These days, the media is filled with reports of people using eBay or craigslist to sell their own home. Apparently, the marketing exposure generated from those sites may match the power of the Multiple Listing Service in a hot market. After all, why give away 6% to a listing broker when you can do it yourself. If your home is worth $600,000, you've saved $36k. Right?
Well, yes and no.
Do you know what you are statutorily mandated to provide as a seller? The Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS) is a crucial document that can come back to haunt sellers in a "bad house case." What if you prepare your own advertising and make a misstatement about a material element of the home, such as the square footage or age and condition of the roof? The theory behind working with a real estate professional is that they can walk through the disclosure process with the seller to ensure that when the house is sold, the buyer has acknowledged all the idiosyncrasies of the home and accepted them as part of the transaction. They do this by engaging home inspectors, termite inspectors, and conducting their own visual inspection of the home. If you list your home with an agent from a large reputable brokerage, they likely have had internal training sessions from their in-house counsel about appropriate advertising to buyers.
That is not to say that a seller must have a listing agent.
In some cases a FSBO ("for sale by owner") is genuinely appropriate. For example if you have a known buyer, such as a relative or friend and you two have already settled on the selling price. If the seller and buyer have an established relationship, then there is less likely to be a "buyer's remorse" situation where the buyer feels that the seller failed to reveal a material defect of the home. However, if either you or the buyer has more knowledge of real estate transactions, you are working with an inequality of bargaining power. This may require a decision for the buyer to engage his or her own agent.
Even with a FSBO, it's wise to engage professionals for some part of the transaction, such as an escrow holder. In addition to title insurance, they pro-rate the property taxes, obtain the payoff statement from the lender and can handle the withholding tax.
In addition to using an escrow holder, the seller should consider engaging a real estate attorney to prepare the purchase agreement, the TDS, the As-Is Addendum and all the various disclosure forms as well as usher the transaction through to completion. Again the purpose of working with other professionals is to ensure that once the property is sold, that it stays sold.