Realtors Loath To Discount Commissions

That’s basically the headline of one of the articles in the weekly email that I got from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) on Friday morning. Well, the headline certainly doesn’t apply to this realtor!

The very short article references a recent LA Times article that features quotes from realtors like “You’d be foolish to give part of your salary away. I’m worth what I get paid” and “[realtors are] really digging in their heels because they aren’t selling as many homes.” Hmmm. First of all, if the realtor works the low end of the real estate market they are worth what they get paid but in Chicago there are an awful lot of realtors collecting pretty fat commission checks from $500K+ real estate transactions. As for realtors not selling as many homes these days…well, that’s not the customer’s problem now, is it? All that means is that there are still too many real estate agents out there.

Given the tone of the NAR article and the fact that it was only 158 words I couldn’t help but wondering if it was nothing more than a blatant attempt at price signaling – i.e. “don’t cut your commissions”. The original LA Times article, at 1547 words, conveyed a much different tone which I summarize as follows:

  • Some real estate brokers are willing to discount their commissions but you have to ask – well, not always 🙂
  • Agents are reluctant to discount their commissions because in this market they have to work a lot harder to close a deal
  • Some discount brokers may underprice a house in order to get a quick sale
  • In a related article the author points out that a discount broker may overprice a house in order to have a listing to attract buyers
  • There are several special situations in which you might be able to get a discount – e.g. when the listing agent acts as a dual agent or when the broker is independent of a national chain (these chains usually take 8% of all commissions)

On the whole it’s a much more balanced picture than that presented in the short NAR article. The only peculiar thing I noticed was that in one article the author cautions about discount brokers overpricing a house and then in another article cautions about them underpricing a house. The truth of the matter is that any realtor, discount or not, can either intentionally or unintentionally overprice or underprice a house. I would not assume that it’s more likely to happen with a discount broker.

One last point: there were two glaring omissions in the LA Times article. First, there was no mention of service level. Many discount brokers offer a discount because they provide a lower level of service. Consumers should always find out how the realtor can afford to offer a discount real estate commission. Second, there was no discussion of the buy side, where buyers can get rebates of the seller paid commission from their agents. Let’s face it, for every seller there is a buyer (eventually we hope), so you can’t ignore this half of the equation and the savings can be just as substantial.

You’d be foolish to give part of your salary away. I’m worth what I get paid

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