If you're like most people buying or selling a home, you'll choose to work with a local, licensed real estate professional or REALTOR®. These professionals know and understand the local market, have outstanding negotiating skills, and as we have mentioned in prior posts (internal link to REALTOR "overview" article HERE), can make the entire buying and selling process easier.
As compensation for their expertise, your REALTOR® is paid a commission based on the sale price of your home. There are several different commission structures based on the structure of your deal. Here's a breakdown of the role of the various players, how realtor commissions work, and who pays these fees.
When you decide to sell your home and enlist the help of a REALTOR®, you sign a listing agreement. In that agreement is an agreed-upon commission rate with the listing agent, which is typically a negotiable rate, typically between 4 and 6%.
This commission is often split evenly between the seller's agent and the buyer's agent (if they are working with an agent). Each agent pays a portion of their commission to their brokerage.
For example, for a home with a sale price of $500,000 and a 6% commission rate – split equally between the buyer's and seller's agents – each agent would receive 3%, or $15,000. Assuming each agent must split their commission 50/50 with their respective brokerages, each agent would make $7500 from the sale (before subtracting any additional marketing costs incurred).
While this is the typical arrangement, commission splits are not always 50/50 between the agent and the brokerage. For experienced agents who reach a certain commission level, the split can step up to 70% in favor of the agent. This brokerage model relies on the agent sourcing all of their own leads, clients, and business.
Precisely who pays the commission can be a bit tricky. The standard practice is that the seller pays the fee. However, the fee is often wrapped into the home price, so the buyer ultimately ends up paying the fee, albeit indirectly.
Let's look at how this works using the above example.
Each with an agent, a buyer and seller agree to a deal on the $500,000 house. Assuming a 6% commission on the sale, the entire commission of $30,000 comes out of the home's sale.
The buyer will pay the $500,000 purchase price. The seller would receive $470,000 ($500K minus the 6% commission). Depending on who is responsible for the closing costs and other fees, these fees could either come out of the seller's $470,000, or the buyer would have to pay all or part of these additional costs (or roll them into their mortgage).
The listing agent's brokerage would then receive the entire $30,000 commission from the closing attorney. They would issue the buyer's agent or their brokerage a check for half of the commission, and each of the brokerages would pay their respective agents their 1.5% commission from the sale.
While it may seem like selling your property directly or creating a FSBO ("Fisbo" or "for sale By Owner listing and taking the real estate agent out of the process makes financial sense, in the long and short run, unless you're selling to a family member, it's rarely a good decision.
A real estate professional is vital to the process of selling (and in today's market, buying) a home. They can help to facilitate the negotiations, manage the paperwork, and maximize your chances of selling your home at a fair price through staging, arranging professional photography, as well as virtual tours, and other marketing activities. Your listing or seller's agent will represent you and look out for your best interest, making sure that you receive top dollar and that all of the legal requirements of selling your home are met.
When working with a buyer's agent, you have the best possible chance of finding the perfect house that you'll love based on your needs. A buyer's agent will research your market to find the perfect home and increase the likelihood of a successful sale.
Real estate professionals are there to ensure that the process moves smoothly. When dealing with your home, it's often the biggest investment you will make and is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you're on the brink of either buying or selling, they ensure that the process is fast, smooth, and easy.
One of the biggest contentions for selling (or buying) a home is that the real estate fees are too high or that the service isn't worth the cost. In fact, there are even newer services that will work for a flat fee – like $100 or $500 or a steeply discounted commission. While this can sometimes benefit sellers (and ultimately buyers) in terms of cost savings, typically, you get what you pay for in terms of representation.
When working with a real estate professional in a more traditional arrangement, your interests as both a seller and a buyer are protected. While it sometimes happens, if your home sells on the day it's listed, your agent could make a tidy sum for a relatively small amount of work – taking some photos, determining a price, and listing the home on the market.
However, this is rarely the case. Sometimes a home can take weeks, months, or in the case of very unique or expensive houses, can take years to sell.
For the seller's agent, this means spending hours marketing the home, making phone inquiries, staying abreast of other listings and sales in the neighborhood. The seller's agent will also bear the costs of keeping the house on the market, signage, and advertising costs. The fact is, most sellers wouldn't want to be paying their agent by the hour!
This is also true for buyers. Some might find a house immediately. However, most will look at dozens of homes over the course of weeks or even months before finding the right one. If buyers had to pay their agent by the hour, they would probably feel rushed into making a decision!
Selling or buying a home is a complicated endeavor that is made easier by working with a qualified real estate professional or REALTOR®. Having a professional in your corner, whether selling or buying, can help you find exactly what you're looking for at the right price that is fair to both the buyer and seller.
In exchange for the hours of work they do, agents receive a percentage of the sales price or a commission. While it's typically the seller who pays the commission, the cost is generally factored into the home's list price. In this way, the buyer ultimately bears the cost of any real estate fees.
While it's important to understand how commissions are structured and who is ultimately responsible for payment, it's equally important to keep in mind that commissions are always negotiable. For homeowners who are concerned about high fees and may opt to use a flat fee or discount broker or list their home as a FSBO, it's important to remember that, like many things in life, you often get what you pay for!
Your home is often the most expensive and biggest investment you'll make in your lifetime making it important to understand what your realtor commission will cost and to trust who you're working with. It's a smart choice to work with a professional REALTOR® when selling or buying your next home!