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Guide to Selling and Transferring Real Estate by Owner

Looking to sell or transfer ownership of a property without a realtor? This guide can help you conduct a private sale or transfer with ease and peace of mind.

Essential documents for buying and selling property

These documents help you sell real estate and manage the buyer's payments.

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Step 1

Quitclaim Deed

A Quitclaim Deed is used to transfer a title or whatever interest the owner (grantor) may have in property to another person (grantee) without any war...

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Step 2

Real Estate Purchase Agreement

A Contract for Sale of Real Estate is used to document the purchase and sale of real property.

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Step 3

Contract for Deed/Land Contract

A Land Contract (or Contract for Deed) is a contract between a seller and buyer of real estate, where the seller provides the financing for the purcha...

Last updated January 10, 2024

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When it comes to real estate, tracking ownership is essential. In the United States, every piece of land and real estate ownership should be documented and filed with county recording offices.

Therefore, when you sell or gift property to someone, you need to create and execute certain documents to reflect ownership changes.

In this guide, we'll discuss the difference between selling and transferring real estate, the process of selling your house without a realtor, and the different ways you can transfer or gift property.

Selling versus transferring real estate

Selling and transferring real estate are separate actions that come with their own rules and requirements. Each activity requires unique documentation.

Although closely related, selling real estate and transferring real estate are not fundamentally linked. You can transfer real estate to someone without selling it, but you can't sell it without transferring the property title to the new buyer.

Selling a house or piece of real estate

Selling your house means you're accepting a buyer's money in return for your home. Depending on the housing market and your property, selling your home can be a quick or drawn-out process. You can sell your real estate property with or without the help of a real estate agent.

Sometimes, you have to sell your home due to factors out of your control. Other times, you may just be ready for a change. Selling your real estate requires you to transfer the property title to the buyer as well. However, if you simply want to give a property to someone else as a gift, selling your home is not required.

There are many instances where people transfer a title without selling the property. For example, you may transfer your family home to your adult children when you move into senior-specific living or downsize into a smaller home.

Transfer of property

Whether you are selling a piece of real estate or giving it away as a gift, you always have to transfer the title to the new owner when giving up ownership of a property.

Transferring real estate involves changing the property title from one person to another by filing the necessary paperwork with your county recording office. Usually, creating a deed and filing it completes the ownership change.

A deed is a legal document that transfers a property's title to someone new, proving that they have ownership. You can also file a deed to add an additional owner or remove a joint owner.

Selling a house by owner

Homeowners selling their own homes without the assistance of real estate agents is growing in popularity. When homes are being sold privately, you may hear people refer to them as “for sale by owner” or FSBO for short.

Although it can be more work, selling real estate privately can financially benefit you and save you thousands of dollars.

Selling without a realtor is not for everyone. However, you may decide to sell your home without a realtor if:

  • You plan on financing the purchase for the buyer
  • You're selling your home to a family member
  • You have the time and interest
  • You want to save money
  • You want complete control over the transaction

How much does it cost to sell a house?

The cost of selling a house can vary depending on a variety of factors. The process may involve repair costs, legal fees, staging costs, moving costs, and more. However, the cost of selling a house can be most affected by whether or not you hire a real estate agent.

Cost of selling through a real estate agent

When you have a real estate agent help you sell your home, they take a commission. According to Bankrate, a real estate agent's commission is typically 5 to 6% of the sale price.

So, if you list your home through a real estate agent and sell it for $300,000, your agent could walk away with a commission of $15,000 to $18,000, leaving you with less of your equity.

For some sellers, paying a realtor is worth it, but others would rather fully profit off of the sale and not pay a realtor at all.

In addition to an agent's commission, you may have to pay for repairs, home improvements, closing costs, legal fees, and moving fees when you sell your house. With these additional expenses, the cost to sell a house can be around 15% of its sale price. According to Zillow, in the United States, the average seller can spend anywhere from $17,000 to $22,000 in closing costs.

Cost of selling privately

When you sell real estate privately, you still may have to pay for closing costs, such as repairs, home improvements, and legal fees. However, when selling privately, you'll save on realtor commission fees and keep more of your profits after closing. Therefore, selling privately could save you up to 6% of your home's sales price.

Keep in mind, if you are inexperienced with selling real estate, privately selling your property could lead to a lower sale price. Therefore, it's important to conduct thorough research and ensure you are getting the best deal.

How to sell a house by owner

When you sell your house without a realtor, you have to do all the leg-work on your own. If you're up to the challenge, check out the five steps of selling your house by yourself.

