Should you sign on with a real estate agent when you sell your home? Lots of people jump into this debate when it comes time to sell their home, and why not? Listing with a real estate agent costs money!

Or does it? Sure, by selling the house yourself you’ll save the whopping 6-7% commission real estate agents commonly charge, but will you really come out ahead in the end?

Not always. And probably not most times.

I’ve sold two homes in my life, and in both cases I started out for-sale-by-owner (a.k.a., FSBO), then listed with a real estate agent who finally made the sale. I think there are several reasons why I couldn’t sell my own homes but a real estate agent could, as well as a few more that make the sales process easier.

Selling a house is hard!

Most of us underestimate how difficult it is to sell a house, and over-estimate our own abilities to do it. Selling a home only looks easy, and the fact that many people do it successfully during strong housing markets only reinforces the myth. In reality, selling a home is a difficult process under the best of circumstances.

An experienced real estate agent knows the right questions to ask a buyer and can usually recognize the difference between a legitimate buyer and a tire kicker. Unless you’ve been working in sales yourself, there’s a big learning curve right there. You can waste a lot of time entertaining offers from people who either aren’t serious, or who are completely unqualified.

An agent can tap into the market

Real estate agents have one big weapon in their arsenal that the rest of us don’t: the multiple listing services (MLS). This is the city- or metropolitan-wide system that assembles all of the properties listed for sale in your area, creating an exchange for homes for sale—think EBay or Craigslist. This is not to be minimized; the best way to sell a property is by putting it in places where a lot of qualified eyes will see it, and the MLS is the place for real estate.

Placing an ad in a local newspaper or even on a FSBO website doesn’t come close to offering the level of exposure for your home that the MLS does. And because it’s THE place for property, every real estate agent in town will see your home and show it to their own prospects. No, we may not like paying real estate agents that fat commission, but it’s precisely that fee that creates the financial incentive for agents to sell your home.

An agent is working when you aren’t

If you’ve ever tried selling your home yourself, you know how disruptive it can be. You have to be home to show the home and to field phone calls. You have to hold open house events and spend time putting marketing flyers all over town. Real estate agents handle all of that for you, and best of all, you don’t even have to be around. You’re free to go about the business of living your life while the agent works on getting your home sold.

Agents have the tools and the connections

Let’s say you’re selling your home yourself, and you finally get a buyer—what do you do next?

A real estate agent knows exactly what to do. She’ll set up a written offer, collect an upfront deposit, handle the negotiations, send the buyers to a reputable mortgage lender, then set up the closing with a title company or attorney. You’ll have no stress while this is happening. In fact, it’s often when an offer comes in that you’ll most appreciate having an agent.

An agent is only paid if they can sell your home

Getting back to that commission that we all hate so much…you only pay it if the agent sells your house. If not, you’ve lost nothing. And chances are that an agent, and by extension, the real estate community, will sell your home for more than you will trying to sell it on your own. Traffic from the MLS and the financial incentive that commissions create have a way of making that happen.

Use a discount agent—sometimes

If you don’t like the idea of paying a full commission agent, you can opt for a discount agent. They may charge only 4-5% (or even less), which will save you a few thousand at closing. And it will accomplish the single most important element agencies provide, which is to get your property listed on the MLS.

Just be aware that discount agents come with limitations. The reduced fee may be only for the MLS listing and nothing else. You may need to market and show your property when a prospective buyer comes along, and you may also find yourself doing more of the business side of the transaction than you’re comfortable with.

It may seem like a big advantage to save a real estate commission by selling your home yourself. But if you consider all the advantages and agent brings to the table, you might think otherwise. Paying someone 6-7% to sell your home may seem like a good deal. And heck, if they can’t sell it you don’t have to pay anyone.

Have you ever tried to sell your home yourself? Would you recommend it, or would you advise using an agent?

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.