Limited-service Real Estate Agents Offer Less Value Than You Might Expect

You cringe at the thought of forking over commission, but don’t feel confident selling your home 100% For Sale By Owner. Could hiring a limited-service real estate agent be your goldilocks solution?

We’ll break down limited-service agents’ services and fees so you can decide for yourself.

What is a limited-service real estate agent?

As you might expect, a limited-service real estate agent provides fewer services than a full-service agent does for a lower price.

Many limited-service brokerages start and stop at listing your property on the local multiple listing service (MLS). Only licensed real estate agents can list on the MLS, which is why many For Sale by Owner sellers hire a limited-service real estate agent to complete this task.

Securing an MLS listing is almost a requisite to compete in today’s housing market: Nine out of 10 sellers list their homes on their local MLS. The MLS also auto-syndicates the listing to other property listing websites for maximum exposure.

In addition to posting your listing on the MLS, limited-service agents may also include other services with their fee:

  • Set up a lock box: A combination lock box containing a key to the property that allows buyer’s agents to show the house when the homeowner isn’t available.
  • Provide “for sale” signs: Your agent may provide professional signage that includes your contact information. You’re in charge of liaising with prospective buyers if you go this route.
  • Consult on home sale facets: For an additional fee, a limited-service agent may offer consultation on pricing, marketing, or negotiating strategies.
An image of a limited service real estate agent talking on the phone.
Source: (Dane Deaner / Unsplash)

Limited service agent fees range

Some limited-service agents charge a flat-fee averaging around $3,500. Other limited-service agents charge a reduced commission ranging from 1% to 1.5%.

If you use a flat-fee MLS listing agent, be aware that your MLS listing is likely to have an expiration date – commonly around 60 days – and could require an additional renewal fee.

A limited-service real estate agent should provide a contract detailing what specific services will and will not be provided, along with the cost and term of the agreement.

“Rule #1 is ‘everything in writing,’” says top agent Shawn Rogers, who works with over 65% more single-family homes than the average agent in Gilbert, AZ. He emphasizes the importance of having a written record to ensure both parties are on the same page.

Limited service agents won’t provide these services

You may negotiate for a limited-service agent to assist with services beyond the MLS listing. But in general, most duties that a full-service real estate agent provides will fall on your shoulders. These responsibilities include:

Staging services and remodeling advice

Real estate agents know what sells homes in your market. They advise clients on how to efficiently remodel and stage their home to add value to their home and attract buyers. Some full-service real estate agents provide staging for no additional fee.

A limited-service real estate agent won’t assist you with prepping your home for sale. You’ll need to research what styles are trending in your market and stage your home accordingly. Beware of over-improving your home before you list — this can quickly eat away your profit.

Pricing strategy

Full-service agents help sellers pinpoint the best listing price for their home. They conduct a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) to determine the home’s fair market value and suggest a pricing strategy to play the market in the seller’s favor.

Limited-service real estate agents typically won’t assist with pricing strategy due to the amount of work involved in crafting a rock-solid CMA. You’re on your own for pinpointing the best price.

You can start your pricing research by checking your home’s value online with HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator. Next, look at the sale prices of homes similar to yours that sold in the last six months. Note differences between your home and these “comps” and adjust your price accordingly — this step is easier said than done.

Marketing

Besides providing you with a “for sale” sign, limited-service real estate agents won’t market your home. You’re in charge of hiring a professional photographer to take listing photos. You should also market your listing with digital and print advertisements, such as four-color flyers, direct-mail listing ads, video tours, and social media promotion.

Communication and showings

As we touched on earlier, a limited-service real estate agent does not communicate with buyers on their behalf. Your listing and signage must include your personal contact information so buyers and their agents can reach you directly. Respond to buyers’ calls and emails and arrange showings promptly, so you don’t lose them to the competition.

Negotiating

If a buyer asks for a price reduction or repair credits, you’re on your own to negotiate. Are you up to the task? Negotiating against a buyer’s agent who does this for a living can be a challenge. For instance, in 2019, 38% of buyers said their agent negotiated a lower price, and 47% said their agent got them better contract terms. And most of the sellers involved in these negotiations were represented by a listing agent.

When it comes to negotiations, leave emotions at the door. Know your bottom line (i.e., at what point you’ll walk away). But before you walk, have a BANTA : a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.”

Closing procedures and paperwork

There’s paperwork throughout the home sale process, especially at closing. Navigating paperwork and legal processes proves difficult for many sellers who forgo a full-service agent. In a recent Statistic Brain poll, 18% of FSBO sellers stated that “insufficient knowledge of the paperwork” was the most challenging part of their home sale.

And don’t expect your buyer’s agent to help you out. Buyer’s agents can’t assist a self-representing seller in finalizing a transaction. If they do, they may be engaging in “dual agency,” which is illegal in some states. This dynamic can compromise an agent’s neutrality and challenge the agent’s confidentiality, both of which could unfairly impact the sale price.

Your best bet is to hire a real estate attorney to assist you with closing. Some states even require an attorney’s presence at closing, regardless of if the seller and buyer are working with real estate agents or not.

An image of a homeowner searching online for a limited service real estate agent.
Source: (Thom Bradley / Burst)

Check your local laws on limited-service real estate agents

Some states have laws regarding what services brokerages are legally obligated to provide.

For instance, in 2004, Illinois enforced a statute defining the minimum level of services a real estate professional must provide; the state created the law in response to complaints from consumers that they felt abandoned by their limited-service agent. Now real estate agents must present and discuss offers and counteroffers with the seller.

Texas and Missouri have similar laws, and Michigan is currently working toward comparable legislation.

Commission savings come at a cost

The primary “pro” for going with a limited-service real estate agent is savings — you won’t have to pay the full 5.8% commission. You may still have to pay the buyer’s agent’s commission, but if you don’t have a full-service listing agent, more money stays in your pocket … or does it?

In addition to the extra expenses you’re personally responsible for, you’re statistically likely to sell your home for less money with a limited-service agent than a full-service agent. The Real Estate Center sponsored research that indicates that limited-service listings sold for 1.7% less and took 17.1% longer to sell than full-service listings. Even if you save 2% on commission, you lose almost that much on the sale. Those savings might not be worth the extra work you’ll need to do as an independent seller.

“What is your time valued at?” Rogers asks. While he recognizes that some sellers don’t need a full-service agent, he believes that hiring a professional real estate agent to handle all aspects of the sale is better for most sellers. “Why would you want the whole task?”

For most sellers, these challenges appear too daunting; 89% of sellers partner with a real estate agent to sell their home.

Header Image Source: (fizkes / Shutterstock)