Pro’s & (Mostly) Con’s

Don’t be a secret agent.”

—Advice to new real estate agents just starting out.

Why would the owner of a “For Sale” home skip putting up a “For Sale” sign in front?

Search me.

While I’m not aware of any statistics, my educated guess is that, at any given time, about 6% – 8% of single-family homes listed as “Active” on MLS don’t have a “For Sale” sign on the property (note: I’m excluding gated communities, which typically forbade them).

Of the homes with no sign, I’d further guess that the majority are upper bracket homes.

The owner’s rationale?

They know that expected market time varies directly with price — and don’t want to foster the impression that their home is sitting on the market, unsold, month after month.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

While I’m sympathetic to that concern, I’d argue that it can be self-fulfilling: by skipping a sign — and often, other prep and marketing steps as well (see, Reason #4 below) — the Seller makes it more likely that their home languishes on the market.

Here, then, are the four most common reasons Sellers use to justify forgoing a “For Sale” sign ” followed by my Realtor rebuttal (in italics):

One. The Seller doesn’t want their neighbors to know they’re selling.

Only naïve Sellers think their neighbors won’t know they’re trying to sell. The neighbors always know. Savvy Sellers (and their agents) proactively enlist neighbors, to recruit their friends to live nearby, help get out the word, and fill up the home at Sunday open houses — at least pre-Pandemic (Pssst! The real Buyer doesn’t know that the other people wandering through the home are “just neighbors”).

Two. Security.

If I were a burglar looking for a house to break into (I’m not), the last thing I’d want is a home with lots of people coming and going, visitors who can show up unannounced at any time, etc.

Would-be burglars also shouldn’t be surprised that one of the first pieces of advice listing agents give their clients is to remove valuables from their home before it goes on the market.

Three. There are already several other nearby homes for sale, and the owner doesn’t want Buyers to think that there’s a glut, or that there’s something wrong with the block/neighborhood.

It’s certainly not helpful if there are already several nearby homes on the market.

However, even on the same block, neighboring homes can vary considerably in size, style, floor plan, updates (or not), and asking price.  See, “Why the Neighbor’s House Usually Isn’t a Comp.”

Translation: the homes appeal to very different Buyers. 

Even if the competing homes are direct competitors ” make that, especially when nearby “For Sale” homes are direct competitors ” it’s imperative for Sellers to have the best-prepped, priced, and marketed home on the block. 

By definition, that includes a “For Sale” sign in front.

As veteran agents (myself included) advise their selling clients: either your competition helps you sell, or, your home helps competing homes.

Half-hearted Sellers 

Which leaves Reason #4: The owner “just wants to test the waters,” “will only sell if they can get “X” dollars,” etc.

One of the ways ambivalent or unmotivated Sellers telegraph their mindset is by half-heartedly committing to the sales process. 

So, they skimp on prep (never mind staging), price too high, and (often) pick the agent who will list their home for the cheapest commission, never mind their skill or experience. 

Oh! And such half-hearted Sellers don’t want the exposure that comes with having a “For Sale” sign in their front yard.

Surprise, surprise, cut all those corners, and the odds of finding a Buyer shrink accordingly. 

P.S.: I suppose there’s a fifth reason to forgo a sign: cost.

While listing agents customarily order and pay for a sign as part of their commission, owners selling their home themselves (“FSBO’s”) typically use limited service brokers with ala carte pricing.

At least IMHO, a FSBO who elects to save about $150 skipping a “For Sale” sign in front of their $200k (or $2 million!) home is the definition of “penny wise, pound foolish.”

See also, “Staging Malfunctions, or, Seller Cold Feet“; “How Come’s There’s a “For Sale’ Sign in Front ” But It’s Not on MLS?”; and “Home For Sale ” But Not on MLS (Huh?!?).”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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