It’s called cinder block’s ugly cousin.” In addition to its less-than-appealing appearance, it loses its weather-sealing ability over time.
3. Photograph your home
Listing photos are powerful, either pulling in buyers for showings or keeping them away.
To give your listing an edge, consider hiring an experienced real estate photographer. While they may charge as much as $140 to $180 an hour,
“Two things get people in the door,” Lalez lists: “price and photos.” Quality photos showcase the work you’ve done on your home and help it appeal to your target market. “The listing is only as good as the photos.”
But if you do go the DIY route, make sure to:
- Use a good camera with a wide-angle lens.
- Pay attention to lighting.
- Include a photo of every room.
- Take multiple pictures of living areas, kitchens, and bathrooms.
- Try shooting different angles.
Review our guide on how to take quality real estate photos for further guidance.
4. Create a detailed, compelling listing
Along with stellar photos, you’ll want to craft an informative and compelling listing. Leverage both the listing description (a paragraph or two highlighting key features) and the property details to show potential buyers all about your home and what makes it desirable.
Tell a story with your description
Draw in potential buyers with a powerful listing description that tells a story about your Chicago house, including details like:
- Your home’s most unique and desirable features, like a breakfast nook or sunroom
- Recent upgrades like a kitchen or bathroom remodel, or new roof or HVAC system
- High-end appliances, materials, or finishes
- Outdoor features like a pool or patio
- Neighborhood features and amenities
- Nearby parks, walking trails, restaurants, and attractions
- Historical significance
If your Chicago home has natural light, be sure to include it in the listing, Genyk advises. The same goes for being in close proximity to good schools and local attractions. A home warranty is definitely an eye-catcher in a listing.
Lastly, and this is crucial: specify in your description whether a buyer’s agent will receive a commission from the proceeds. Most agents don’t want to show their clients properties from which they’d receive no commission. You can decide not to offer a buyer’s agent commission, but recognize that doing so could limit your buyer pool as buyers’ agents typically expect to be compensated for their efforts.
Don’t skimp on the property details
Aside from writing the description, you may be prompted to enter information like:
- Age of the home
- Square footage
- Architectural style (i.e., split-level, rancher, craftsman)
- Appliances included
- Exterior building materials
- Flooring types
- HOA fees
- School zone information
- Lot size
Many real estate agents and potential buyers really do read this “fine print” on your listing — so include accurate details, and plenty of them.
In addition to valuing natural light in a home, you can catch the eye of a Chicago buyer if you have an attached garage, which Genyk says is “super rare.”
5. List your home online
It’s finally time to post your Chicago home online. While you can create FSBO listings for free on popular search sites, you’d have to painstakingly post site by site, and your listing wouldn’t reach the majority of buyers and agents.
To give your home the most exposure, pay to have your home put on your local MLS (multiple listing service) — a platform agents use to share properties with one another as well as major real estate sites. Posting there will feed your listing to buyers’ agent databases and to common sites buyers use.
Only licensed real estate agents and brokers who are MLS members can post to the MLS. However, you have two options to gain access: paying an agent to post for you or using a FSBO platform online.
Pay an agent to list your home on the MLS
A local agent may be willing to list your house on the MLS for a flat fee, without any other involvement in your real estate transaction. If you decide to go this route, make sure you ask whether the fee includes updating your listing if necessary.
Use a FSBO platform with an MLS option
There are a variety of paid websites that you can use to list your Chicago house online as “for sale by owner.” These sites offer packages ranging from about $100 to $400 for just a listing, or a larger flat fee of $3,000 to $5,000 that includes any number of additional professional marketing services.
Some of these companies display their rates on their websites, but others won’t quote a fee until you input your address or select an area of the country. A few examples include:
It’s important to note that most of these companies serve FSBO sellers nationwide, which can cause challenges if the assisting representatives don’t understand the local market trends in your Chicago neighborhood.
Whatever you choose, read the fine print carefully: some sites may have hidden fees or even take a percentage off your sale — a detour you’d rather avoid on the FSBO route.
Not willing to pay for the MLS?
If you’re determined to save money by foregoing the MLS, creating a free FSBO listing on Zillow might be your top option. You can post videos and unlimited photos, and get fairly wide exposure via Zillow and the Zillow-owned Trulia.
