It’s a strange arrangement. Here I am, the agent for the buyer, receiving my compensation from a party who not only is not my client, but whose interests are (one would think) directly opposed to those of my client – the seller. They want the highest possible price, my client wants the lowest. They don’t want to spend money on repairs, my client wants the repairs made. The list goes on. The two sides are in agreement on one thing only – they want the transaction to happen. Yet it it almost universal for the seller to pay the buyer’s agent. Huh?
This seemingly oddball arrangement exists for a couple of reasons. First, the historical background: until the mid-1990s, real estate brokers and agents operated under subagency agreements, whereby brokers listed property, and offered cooperative commissions to other brokers bringing in buyers for the listed property. Under subagency, these cooperating brokers and agents were legally bound to represent the seller.
Despite this fact, most buyers thought “their” agent represented them, and acted accordingly, often to their detriment. By sharing how much they were willing to pay, when they had to buy, or how much they loved the home, they unwittingly provided the seller with useful negotiating information. Eventually the Federal Trade Commission put pressure on the states to have real estate agents disclose to consumers exactly whom they represent. Most states eventually adopted disclosure laws, and the industry adapted by creating buyer agency arrangements (similar to sellers’ listing agreements). But the existing commission arrangement remains in place – the seller still pays. Why?
The reason that sellers still pay the commission is because the main obstacle to buyers being able to buy is a lack of cash – cash for the down payment, cash for closing costs, cash for the move, cash for furnishings, and the list goes on. It takes a long time to save that money. Some people find it difficult; others find it impossible. Add the buyer’s agent commission, and the seller will have fewer buyers available.
The seller is receiving cash from the sale. If they pay the commission, more potential buyers are able to afford this property. The more potential buyers, the higher the likely sales price. The higher sales price provides the incentive for the sellers to pay the buyer’s agent in addition to paying their own.
There are “exclusive buyer agents” who accept their payment only from their buyer client and refuse the seller’s offer. They argue that the only way for a buyer to be certain to avoid any conflict of interest is to avoid firms that both list and sell homes, and to compensate their own agent. In practice, I have never been tempted to change my buyer representation perspective regardless of the offered compensation. I disclose to my buyer clients the compensation offered on every property, and have on occasion used higher compensation levels to assist my clients in the purchase.Kim Hannemann, Real Estate Consultant/Realtor®, Samson Realty Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055 • Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com
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