When it’s time to sell your house, you may have visions of dollar signs dancing in your head, but the truth is, a lot of those dollars will never make it into your bank account. Instead, they end up in the pockets of real estate agents.
You’ve probably heard that agents, on average, take a 6% commission off of your home’s sale price. On a $300,000 home, that’s a whopping $18,000. Before handing over that chunk of change, it’s important to understand what it pays for—and if there’s anything you can do about it.
How Do Real Estate Agents Get Paid?
First, let’s take a look at the history of realtor fees. Realtor fees are usually paid as a commission, although flat fees apply in rare cases. This commission is taken right off the top of the selling price of the home, so many sellers don’t really feel the impact because they never had the money to begin with.
Since the 1950s, the National Association of Realtors has used a “suggested” commission rate for real estate agents. This rate landed at around 6% of a home’s selling price, which included commission for both the buyer’s and the seller’s agents. In 2016, that rate was closer to 5%, which provides a small amount of relief for home sellers looking to maximize their equity when they sell their home.
What Does a Real Estate Agent’s Commission Pay For?
Even at 5%, real estate agents would take home an average of about $15,000 on the sale of a $300,000 home. The total commission is split between both the listing and the buying agents, minus any fees the agents must pay to their brokerage. So let’s break down what you get for $15,000.
- Help pricing your home. Expertise is at the top of the list of what a real estate agent brings to the party. This means they should be able to help you price your home competitively and in a manner that helps you reach your goals—whether you’re after a quick sale or a big sale price.
- Effective marketing. One of an agent’s biggest jobs is to make your home look great and to stir up interest in the property. They may take photos, post online ads, use social media, host open houses, and anything else that puts your home in front of qualified buyers.
- Screening for qualified buyers. It doesn’t do you any good if the people looking at your home aren’t able to buy it. A real estate agent should do all the footwork required to make sure anyone who’s interested in your house is preapproved for a home loan.
- Closing expertise. Finally, a real estate agent should be well-versed in the art of closing a home sale. Their job is to get you the best price with the least hassle and walk you through all the steps you need to take to make sure your sale goes smoothly. This applies to showings, appraisals, inspections, and the final paperwork.
Can I Save Money on Real Estate Agent Commission?
The good news is you’re not stuck having to fork over 5% of your home’s selling price. If you don’t relish the idea of waving goodbye to that hefty sum, here are some alternatives.
1. Negotiate the commission rate. Just because 5–6% is common, it doesn’t mean that’s what you have to accept. Ask your real estate agent if they’re willing to take less.
“Offer 4%,” suggests Bob Nettleton, who successfully negotiated the commission when he used a real estate agent to sell his home. Or, he says, offer 2% if you find the buyer on your own and just need the agent to help with the standard process. Nettleton adds that other factors, such as home price and how many services you expect, can also affect how much you negotiate on the commission.
2. Sell your home by yourself. More people are opting to sell their home without a real estate agent. This saves on commission fees, but it means you have to do all the work to market your home and vet potential buyers. People who want to go the FSBO (For Sale by Owner) route can find help through services like Homie and Zillow.
Keep in mind that the buyer may have an agent who will expect a commission, so that’s another factor that will play into negotiation of the final sales price. If you opt for FSBO, you may also need to do additional homework like finding a mortgage lender who can help complete the sale.
Other Financial Considerations When Buying a Home
No matter what, you want to get the most out of selling your home. But real estate agent commission is just one part of the overall financial transaction of buying or selling a home.
Chances are if you’re selling a home, you’re probably also looking to buy another one. Negotiating how much you pay a real estate agent may pale in comparison to the extra money you’ll spend over the lifetime of a mortgage if you get locked into poor interest rates or your credit is less than perfect. Check the mortgage marketplace for interest rates and make sure your credit is in tip-top shape before you start looking for your next house. One factor many sellers overlook is the possible impact that selling their home could have on their credit.
If you’re concerned about your credit score, take advantage of a free credit report. This report lets you keep tabs on your credit, and it includes free updates every 30 days to help you proactively correct mistakes and improve your score. You also don’t need to let bad credit get in the way of refinancing your home.
Take Control of Your Home Sale
Managing big transactions like selling or buying a home can feel overwhelming, but there’s no need to panic. Just keep in mind that, ultimately, you are the one in control over the sale of your home. Weigh out the pros and cons of paying a full commission, and take the steps necessary to get a final profit out of your home that makes you happy.