1. Determine the fair market value

You must determine your home's fair market value (FMV) when selling your house so you can set an optimal asking price. There are multiple ways to assess your home's fair market value, including the following:

  • Base the fair market value off of your purchase price if you bought the home recently and the market hasn't drastically changed
  • Research the selling prices of comparable dwellings in the same area or in the same building
  • Hire a professional to appraise your home

If you hire a third-party appraiser, ensure they are state-licensed, state-certified, and follow ethical and performance standards.

Once you know your home's fair market value, you can decide on the asking price. If you set the price too low, you'll miss the opportunity to capitalize on the sale fully. If you set the price too high, you'll risk having low interest in your listing.

When you set an unrealistic price, buyers who could otherwise afford your home's fair market value may not show interest because you've set the asking price too high. With potential buyers showing minimal interest, it could take a long time to sell your home.

When you hire a real estate agent, they use their experience to help you decide on an ideal asking price. However, if you are willing to conduct your own research or hire an appraiser, you can determine an appealing asking price that will still financially benefit you.

2. List your property and find a buyer

To reach potential buyers, you must list your property. Generally, listing your property online is the most efficient way to reach the largest audience. Thankfully, there are many free or low-cost websites where you can list your property, such as Zillow and Additionally, you can list your property in a local newspaper's classified section.

You'll have to show them your property or hold an open house when you have interested buyers. Depending on your area's housing market, you could have your home listed for a very short or extended time. Once you find someone interested in purchasing your property, the two of you can begin negotiating a price.

3. Negotiate and secure an offer

During negotiations or before making an offer, a potential buyer may want to hire professionals to inspect certain aspects of the house, such as the foundation, exterior walls, roof, or grading of the land. These inspections can hold up the negotiation process.

As a seller who wants to complete the sale quickly, it can be nerve-wracking during negotiations. A buyer could seem interested but suddenly change their mind. To better gauge a potential buyer's interest level, you can ask them to use a Letter of Intent to show their intention of purchasing your property.

Once negotiations are further along, you and your buyer can use an Offer to Purchase Real Estate to outline the potential transaction. This document is helpful when a buyer is ready to make an offer on the house, but wants certain conditions met before the sale is finalized.

For example, a buyer may require the completion of the following actions in their offer:

  • Property appraisal: an assessment of the value of the home, which confirms the buyer isn't paying significantly more than what the property is worth.
  • Title search: a search of the current property title which verifies that the property has no liens against it or any other ownership issues that could impact the sale.
  • Home inspection: a review of the property performed by a licensed inspector that details any damage or defects in the home and any attached buildings.
  • Disclosure form: a document that outlines information regarding the property, such as if recent renovations were done, if there were any past problems with pests, etc.
  • Maintenance and repairs: specific things done to the property before the buyer takes possession, such as painting, cleaning carpets, or fixing the roof.

A buyer will often not offer you your asking price. Generally, regardless of whether real estate agents are involved in a negotiation, a buyer may make an offer lower than the asking price. Sometimes a buyer may rationalize a lower offer due to additional repairs or renovations that they foresee.

However, if there are lots of buyers and not enough homes on the market, a buyer may offer you your asking price or more.

4. Create a Real Estate Purchase Agreement and secure finances

A Real Estate Purchase Agreement is a contract used to outline the terms of a residential property deal between a buyer and a seller. It may only be used for residential properties where construction has been completed.

After you've negotiated a sale price, the purchase agreement can help you solidify the terms of the transaction. When creating the contract, you provide the following information:

  • Your information
  • The buyer's information
  • Property details
  • Pricing and financing details
  • Closing and possession dates
  • Conflict resolution
  • Termination options

The financing terms of the agreement are very important. Within our template, you can choose between the following three financing options:

  • Third-party financing: A bank or other lending institution provides a loan to the buyer, which must be paid back over time.
  • Seller financing: You, the seller, provide financing to a buyer who cannot obtain a loan from a financial institution. The buyer pays you a predetermined amount in intervals until they have paid the agreed-upon price in full.
  • Assumption: A buyer takes over your mortgage, which means the home loan transfers to their name. The buyer takes financial responsibility for the remainder of the mortgage. Assumption often requires that the buyer is qualified to take over the loan under the lender's guidelines.

You do not have to file purchase agreements with your county or state. Once you and your buyer have both signed the Real Estate Purchase Agreement and you've secured the agreed-upon finances, you must transfer the property title to the buyer.

5. Transfer the property title

A Real Estate Purchase Agreement does not have the power to transfer a property's title, so you must use a deed or Contract for Deed in conjunction with the purchase agreement. For more information on transferring property titles, continue reading below.

Transfer of real estate

Transferring real estate property means assigning the property title from yourself to another person or entity. Usually, sellers transfer their property by creating a deed and filing it with a county recording office.

What is a property deed transfer?

Property deeds are legal documents that transfer real estate property ownership from one person, known as the grantor, to another, known as the grantee. Deeds allow you to transfer a property title to a buyer, a family member, an organization, or into a trust.