6. Market your home
Now it’s time to spread the word about your Chicago home.
Experienced agents like Genyk and Lalez know that posting a home on the MLS is just the beginning of the marketing phase. A successful home sale requires a deliberate and targeted marketing plan to reach the right buyers and attract the best offers.
“The top five brokerages in Chicago use proprietary search platforms,” Lalez explains. “None push FSBO.” Getting a FSBO listing in front of buyers’ eyes can be tricky.
Here are some of the steps you can take to market your home:
Place a nice FSBO sign by the road
Consider getting a custom yard sign rather than purchasing a generic one you write on with a Sharpie. You can order a custom sign on a site like Vistaprint with your contact information, plus a stand, for as little as $25 plus shipping. Note that some MLS providers may have rules about whether you can post a FSBO yard sign while your home is on the MLS.
Share on social media
Share your home across social media — and ask your friends to share, too. “Social media will help,” Lalez believes, “if people are looking on all the channels and you’re spending money to optimize it for SEO.”
Hold an open house
Try these strategies for a successful open house event:
- Share details on Facebook and Nextdoor.
- Update your MLS listing with the open house details (if you’re able to as part of paying the flat fee), or update your DIY FSBO listing.
- Place open house signs at nearby intersections.
- Tidy up the house before potential buyers come through.
- Pass out info sheets with the address, bullet points about the house, your contact info, and perhaps one photo.
- If you can, collect visitors’ info — then follow up later to ask if they have any questions.
Find more expert tips for how to hold an open house at this link.
7. Manage showings
If your marketing is successful, your next step will be to show the home to prospective buyers. Welcome to the busiest phase of the home sale process. According to Lalez, a major reason some FSBO sellers switch to an agent is that they underestimated the time, energy, and expertise needed to manage this crucial step.
Sometimes it’s a “mundane” reason, Lalez says. “Who has the time to do it all? It’s a grind.”
To manage the logistics of showings:
- Respond to inquiries ASAP.
- Set end times if you need to fit many showings in one day. This will also create a sense of demand and urgency for buyers to place offers.
- Remove or secure valuables.
- Make sure the home is clean and tidy for showings.
- Follow up with buyers’ agents after showings to get their feedback.
Should you be present for showings?
If you’d rather not be present for every showing, consider using a lockbox with a code to let buyers’ agents enter the house. This is standard industry practice among agents. To ensure you’re working with someone legitimate, use Google or sites like arello.com to check their real estate license number.
With unrepresented buyers, plan to be on the property for the showing. During a showing, we recommend you:
- Point out a few highlights of the house.
- Let buyers look without hovering.
- Be prepared to answer questions.
- Avoid the temptation to tell all — let the house and listing do the talking.
“Being greeted by the owner [at a showing or open house] is very awkward,” Genyk states. Not only do owners tend to see their homes in a different way, he says, but their presence is not the benefit they think it is.
Lalez says there’s a science and an art to showings. “You have to know when they want you there and when they don’t.”
8. Evaluate offers, negotiate a deal, and make disclosures
You’ve got your first offer — congratulations! Before signing anything, Lalez says a FSBO seller should look at comps and data points to determine if the offer is good.
“I look up the buyer’s agent to view their transaction history and experience,” he continues. “I check the buyer’s pre-approval by calling the lender. Will [a FSBO seller] know what questions to ask?”
Here are key considerations when considering an offer on your Chicago home:
- Vet potential buyers by requiring a mortgage pre-approval letter or proof of funds.
- Require everything in writing.
- Remember you can counter-offer and negotiate.
- Look for a good real estate attorney. (See the next step!)
Property condition disclosure
In Chicago, a residential property seller is generally required to disclose all known material defects in writing prior to signing the sales contract (unless you never occupied the property or managed the property). Sellers are required to provide only the information requested on the Residential Real Property Disclosure Report.
In an agent-assisted sale, your listing agent would likely provide you with the required disclosure form(s). However, as a FSBO seller, you can find the form online.
What will you be asked? In Chicago, you can expect to disclose any significant defects or issues you’re aware of concerning:
- Material defects in the foundation, roof, ceiling, walls, electric system, plumbing, HVAC, etc.
