How are Realtors actually paid?

It’s the question that everyone has, but they’re too afraid to ask… How are you paid?

I’ve been waivering back and forth on how much I want to reveal in this post and I’ve settled on discussing the mechanics of agent compensation, along with a general personal discussion. It’s important to note that every real estate agent runs their business a bit differently. Much of these differences hinge on personal values and what someone will or won’t do or accept in their business dealings. There will always be someone that is willing to work for free, it’s up to clients to decide what the value of having a knowledgeable agent representing them is and negotiating compensation accordingly. There are good real estate agents and there are bad ones, and we all have our war stories from our time in this career.

Before I move forward in this discussion it’s important for me to CYA from a legal sense and say that everything is a negotiation. If you are hiring someone to do a job for you or represent you in some capacity you need to come to an agreement on compensation with them first and foremost. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, so make it a discussion.

Generally, in a residential transaction the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent are both compensated by seller. Both the seller and the buyer come to an agreement with their respective representative on compensation, but that fee is generally then covered from the seller’s proceeds from the sale of the home.

The seller decides what they are willing to pay for both their listing agent and for the services of a buyer’s agent in finding and bringing forward a qualified buyer before listing their home. For example, the seller offers to pay 6% of purchase price with 3% going to the listing agent and 3% going to the buyer’s agent. If the buyer’s agent has an agreement with their client for higher than 3% compensation it would be up to the agent to get the additional amount paid to them from the buyer. If the seller only offered 5% of purchase price they could split the compensation 2.5% and 2.5% or they could pay their agent 2% and the buyer’s agent 3%. It’s really however the seller wants to set it up and they discuss this with their agent as part of the listing agreement.

There are some things to keep in-mind if you’re the seller who is deciding compensation. Aside from the normal adage of “you get what you pay for” when it comes to your own representation, if compensation is too low for the buyer’s agent 1) you’re putting the buyer in a tough situation to fund the difference for their representation during an already costly financial transaction and 2) agents may decide not to present your home to their clients. I’m not going to debate the ethical implications of steering a client away from a home for the agent’s personal financial gain. I’m just saying that it’s up to each agent how they choose to run their business, and no, I do not agree with where everyone lands on the ethical spectrum.

With compensation often being a percentage of purchase price, that does mean that higher-priced homes come with higher commissions than lower price point homes. This does not mean that higher price-point homes are more difficult to sell, in my experience it is actually quite the opposite. A $100,000 home is oftentimes much harder to transact because the buyer and seller have less money available for things like repairs, there’s more first-time homebuyers at lower price points and there can be agents who don’t want to deal with lower priced homes.

When closing a higher-priced home, what ends up happening is that the bump in commission dollars ends up helping to float time and expenses spent working on lower price point transactions that need more of my time and attention. It may be because there are more nuances within a specific transaction, more legal hurdles, or simply because a client needs more time to talk through ideas or need to view more homes with me before they’re sure of their decision.

It’s also very natural within the real estate business to spend time working with clients that aren’t ready to buy for whatever reason. Because an agent is only paid if a transaction closes, there are many hours spent meeting and working with clients that simply won’t close. Believe it or not, there are costs associated with showing homes to someone who doesn’t end up buying or selling a home with you in time spent, along with wear-and-tear on your car and the necessary gasoline to get from place to place.

The commission number that you see on the closing statement does not go directly into the agent’s pocket. There are splits to pay to the brokerage firm and any team that an agent may be affiliated with. Then money hits an agent’s bank account, where they must set aside money for their own income taxes and self employment taxes, along with their costs of doing business (insurance, advertisements, supplies, car, office, etc).

Each agent is their own small business owner, so all the risks and rewards of being in business for yourself apply. Sometimes it can be lucrative, sometimes your expenses far outweigh your income, but it’s always worthwhile work if you love it.

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