Search online, but call a local agent first!

Shop local, get better service

To keep more of your commission dollars in the local economy and to get service from an agent who is truly in touch with your local market, you should call a local real estate agent and a local mortgage agent before you connect with any agent or agency that you encounter online.

Non-local offers everywhere

Whether buying or selling, of course you’re going to search for properties and mortgage rates online. And you’re not going to wait to speak to a local agent before you do so. Online brokerages and mortgage companies know this; and they spend large sums of money trying to reach out to you before you contact someone local. As you search, you’ll be bombarded with advertising from real estate and mortgage agents and agencies. But consider, are those agents and agencies truly local? Online real estate and mortgage brands will advertise to you even if they do not have agents anywhere near your town.

Problems with non-local offers

So, what’s the harm in calling these advertisers to see what they have to offer? Here’s the answer. Once someone has your name, they will offer to put you in touch with their own agents or with agents to whom they are selling leads. Either way, once those agents become your agent, a part of your commission dollars is earmarked for the referring company — which in our region, means far, far away. It’s just one more way that corporations are draining money from local economies — it’s literally part of their business plans and it’s a pervasive aspect of the real estate trade. And you still don’t know if the referring company put you in touch with the best agent for your needs.

Action — call a local real estate and mortgage agent directly

Online searching of homes and mortgages is here to stay, and for the most part, it’s a great benefit to buyers and sellers — and their agents — to have all those listings and rates at our fingertips. Especially if you are buying or selling close to where you live, do consider calling your local agent directly before reaching out to the national brand. If you do call them, and if they offer to put you in touch with a local professional, consider saying “No thanks,” and  call a local pro directly.

Full disclosure

I know referrals work because I do accept them. If someone has given permission to a major lender or broker to refer them to a local agent, I might as well take the referral as see that business go to someone else. But I know that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of my commission will have to be paid to the referring agency. (I also decline such referrals when I know I can’t help someone, for example someone shopping outside my market area.)

 

Negotiating buyer-agency fees

How the buyer agency fee is usually set

This topic of negotiating buyer-agency fees is not discussed as much as negotiating listing-agency fees because buyer-agency fees are usually specified in the listing agreement. Most listings include an offer of cooperation to buyer’s agents. The offer for a specific amount or for a specific percentage of the sale price is made by the listing broker and approved by the seller. The amount is part of the listing contract between the seller and the listing agent.

Why you might want to negotiate

Here in the Hudson Valley and lower Catskill Mountain region, the most frequent offer of cooperation is a specific percentage of the sale price. Occasionally, the offer will be a half percent less and occasionally it will be a half percent more. So, let’s call those typical offers 1 (for less), 2 (for most frequent), and 3 (for more). As a buyer, you might agree that offer 2 is reasonable, but you might take issue when your buyer agent gets 3 or more. After all, those are dollars that are taken out of the sale proceeds — if the seller didn’t have to pay them, he or she might have accepted a bit less. The price range in which you are shopping and the level of service you require might also influence this decision.

How you might negotiate a fee that has already been set

If the buyer is willing to enter into a buyer-agency contract, one part of that agreement could be to set limits on the buyer-agent compensation. Buyer and agent could agree to a specific dollar amount or to a specific percentage. If the buyer-agent compensation is greater than agreed, the difference could be credited to the buyer or the seller at closing and the buyer could bring that many fewer dollars to the closing table.

However, the arrangement can cut both ways — if the buyer-agent compensation is less than agreed, then the buyer will be expected to make up the difference at closing. Remember also, compensation will not be discussed in a vacuum. Your buyer’s agent will grant you compensation limits and the obligation to perform specific duties, but he or she will also have expectations for you that could include your loyalty and cooperation.

If you think you might want to negotiate buyer agency fees, be sure to do that at the same time you ask a buyer agent to show you a property or search for listings. Buyer agency contracts are a good idea — they specify expectations and obligations, including compensation, that are often taken for granted by agents and clients alike.

What usually happens

Partly because buyer agency is often undertaken without a formal contract, most buyer-agents simply accept the offer of cooperation specified with the listing, and their buying clients do not attempt to negotiate that figure. It can be a significant disruption when either buyer or agent attempts to negotiate a figure that has already been specified or that should have been negotiated earlier.

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Thanks for reading. When you are ready to start browsing homes or land in Dutchess, Columbia, and Ulster Counties, I encourage you to do so at my websiteAsk-Marty.com. Because I am a member of THREE MLSs (Mid-Hudson MLS [Dutchess County], Ulster County MLS, and Columbia Greene Northern Dutchess MLS), you can search the entire region on both sides of the Hudson River. You can save properties that interest you and you can set the site to email you notices when new listings match your criteria. This a great way for buyers or sellers to monitor a specific neighborhood or school district or type of property!
Best wishes,

Marty

Who pays the buyer’s agent?

In my posting of July 14 about buyer’s agency, I wrote, “As a potential buyer …, you should understand that the cost of a broker/agent … is already built in to the commission that the seller is paying. Using your own agent to get information about a listing should not increase your purchase price.” That’s absolutely true — the amounts have been set and using a buyer’s agent will not increase your purchase cost. But who actually bears agency costs? The fact is that agency fees are shared by the buyer and the seller; and the determination of who actually bears that cost is at least in part simply a matter of perspective.

