It’s More Complicated Than It Looks

We were approached by someone who is interested in buying our home. The buyer has provided us with an unsigned sales agreement as their offer. They are offering 1.5% of the purchase price as their hand money and have not included proof of funds (it is a cash offer).  Are we wasting our time with these buyers?

The very short answer is yes! For starters, to be a valid offer, it must be in writing and signed. Without a signed writing, you have absolutely nothing to bind the buyer should you decide to proceed. What you received is not an offer at all and you should not give it serious consideration until the paperwork is signed by the buyer.  If there are no agents involved, the buyer needs to hire an attorney to prepare an offer and you will need to hire your own attorney to review it.

Hand money equal to 1.5% of the offer may or may not be sufficient depending on the individual circumstances. Sometimes that is all a buyer can afford. However, this buyer is supposedly paying cash so there should be no problem with them providing a more substantial deposit. Look for a minimum of 5% in this type of scenario. The hand money is your consolation prize should the buyer decide not to close after all contingencies have been satisfied – if you have moved out, you will need at least that much to compensate you for all of your moving costs.

As far as proof of funds, I would recommend that you not engage in any substantive negotiations until the buyer has proven that they do have the cash available to close. Talk is cheap, but if they really do have the cash, they will have no problem producing copies of statements showing the cash or a letter from their banker that they have the needed funds.

Your questions address just a few of the hundreds of complexities involved in getting a home sold and highlight why its really important to engage a full-time real estate expert when buying or selling a home.  Selling your home yourself may sound like a great idea in the abstract but the “for sale by owner” sellers that I have spoken to have regretted not engaging a Realtor to represent them as selling a home is far more complicated than it looks and most ended up feeling like they got the short end of the stick at the end of the day!

439 Oliver

Located in one of Sewickley’s most sought after neighborhoods, this home is beautifully remodeled and offers three spacious finished levels of living space, including a main level bedroom suite! Gleaming hardwood floors unify the main and upper levels of the home. The newer kitchen is open to both the dining area and large family room with vaulted ceilings and features brand new granite countertops. Walls of windows overlook the beautiful backyard – French doors open to the private patio. A convenient mudroom provides access to the attached garage. Upstairs there are three bedrooms including the restful master suite with beautiful bath. The lower level includes a finished game room, full bath, fifth bedroom and a spacious storage/mechanics/laundry area. Fully fenced backyard with fire pit. Close proximity to all village amenities and schools. Freshly painted interior…move in and enjoy all that Sewickley has to offer. $689,000    Read More…

319 Scaife

Exceptional Sewickley Heights home will take your breath away with its unparalleled beauty. Sited on 5 private acres, it combines the authentic charm of a Sewickley Heights carriage home with modern amenities and stunning design.  Magazine perfect kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances and granite tops opens to a captivating dining room with fireplace and relaxing family room.  French doors open from the gorgeous living room, also with fireplace, onto the sprawling stone terrace, which spills out effortlessly onto the manicured grounds.  Enjoy coffee or wine relaxing under the wisteria-draped trellis. Incredible master suite with three walk-in closets and remarkable custom bath with radiant floors, Victoria and Albert soaking tub and large shower with custom glass enclosure.  Charming enclosed courtyard. Three car attached garage.  $2,150,000   Read More…


I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238

Zillow Information Not Always Correct

The information on Zillow is incorrect about our home.  Should we address this?

Zillow is relied upon by millions of consumers for their real estate information and so it is important, if you plan to sell your home, that the information be correct.  Incorrect information can lead to poor buying decisions on a buyer’s part and might also adversely impact your Zestimate.  On their website, in the very fine print, Zillow itself admits that its Zestimate reliability in Pittsburgh is not particularly good, but most people don’t read the fine print.  So before you list your home for sale, take the time to check it out with Zillow and correct the errors you see by clicking on the “Correct Home Facts” tab, setting up an account and submitting the requested error corrections.  It is possible to dispute the Zestimate as well, so if you are listing your home for sale and the number is significantly lower than you anticipate it is worth, it may also be worth your time to do this before you list.

It is important, however, to be aware that whatever you post to Zillow stays there. As tempting as it might seem to try a “For Sale By Owner” to “save” the real estate commission (and I say this with emphasis because it is the buyer, and not the seller, who is paying the commission – if you are a FSBO they expect you to deduct the realtor fees you are not paying from your price, so the savings is theirs), I do NOT recommend listing FSBOs on Zillow.  Once they are there, they become part of a price history on the home, and if you ultimately employ an agent and try to raise the price, the buying public will be able to see online your earlier price and you will struggle to get traction at the higher price point.

Zillow is a popular online tool for many consumers (my preference is as it is not owned by a publicly traded company reporting to shareholders  and is not selling space to make money for shareholders, which in some instances may not be in a consumer’s best interests). Given that many consumers use Zillow, I do recommend you take the time to get the information about your home correct before listing!



Complete architect-designed interior renovation of this elegant Sewickley Village Queen Anne Victorian. Sited on a private 1.7 acre lot in the heart of Sewickley Village.  Meticulous renovation and transformation into a home that works perfectly for millennial families. 5000SFF+. Remodeled kitchen seamlessly incorporates new cabinetry and granite tops while integrating refinished antique glass cabinet doors into the design. Completely redesigned master suite, with sitting area, turret reading nook, luxurious bathroom and exercise room. Impressive development of the lower level incorporates a family room, office, kitchenette/bar area and powder room into the home. $1,200,000


Privacy in the heart of Sewickley Village!  2.973 Acres with mature landscaping, sprawling lawns, in-ground pool, private patio and natural woodlands that provide a year-round buffer for this magical property, yet Village shops and restau

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I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238

Pocket Listings — Are They For You?

