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Q:  Marsha, my wife and I are looking for a home to purchase in Santa Barbara. We have been working with our agent for six months and made several unsuccessful offers. Recently, we found a house that is being sold by the owner (FSBO). It’s priced surprisingly lower than expected. The owner, however, won’t let our agent represent us, even if we pay her ourselves. We feel houses are getting beyond our reach. He said three other people are going to write offers, so we need to hurry. What do you think?

A:  I have a strong bias towards using real estate agents. While the homeowners know their own house, they lack the knowledge and experience on how to sell a house. For example, how to correctly price and market a house. What disclosures and paperwork are required? What is the potential liability should things go sideways? There are a high degree of cancelations with FSBO sales. Agents act as buffers between the principals and work to keep emotions and aggrieved, adversarial, and offended feelings out of the equation. 

I find it extremely odd this FSBO won’t allow you to pay for your own agent. Plus, the pressure to “hurry up and buy” is suspicious. Proceed with caution. FSBOs can be a scam, both for the seller (dishonest buyers) and for the buyer (counterfeit or bogus owners). You may have encountered the latter. It’s possible the individual you met doesn’t actually own the house. He may be a tenant, squatter, disgruntled boyfriend, or a scam artist.

The internet is used by crooks and dishonest folks to post fraudulent listings. The supposed seller may have found a vacant rental on Craigslist and begun to represent the home as his own and for sale. When you present an offer, you will be asked for a deposit. This is usually 3 percent of your offer. Will you feel secure in handing this stranger that much money? What are your chances of receiving the money back if you legitimately cancel the contract? 

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FSBOs who are authentic sellers are also conned by deceitful buyers. Owners will be taken in by sophisticated real estate investors or actual grifters. A common ploy is to offer a significant amount over the asking price. Greed kicks in, and the thief gains control of the house before the owner understands what’s going on. 

Most FSBO sellers and buyers, particularly in Santa Barbara, are legitimate. Yet, besides doing a Google search, how would you know? Real estate agents are transparent. They’re required to post their Department of Real Estate (DRE) license number everywhere. It’s on our signs, in our advertising, and on our business cards. With that information, it’s easy for the public to access information on the DRE website. On this site, they will discover if the license is current, who we work for, and if there has ever been disciplinary action against the agent. 

I’ve worked with many buyers who purchased from a FSBO. Legitimate sellers will always allow buyers to have their own representation. This FSBO doesn’t pass the smell test. 

Marsha Gray has worked in Santa Barbara real estate for more than 25 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, where she helps her clients buy and sell homes and with lending services. To read more of Marsha’s Q&A articles, visit Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or

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