There is a lot of behind the scenes work done by REALTORS, that just isn't obvious until you've been through a transaction with a good one.
In my experience, marketing the home is only a small part of what I do. But it needs to be done well - everything from picking the most cost effective things that can be done to prepare the home to sell, to getting great photographs, to being able to blast it all over the internet quickly once the property is ready. For an individual doing that themselves, it could get really labor intensive! The other side of marketing which we do is networking with the other REALTORs, from e-mail blasts to phone calls to the ones we know are the most likely to have solid buyers, to answering all their questions. The other day, a new listing came on in our office and the phones were ringing off the hook with questions from agents.
By the way, while 5-6% is a normal total commission rate , keep in mind sellers offer half of that fee to entice buyers' agents to show the home to their buyers. Only half goes to your agent, who represents your best interests and has a fiduciary duty to protect you. Most buyers want an agent on their side to help them, so chances are really high that for sale by owners will have to pay a buyers agent. Keep in mind, that agent will be working for their client, the buyer, and can't legally represent your best interests.
Attorneys can help you with the paperwork, but they don't typically have much background in negotiations and they generally don't do enough in-the-trenches transaction work to have an intuitive feeling for the problem solving we excel at. Also, they are paid up front and collect an hourly rate. REALTORS are only paid once a transaction is completed.
Showing sounds easy, but if you're doing it yourself, you've got to be there for every showing. Knowing how to weed out the looky-loos takes experience. We pre-qualify buyers before bringing them through someone's house, to minimize wasted time and energy for the home owner (who needs to spiff up the place before each buyer comes through). We can also use a sophisticated lock-box system which, if you want, can allow agents to show your home if you are away. It logs who showed it and at what time, so we can follow up with each buyer's agent. Agents go through a legal background check, and must pay to be members of an association in order to get a lockbox key. This adds security compared to a lockbox you could buy that simply has an alpha/numeric code.
The bulk of what good agents do is problem solving. This starts with helping sellers choose a price that is competitive with the properties buyers have to choose from, while netting the seller with as much money as possible. Then we help with their disclosures. Then there are the negotiations regarding the purchase offer (s). A good agent will discuss potential buyers with their lender. Once in escrow, the inspections begin. What if something is discovered? Buyers have about a dozen contingencies to work through. A good agent will keep them on schedule, so you don't waste time with a buyer who might not perform. The buyer has to get their loan - which can be really hard these days! A good agent will meet the appraiser at the house and offer them comparable home sales to assist them.
Here's the key: Every transaction encounters unforeseen problems, difficult periods for both buyer and seller. The stress levels and frustration can get really high - and the average buyer or seller isn't used to this. But an experience agent can keep a level head and figure out ways to resolve issues. We can counsel sellers on what their options are, but the final decisions are always up to you.
I hope this helps describe what a good agent does. I'd be happy to help further if you'd like more information. We don't charge fees for our consultations.