Dear Kathe, 

We have noticed that several homes have sold lately before they have hit the MLS. Are these “pocket listings” a good way to sell your home?

If a home sells before it hits the MLS, as a “pocket listing” as they are often called, it is highly likely that the seller could have sold the home for significantly more money. The MLS exposes a home to a large number of prospective buyers in a very short amount of time. This widespread exposure is what has the potential to drive the price up for the seller.

A “pocket listing” is more like a secret sale. The agent you are dealing with may have a buyer that is willing to buy your home, but if it’s that easy, chances are you could have received more money if the general public had a chance at your home, and a bidding war could have possibly ensued. If an agent is being straightforward with the seller and discusses the strategies involved with using the market pressure of the MLS to drive in a higher price, it’s a rare seller who will willingly leave money on the table.

So why do we occasionally see these seemingly “secret sales” taking place? Some sellers perceive these pocket listings as a good thing – some don’t want to be hassled with multiple showings, some don’t want the general public to know their home is available for sale. Some agents choose this strategy because they want to keep all of the commission for themselves and that only happens if their own buyer is the successful bidder. If a seller’s goal is to maximize financial return, however, a pocket listing, or accepting an agreement of sale before the home is marketed in the MLS, is rarely the best strategy.

So no, my 17 years experience indicates that a pocket listing is usually not in a seller’s best interests. The highest returns I have seen sellers achieve occur in scenarios when they have used strategies to maximize the excitement within the buying community through proper pricing, excellent conditioning and staging and full MLS exposure.

Should You FSBO?

Dear Kathe: We will be selling our home within the next year. We are telling our friends with the hope that we can find our own buyer and sell our home ourselves. Do you see any pitfalls with our strategy?

 I am a real estate broker.  What do you think the answer will be?  You absolutely should not try to FSBO your home!  But why not?  Because it is not in your best interests.  You will be better off if you hire an experienced, full-time agent to represent you.  Here’s why:


  1. You will not end up with more money if you sell your home yourself.  If its that easy to sell yourself, chances are you underpriced your home.  And if that’s the case, you would have been better off with it listed in the MLS – with the incredible amount of marketing we bring instantly to your home, if you are willing to price it that reasonably, we could have likely generated a bidding war.


  1. The buyer will negotiate a price that gives him the full benefit of the fact that no commission is being paid.  In other words, if your home could have sold for $500,000 through an agent, your buyer will expect to only pay 94% of that or $470,000.  You may be thinking “that’s ok – I am no worse off than if I had hired an agent.”  But why put yourself through the hassle when for the same net, you can have our expert marketing and negotiating working for you?
  2. You have no one looking out for you.  How do you know if the price they are offering is fair?  How do you know if the terms are appropriate – is the hand money high enough, for example.  How can you be certain that they are really qualified to perform?  How will you respond when the inspector produces a laundry list of deficiencies, as they always do?


  1. FSBO homes have no urgency.  The way we generate bidding wars and nice realizations for our sellers is to create a sense of urgency by marketing your home everywhere instantly.  FSBOs simply don’t have the same urgency and the longer a buyer can think about your home without worrying that someone else will snap it up, the less likely they are to buy it.


Just like you wouldn’t operate on yourself to try to save a few bucks, it is unwise to try to sell your own home.  Even trying will “burn your market” and make it difficult for us to put into place an effective plan once you decide you have had enough.  Start with a well thought out strategic plan—every house is different – every seller’s needs and motivations are different – there is no one size fits all when it comes to selling a home.  Buying and selling homes is far more complex than we make it look.  Don’t skimp when it comes to professional advice.

Have You Really Thought This Through?

As the market has improved this spring, Sellers are occasionally considering selling their homes themselves, without the advocacy of their trusted agent.  The rationale seems the same – save the commission.  And yet, while a commission is in fact not paid, it is paid in reduced realizations.  You see, buyers are very savvy – they know what the market will bear and if you, the seller, do not have to pay an agent, they expect to realize the benefit of a reduced  purchase price.  Buyers also know that if they can get you to start to walk down the FSBO road with them, you will be unlikely to back out even if they are less than reasonable because you will fear losing the deal you appear to have happening and will be very unsure about whether there will be another buyer.  It is a rare day that we see FSBOs actually achieve a net sales price greater than what we, agents with the power of big advertising dollars and years and years of strong negotiating experience, can achieve.  So in the end, your net sales price is the same, and yet you have to deal with all of the tricky little details yourself.  Details like making sure you actually have a valid contract (not as simple as it might seem), to working your way through financing and inspection issues, to working to make sure you close on time.  All of the jobs that we, the agents do – attending to every last detail to make your transaction smooth sailing – you must now handle on your own – and yet you are getting nothing for your effort because your net is no higher, and may be lower, than we agents could have achieved.  If your house is “hot” enough to bring a FSBO buyer to the table with minimal or no advertising, imagine how much excitement we could generate with the power of our advertising behind your home – these days, a bidding war is even possible!

Statistically, FSBO transactions also fail to close more often than brokered transactions.  So if it is important to you to close (and you are not just fishing for an offer if someone happens to come along), consider this as you decide how to proceed.

I can cut my own hair to save a few bucks – but it wont look as nice as it would if I went to the salon – I can paint my own walls (try to ignore the messy spots) – I can invest my own money (and watch it stagnate) – I can suture my own wounds (and end up in the ER with an infection).  I can do almost anything – but not as well nor to as successful an end as someone with years of experience.  The same is true for real estate.  Years of transactions and we, the trained professionals, make it look easy.  Before you don your real estate cap, take the time to think it through and ask yourself whether you are absolutely certain that you will actually come out ahead on your own.  Statistics are clear that you will not.