Seller pays

It is true that most agency commissions have been arranged as part of the listing contract so that a buyer’s agent is paid by the seller’s agent a specific percentage of the sale proceeds. The seller’s agent pays that fee out of the commission that he or she receives from the seller. So, it’s fair to say that the seller is paying the buyer’s agent fee, which is part of the seller’s total commission payment. A seller considering whether to accept an offer must subtract the commission payment (and other expenses) to know how much money will end up in his or her hands when the transaction is closed.

Buyer pays

Where did the seller get the money to pay the commission? Out of the sale proceeds, obviously; and we know where that came from — only the buyer brings money to the table — so it’s also fair to say that the buyer is paying the buyer’s agent fee. If the fee were lower, more dollars might have gone to the seller who might therefore have accepted a lower price.

What to do

Whether to use a buyer’s or seller’s agent are separate questions. Sellers should know that agency fees can be negotiated when entering into a listing contract. However, once buyers and sellers are in the system and using agents, and fees have already been negotiated; my suggestion is to set concerns about who is paying the commissions aside and focus instead on the actual return and payment. That is, sellers should look at the net proceeds after the commissions are paid. If the offer isn’t high enough to cover those, then don’t accept it. Generally, buyers should not fret about paying a commission amount that was arranged previously; instead, offer a fair price that you can afford and let the seller worry about the commission fees. (I will write about the possibility of negotiating buyer agent costs soon.)

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Thanks for reading. When you are ready to start browsing homes or land in Dutchess, Columbia, and Ulster Counties, I encourage you to do so at my websiteAsk-Marty.com. Because I am a member of THREE MLSs (Mid-Hudson MLS [Dutchess County], Ulster County MLS, and Columbia Greene Northern Dutchess MLS), you can search the entire region on both sides of the Hudson River. You can save properties that interest you and you can set the site to email you notices when new listings match your criteria. This a great way for buyers or sellers to monitor a specific neighborhood or school district or type of property!
Best wishes,

Marty

How much income is your real estate agent making?

I am prompted to write this post after reconnecting with old friends. Both are teachers with distinguished careers and now approaching fully vested retirements — they are both certain that by leaving academe and taking up real estate that I, unlike them, must be fabulously wealthy. And there’s a perception “out there” that real estate agency is an expensive service not least because real estate agents make soooo much money! No complaints here; I’m doing fine! But let me set the record straight as far as agent incomes go.

Real estate agency median incomes

Each May, the National Association of Realtors publishes a profile of its membership that includes their reported earnings. For 2013, the last year available, the median income is reported as follows:

  • Agents –> $35,000
  • Brokers –> $66,000
  • All Realtors –> $47,000

Real estate agency income distribution

The median numbers do not account for the fact that many agents are doing only a handful of transactions each year. In Dutchess County, approximately 22 percent of agents grossed $42,000 or more, and approximately 9 percent grossed more than $100,000 in commission dollars.* The old 80/20 percent rule seems to apply that 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the agents. An agent in the 80 percent group that is participating with the remaining 20 percent of business is likely to be making less than $20,000.

Conclusions and questions

A six-figure income is within the grasp of some agents, but getting to that level usually takes years of practice and focused application. Most agents, including many good agents, don’t make anywhere near that amount. My hope is simply that the reader of this post will not make unfounded assumptions about the income of each agent that he or she meets.

Now, it is reasonable to ask, if a real estate agent is getting only a portion of the commission dollars, just where is the rest of that money going? This is a question that I will continue to explore in these posts. I’ll cross-reference them and include them all in the “Real Estate Practices” category of this series of messages.

*The Mid-Hudson MLS reported total residential sales in 2014 of $629,259,000. That sales amount generated approximately $31,462,950 in commission dollars, which divided by 767 active agents comes to approximately $41,000 gross income per agent.** To generate that $41,000, an agent would need approximately $1,640,830 in total sales; however, only 175 agents made this much or more. To generate $100,000, an agent would have to do approximately $4 million worth of business, a number reached by only 70 agents.

** Based on suppositional 5 percent listing commission, 2.5 percent going to seller side and 2.5 percent to buyer side. The majority of these agents (except in cases such as my own, in which agent and broker is the same person) must share their commission dollars with their supervising brokers. Newer or less productive agents may share as much as half of their earned commission with their supervising broker; more experienced agents and “top producers” get to keep much more. (Wow! Footnotes within footnotes! I guess I’ll always have at least a toe in the academic world.)

Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Ask-Marty.com

Because I’ve been asked recently, here is a brief note to explain why I am not a fan of Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, the big websites that aggregate real estate listings and related data. All three have been in the news lately.* They draw lots of public attention, are as easy to use as any online database, and provide reasonably accurate data. The real issue I have with these websites is that they are (a) targeting commission dollars by packaging information that is (b) easily available from local, primary, more up-to-date sources. Here is what I mean:

Raising costs and taking dollars out of the community

Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com each provide free search services to the public. Their primary source of revenue is broker and agent advertising and services. You might think that’s the broker’s problem, but the cost of doing business – including subscribing to these services – has got to be built into brokerage commissions. Not only is that money built into the price of a property, that is money sent out of town!