- Soil problems, including the presence of lead
- If the property is located in a flood plain or other flood risks
- Leakage in the basement or crawl space
- Electrical or plumbing system issues
- Defects in the well or well equipment
- Issues with the septic or sanitary sewer
- Unsafe drinking water
- Unsafe concentrations of radon, asbestos, lead paint, or lead plumbing
- Underground pits, settlement, sliding, or upheaval
- Infestations of termites or other wood-boring insects
- Boundary or lot line disputes
- If the property has been used for the manufacture of methamphetamine
If in doubt about a problem with the home’s condition, most top real estate agents would recommend you disclose it. If you know of an issue and choose not to disclose a major problem, and that defect is later discovered, you could be held liable for damage or subsequent costs.
“Don’t over-disclose,” Lalez advises. “Disclose only what you’re legally obligated to. Let the inspector find any issues. It’s not the seller’s job.” However, if you don’t disclose the necessary information, you could be “open to legal issues.”
9. Close the sale — with professional help
Time to button up that deal.
While some states require that FSBO sellers hire a real estate lawyer to help close their sale, Illinois requires that an attorney review the purchase agreement because it is a legal document that real estate agents are not authorized to complete. The review period lasts five business days.
Real estate attorney fees can vary depending on location and how much help you want or need. In Chicago, they generally range from $200 to $300 per hour, although many attorneys offer a flat fee for this service — well worth it for professional guidance in closing one of life’s largest legal transactions.
FSBO mistakes to avoid in Chicago
On your FSBO journey, watch out for these major pitfalls:
- Missing out on the MLS.
- Forgetting or refusing to pay the buyer’s agent commission.
- Over- or under-pricing.
- Letting your house sit on the market too long.
- Forgetting to provide disclosures
More than any specific mistake, Lalez believes there’s “a level of arrogance” among FSBO sellers. “They don’t understand the complexities [of selling a home] and assume they know better. It’s natural to want to see if you can do it yourself, but have a backup plan.”
Alternatives to selling by owner in Chicago
If you decide you don’t want the hassle or pressure of FSBO, you’ve got other solid options.
Enlist the help of a top-rated real estate agent
Ultimately, the services and price gains you can get with an experienced real estate agent may put more money in your pocket than FSBO. A proven agent is also better equipped to help you achieve your selling and moving timelines.
Genyk often picks up FSBO sellers who had little success selling their homes. One client in Sauganash, a historic, family-focused area in Chicago, had a home listed at $700,000. “It sat on the market for 45 days,” he recalls.
Referred by their neighbor – Genyk’s client – the FSBO seller signed on. Genyk took the home off the market for 15 days, had his crew “tidy up, paint a couple rooms, and dramatically improve the pictures” before listing it at $749,000.
Within a week, they were under contract at $741,000.
Interested in such expertise? HomeLight’s Agent Match platform can connect you to top-performing agents in your Chicago market. Our free tool analyzes over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs. It takes only two minutes to receive your matches.
Request a cash offer to buy your Chicago home
If you’d like to skip the sale prep altogether — plus avoid paying agent commissions — you can opt to sell your home “as-is” to an all-cash buyer instead.
For a low-stress experience, consider requesting a cash offer from HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform. Tell us a few details about your home, and in as few as 72 hours, we’ll send a no-obligation all-cash offer your way. If you decide to accept the offer, Simple Sale sellers have the ability to close in as little as 10 days.
Without leaving the Simple Sale platform, you’ll also be able to compare your cash offer to an estimation of what your home would sell for on the open market so you can make an informed decision.
Ready to sell your Chicago home?
Unless you already have a buyer lined up, selling a house by owner in Chicago requires a significant investment of time and effort. You’ll need to pull your own comps, capture excellent pictures, create a listing, market the house online, field inquiries, host showings, negotiate, and close the deal. And that’s after preparing the house itself.
You also have to consider that FSBO listings tend to sell for less than agent-assisted sales. An experienced agent who knows the area can make recommendations for targeted upgrades to help you maximize your sale price and get a premium offer. This can help to offset or, in some cases, more than make up for the cost of commission — while saving you time and headaches.
If you choose to go FSBO, you should have a good idea now of what to expect from the process. Otherwise, our internal transaction data at HomeLight shows that the top 5% of real estate agents sell homes for as much as 10% more than average, and we’d be happy to introduce you to some of the best agents in your Chicago market.
Header Image Source: (Muzammil Soorma / Unsplash)