Thanks to these technical advances, sellers and buyers today have an incredible array of online tools at their disposal that facilitate everything from calculating a home's best listing price to finding a lender for a mortgage. Guides, checklists, pricing reports and more all help take the guesswork out of the for sale by owner (FSBO) process.
Things weren't always this way. For most of the 20th century, agents kept real estate information under tight control. Today, information and advertising resources offered by online services help sellers achieve the same exposure only real estate agents once provided.
The real estate profession itself helped develop the technological improvements that would lead the way to FSBO-seller empowerment. The National Association of Realtors first installed computers in 1973, digital multiple listing services followed in 1975 and, according to a historical account on the group's website, "by the early 1980s the idea that computers would soon replace traditional paper MLS directories was quickly becoming a reality."
At the beginning of the 21st century, only 3 percent of the U.S. adult population had a high-speed broadband Internet connection at home. By mid-2013, a Pew Research Center study found that number had risen to 70 percent. Online shopping developed and matured, too, as low-cost home computers and high-speed access became readily available and consumers moved online.
Realtor.com launched in 1997, ForSaleByOwner.com in 1999 — and things have never been the same. As CNN Money reported in late 2013, FSBO had become more popular than ever, and by-owner sellers were "ditching brokers."
It isn't hard to see why grabbing the reins appeals to so many by-owner sellers. Getting a home in front of prospective buyers had previously been a complex, arcane process — but now that online services are leveraging Internet technology, selling a home has become a relatively simple, five-step process.
ForSaleByOwner.com sellers will find that process includes newly redesigned pages that offer guidance and support in a number of important areas including:
- Pricing Scout
- Buyer Feedback Tool
- Interactive Checklists
- State specific legal forms for closing
- And a comprehensive Seller's Guide to take you through the five steps
Buyers, as well, are benefiting from an approach that allows them to eliminate agents and their 6 percent commissions. About 20 percent of home sales have always been directly between buyer and seller. After all, if you don't need an agent to see a home, you don't need one to buy one, either.
Among the online tools available for buyers are interactive pages devoted to:
Although the updated ForSaleByOwner.com site offers a great many improvements for sellers and buyers, General Manager Eddie Tyner says there is still more work to do. "I would expect that the industry needs to focus more on automating the selling process," he says. "We should build more tools integrated into a workflow from start to finish. In any given state, for example, the process is very step by step — and the steps are the same almost every time."
Eventually, Tyner sees an online process that "automatically creates a listing, gathers data, populates a web page, (assembles) all paperwork and connects you with service providers." Basically, this means the role of the real estate agent can be taken over by extremely smart software.
But some things still require the human touch, Tyner says. Judgment calls about strategies in selling or buying can't be done by machine. "All the other things, however, will be automated," he predicts.
We want to know: What online tools or resources have you used to buy or sell a home?