As mentioned earlier, in the United States, the ownership of every piece of registered land and real estate is tracked. Therefore, you have to file deeds with your county's recording office. You can also use a deed to add an additional owner or remove a joint owner.

For a property deed to be binding, it has to meet certain criteria:

  • The deed must be in writing.
  • The grantor must have the capacity to transfer the property.
  • The grantee must be mentally capable of receiving the property.
  • The grantor and grantee must be clearly identified within the deed.
  • The property's description must be clear and specific.
  • The deed must contain the necessary legal language that transfers the property.
  • The deed must be signed by the grantor(s).
  • The deed must be delivered to the grantee.
  • The deed must be accepted by the grantee.
  • The deed must be notarized.

There are various types of deeds. Each type of deed is unique and useful in certain circumstances. In the next section, we'll cover four different deeds.

Unsure which deed is right for you? 

Let our Which Type of Real Estate Deed Do I Need? tool recommend the best deed for your unique situation.

Answer a few simple questions and we'll suggest the deed for you!

How do I transfer ownership of a property?

To transfer the ownership of real property, you have to use a deed. Here are four different types of deeds that may help you transfer property to someone else, such as a buyer or family member.

Quitclaim Deed

A Quitclaim Deed, also known as a non-warranty deed, transfers a property owner's interest to another person without guaranteeing that the owner has full rights to the property. This means that there could be other claims on the property title. For this reason, people who trust each other, such as family members, often use this type of deed.

Warranty Deed

A Warranty Deed guarantees that the title to a property is free from any interests held by others, such as liens. In other words, the seller ensures that creditors will not use the property as collateral for the seller's debt. Warranty Deeds are generally used for residential home sales between unrelated parties so that the buyer can ensure that the property title is free and clear. If a buyer wants to be sure that they will have full ownership rights to the property, requesting a Warranty Deed is a good idea.

Survivorship Deed

A Survivorship Deed is a document that allows a residential or commercial property to transfer from a property owner to two or more property owners. A Survivorship Deed creates a joint tenancy among the new owners. Once transferred, each grantee owns an equal share of the property. Since these shares are not distinct, the new owners cannot transfer them to anyone else or distribute them in their Wills. When one of the new owners passes away, their share is equally divided among the remaining owners. The last living owner will own 100% of the property.

Gift Deed

A Gift Deed is a document used to give a sum of money or transfer property ownership from one person or organization to another. It is often used to transfer gifts between family members, such as when a parent gifts property to their child. A Gift Deed can also be used to donate to a non-profit charity or organization. This document helps prove that the gift is being given without any conditions or in exchange for compensation.

Should I transfer ownership if I'm financing the sale?

No, do not immediately transfer ownership if you are financing the sale for the buyer (e.g., allowing them to pay you in installments). Instead of transferring ownership before the buyer has paid in full, use a Contract for Deed.

A Contract for Deed is an agreement between you and the buyer that protects both of your interests. With this document, you retain the title to the property until the buyer makes payments in installments equal to the agreed-upon purchase price. The buyer has an immediate right to possession of the property, but you do not transfer the title until you've secured all or part of the purchase price.

This type of contract is generally used when a buyer is unable to obtain financing through traditional methods.

What is real estate transfer tax?

Real estate transfer tax is a one-time charge that some states, counties, and local municipalities impose on property owners when they sell and transfer a property to a new person or entity.

Depending on your state, real estate transfer tax is also known as deed tax or conveyance tax.

Generally, transfer tax is a percentage of the sale price. Depending on the sale price, the percentage rate can vary. Usually, this means larger sale prices result in higher tax percentages. However, sometimes transfer tax can be based on the appraised value of the real estate rather than the actual sale price.

Generally, the seller is liable for paying the tax amount. However, sometimes sellers and buyers agree to terms in their Real Estate Purchase Agreement that require the buyer to pay the transfer tax.

Real estate transfer tax may not apply if you are transferring property to someone or another entity but not selling it. It could be considered a gift and exempt from transfer tax when you transfer property to someone else without charging or for a very low cost. However, you could still be subject to estate or gift tax.

In the United States, not all states charge a real estate transfer tax when you transfer a property title. The following states do not charge a tax for transfers:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Kansas
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon (most jurisdictions)
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Understanding your obligations

When you sell or gift real estate, you have to understand your state's unique laws and rules. By conducting your own research and understanding your obligations, you can protect your interests and ensure a smoother transfer.

Despite each state having unique laws, all states require you to track ownership changes when you sell real estate. Additionally, it's best practice to document major transactions, such as a real estate sale. Therefore, use the correct property deed to reflect ownership changes and a Real Estate Purchase Agreement when selling and transferring real estate.

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