Key takeaways

  • It is possible to negotiate real estate commissions, but it ultimately depends on the individual agent’s circumstances.
  • Real estate commission rates used to typically total around 6 percent of a home’s sale price, but in recent years, that amount has been closer to 5 percent.
  • Due to a recent lawsuit, sellers will soon no longer be required to pay for their buyer’s agent’s fee. This may open the door to more competition and negotiation.

In a real estate transaction, there’s always some level of negotiation. If you’re the seller, you face haggling not only with prospective buyers, but also with the person you’re working with to seal the deal: your real estate agent.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit that was recently settled, the way real estate commissions work will change in July 2024 (pending court approval). If you’re looking to save some money, here’s what you need to know about how commissions work, and how to agree on a rate that both you and your agent can feel good about.

How real estate commission works, and who pays for it

A generation ago, real estate commission rates were typically around 6 percent of a home’s sale price. But the average real estate commission rate has gone down in recent years to just under 5 percent of a home’s sale price, according to Real Trends, a real estate research and consulting firm, and to Anywhere Real Estate, the parent of Century 21, Coldwell Banker and other brokerage brands.

Under the current system, the fee is typically paid by the seller at closing, and it’s customarily split down the middle between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. (So, for a 5 percent commission, each agent would earn 2.5 percent.) On a $400,000 transaction, which is around the median sale price nationwide, the 5 percent fee amounts to $20,000.

Agents and brokerages can offer a variety of commission structures, though, with some marketing flat fees or other incentives. So there may be opportunity to negotiate the rate if you’re looking to save on the cost of selling your home.

“There are agents and brokerages that reduce, discount or coupon their services,” says Kevin Van Eck, an executive with @properties, a brokerage in Chicago. “Each agent, along with their brokerage, can determine where they set commissions based on the value and success created.”

Can you negotiate Realtor fees?

Often, yes, there is room for bargaining. And as of July, there may be even more room. As a result of a lawsuit involving the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and several major brokerages, new commission rules will take effect that month that will mean sellers no longer have to cover the cost of the buyer’s agent’s fee, which may lead to more aggressive price competition among buyer’s-side agents. In addition, listing agents will no longer be permitted to state the buyer’s agent commission in the MLS (multiple listing service), as has been common practice.

Your success at negotiating often depends on an individual agent’s circumstances, says Dave Liniger, chairman and co-founder of RE/MAX Real Estate. “Some agents are dead-set,” he says. “Other agents need the business so bad they’ll readily negotiate.”

As you prepare to list your home for sale, you may want to meet with a few listing agents to find the right one for the job. Ask each agent about their commission rate and what exactly you’ll be getting for that price. Consider not only how the agent plans to market your home, but also their skill in pricing it, experience, resources and track record.

“It’s OK for a seller to ask about the commission, but the best time is after talking with the agent and understanding their experience, how they will create exposure for the home and the value they bring to the table,” says Van Eck.

Liniger suggests that sellers invite three to five listing agents to their homes to make their pitches. The competing proposals will let you see how much agents charge, and give you leverage to bargain for a better deal. “You don’t get if you don’t ask,” he says.

You might also consider weighing what you learn from full-service agents against the services of a discount broker. Just keep in mind that the discounter’s offerings may be limited compared to those of a traditional agent.

How to negotiate real estate commissions

Once you understand exactly what you’re paying for, you will be in a better position to ask for a discount. Here are some tips:

  • If you’re able to offer the agent more than one listing opportunity, that might be a compelling argument for a reduced commission. “If [you’re] a real estate investor who is looking to offload several properties, I would definitely talk about the commission,” says Dana Bull, an agent with Compass in the Boston area. Most agents welcome repeat business, she says.
  • If you don’t have another listing opportunity of your own to offer, try leveraging your ability recommend the agent to others in your neighborhood or network. This might be especially impactful if you know they are looking to build their business. “I can’t just slash my commission, but I might be willing to give a slight discount if the client offered some sort of other strategy to get more business after the sale,” Bull says.
  • If you have a home in a sought-after area, or a buyer already interested, or an unusually high sale price, your agent may not need to do as much to earn their fee. If neither party can foresee the need for additional services — “if an agent is coming in to basically just do some hand-holding, keeping the transaction on schedule and assisting with paperwork,” Bull says — that might be another good reason to propose a slightly lower rate.
  • If you plan to buy a new home while selling your current one, use that in your favor. Liniger says an agent who can represent you on both the sale and the subsequent purchase will likely be willing to cut their fee.

You may be considering skipping the commission conversation entirely and selling your home yourself. If so, be aware: While an experienced house flipper might be skilled enough to list a home without an agent, for most homeowners, the for-sale-by-owner route can be more challenging, more costly and more time-consuming in the long run.

Bottom line

In any negotiation, both parties must be willing to give and take. Negotiating your agent’s commission can work in your favor, but an agent can walk away if they don’t necessarily need your business. Keep in mind, too, that it can make sense for sellers to pay more for additional services instead of negotiating the commission down, Bull says. These might include higher-end marketing, home staging or additional mailers, for instance. And if you’re not in a rush, consider waiting until after the July rule change to see how things shake out. Ultimately, it’s important to find an agent you can speak with openly about cost, and who you trust to do the best job to sell your home.

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