Sell your home with a Realtor -- make up to 16% more! (Maybe, possibly, sorta!)

A three-minute online infomercial from the National Association for Realtors advises viewers that selling your home yourself is pennywise and pound-foolish. "Realtors," the ad advises, "have the experience to price your home, so it can sell for up to 16% more than selling it yourself."

"Up to 16% more?" The wording is so vague, it could mean anything. It could mean 2% more; it could also mean 5% less. No matter what the actual figure is -- and it's hard to know, because the data is all based on surveys, not controlled studies -- all bases are covered. Having Barbara Corcoran sell your home would probably net you a higher price -- maybe even more than 16%! -- than selling it yourself by Scotch-taping a For Sale sign to your window. But where does that number come from?

Presumably, it comes from the NAR's research. But, a 10-year-old site encouraging D.I.Y. home sales (with its assistance, of course), draws very different conclusions. A FSBO press release quotes Greg Healy, V.P. of operations: "This data from NAR shows that people can sell their homes quicker and for closer to their asking price if they don't involve a real-estate agent. While the study didn't mention the costs of a real-estate commission, it's clear that using an agent means that the seller would generally lose another six percent of their home's sales price."

There's ample data on both sides of the issue. Studies from Northwestern and Stanford universities found that FSBO sellers come out ahead of those who use traditional full-service agents. And Consumer Reports found that agents sell for prices further to the asking price than FSBO homes. But FSBO data are tougher to track -- there's no official database -- and it seems likely that FSBOers are far less likely than agents to sell homes at all.

Another problem: not all real-estate agents are created equal. I would venture to say that the majority of agents add very little value, but every market has a few who are sufficiently knowledgable and connected to be worth their commission in gold.

Still, stupid soundbytes -- "up to 16% more!" -- do precisely nothing to give the National Association for Realtors the credibility it so obviously seeks.
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