Agents take comfort by reminding themselves that for-sale-by-owner and other alternative sales methods blossom in an up market and tend to wither in market downturns. The market is slowing now. And they note that for-sale-by-owner, which has been around as long as property rights, has always accounted for something less than 20 percent of home sales.
Kevin King, executive vice president of the local Realtors association, runs the multiple listing service but says he pays no attention to FsboMadison. "It's not important; I don't follow it," he said. "I don't even know the people."
But times have changed. Most consumers are now accustomed to executing large transactions, including airline tickets and investments, over the Internet with little or no assistance. Buyers and sellers are far more comfortable dealing with each other through Web sites like eBay. And it is far easier to find the for-sale-by-owner crowd, which makes up some 20 percent of all sellers, on a single Web site with photographs and property descriptions, not unlike the official multiple listing service.
The presence of a robust for-sale-by-owner operation has also helped open up the Madison market for other alternatives to real estate agents. Jason A. Greller, a lawyer, charges a flat fee of $600 to help a buyer or seller on a house transaction and handles about 200 a year. Many of his clients find a house on FsboMadison and also see his advertisement on the site.
"Isn't 6 percent just a little too much?" Greller said. Even a lawyer charging $400 an hour is cheaper than a real estate agent, he said. "I do more than fill in forms for people. I teach them how to sell their house."
Jeff Bailey writes for The New York Times.