Since the day I became a real estate agent, not a week goes by when I am not bombarded with fear-based advertising from these providers, and many more, that I must buy into their programs in order not to lose leads to my competitors. I stopped buying these services after I became an independent broker. I don’t mind saying that it took a certain amount of courage to ignore the message that I might be doomed without them!

Information accuracy still a problem

Much has been made of the accuracy issue in the past year. In relentless nation-wide advertising, Realtor.com has been hammering away at the frontrunners, Zillow and Trulia, for having dated and misleading information. But the big providers are constantly working to improve their accuracy; and users are learning how to better interpret the information they find. Still, the big sites must periodically mine local sources for their data; thus they are delivering second-hand, often old, data.

Of course listing information is available locally! With few exceptions, every local real estate agent has an online presence with access to local and national listings through his or her brokerage. In Dutchess County, every home listed in the Mid-Hudson MLS is on display online here. The Ulster County MLS can be searched at its search page. And the Columbia County MLS is online at this link. Each county also provides online data pertaining to taxes, assessments, zoning, characteristics of land and community, and much more.

Ask-Marty.com does it all

Now, I must take moment and blow my own horn. Just like the biggies, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, and uniquely among my same-size local competitors, the search machine at www.Ask-Marty.com is connected to ALL THREE local MLSs. Not only does that enable you to search the entire region at a single site, but that insures that you won’t miss the occasional property that gets listed only in a neighboring MLS.

Prospective buyers and sellers alike can set up watches for any neighborhood or area and for all or some types of properties. You’ll get an email only once a week or when new listings or prices appear on your watch. Set it up yourself, or contact me for assistance.

Taxes, assessments, boundaries, owners, land characteristics, zoning, municipal details are all available at county and town websites. For these sources of information, you can start at the Ask-Marty resources page.

*For a several years now, Zillow and Trulia have together drawn more views on the Internet than any other websites that display properties that are for sale and related information. Competitors since their respective inceptions, their stock prices jumped with last year’s news of their proposed merger, and jumped again on reports that the merger had been approved by the FTC (1/23/15). Running third, in terms of the number of users, is the once-dominant Realtor.com. Though nominally affiliated with the National Association of Realtors, Realtor.com is a separate, for-profit corporation. Realtor.com made its own news this past year when its parent company, Move, Inc., was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in October.

Listing Commissions – how much, who pays, who decides

Commissions are negotiable

When sellers contract with a broker (directly or via an agent who represents a broker), they agree that a certain commission will be paid to the broker as compensation for the broker’s activities. Within that same contract, sellers also authorize their listing broker to pay a specific amount to cooperating brokers (that is, to brokers who bring and represent buyers in the transaction). Generally but not always, the amount authorized for cooperating brokers is 50 percent of the total commission paid to the listing broker. A seller needs to know that both amounts are negotiable.

Typical commission rates & most-common variation

In Dutchess, Ulster, and Columbia Counties, the most frequently charged listing commission is 5 percent* and the most frequently offered payment to cooperating brokers is half that, or 2.5 percent.

Some listing brokers do, in fact, offer higher payouts to cooperating brokers. In the Mid-Hudson MLS in northwest Dutchess County the following figures pertain:

  • 56 of all 415 active listings – 13 percent of these listings – are offering 3-percent compensation to cooperating brokers.
  • 9 of 89 active listings of properties over $500,000 – 10 percent of these listings – offer 3 percent.
  • 26 of 124 active listings of properties under $200,000 – 21 percent of this group – offer 3 percent.

We may infer that most of these listing brokers are receiving a 6-percent commission.

My perspective

In these tough economic times, I do think that a 3-percent commission is very much appreciated by buyer’s agents, and is thus a powerful selling tool. Typically, I will encourage my selling clients to authorize a 3-percent payout regardless of the total commission that I am to receive for the listing side of the transaction. As evidenced by the current payout listings, a lower list price makes a higher payout number all the more important. As list prices move higher, buyer and listing agents alike may be more willing to accept a lower percentage and concentrate instead on actual commission amounts. Currently, my own charges for listing a property follow this pattern. Under $200,000, I prefer to charge a 6-percent commission and pay out half that to a cooperating broker. Between $200,000 and $500,000, I am willing to accept 2.5 percent, especially if the seller will agree to the 3-percent payout. Over $500,000? Let’s talk!

I’ll write soon about just what is covered by commission dollars.

*This number is inferred, based upon experience, and by simple doubling of offered commissions for cooperating brokers. We are unable to see individual listing contracts between listing brokers and their seller clients, but we do have access to the payouts that are authorized to cooperating brokers and posted on the MLSs. The rest of these numbers are based on current listings in the Mid-Hudson MLS of single-family detached residences in the contiguous towns of Clinton, Hyde Park, Milan, Pine Plains, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and the villages of Red Hook, Tivoli, and Rhinebeck, all in northwest Dutchess County.