One more blog post about the coming changes to the realtor environment.
Regardless of how the commission lawsuits are resolved, there will be a push – and possibly a mandate – for buyers to pay their agent directly. Agents will want buyers to sign an agreement to that effect.
Above is a copy of the verbiage on page one of the standard agreement.
If a buyer agrees and signs this form, and then finds a home on his own, he can ‘cancel this agreement by giving written notice to the other’. But only as long as THE BOXES CIRCLED IN RED AREN’T CHECKED.
Will buyers read the agreement before signing, and be reluctant to check the two boxes?
Otherwise the form is reasonable, with the agent being covered for any properties they recommend to the buyer with analysis (paragraph B1).
All that matters is whether the agent will insist on the two red-circled boxes being checked. I think a buyer will pause at agreeing to exclusive representation, but non-exclusive should be acceptable.
I doubt that I’ll use the form at all, unless Compass requires it. Why bother if you can cancel any time?
However, there might be hope for settling the case:
Regarding the possibility of a settlement in the case, Katie Johnson, NAR’s chief legal officer said, “For NAR, settlement has always been an option.”
If NAR were to settle it would look for two outcomes, according to Johnson:
1. That homebuyers will continue to be able to access and afford buyer representation, and
2. That all liability from the suit’s claims is eliminated for NAR’s members, associations and MLSs.
“Settlements are always an option if we can achieve those objectives,” Johnson said.
Lesley Muchow, the NAR Deputy General Counsel & Vice President of Legal Affairs and Antitrust Compliance also advised agents to stress that commissions are negotiable. In that vein, she urged NAR members to leave compensation fields blank on forms rather than pre-filling them out — a phenomenon multiple plaintiffs emphasized in their testimony during the Sitzer | Burnett trial.
“Those are conversations you need to have with the consumer,” Muchow said.
“There’s no set amount. Sellers can decide and it’s on the Realtor to educate the seller as to why they might want to elect to make an offer of compensation and how that will work to their benefit in the transaction.”
“A Realtor should never suggest to a seller that if they do not make a certain amount of an offer of compensation that other Realtors will steer buyers away from their property,” she added.
Johnson ended by stressing that NAR’s current legal situation represents an opportunity.
“An opportunity to differentiate yourself from others – from your competitors and colleagues in your area – and an opportunity to improve your practices. An opportunity to think creatively and do things differently, using this delta, this point in time, as a launch pad for innovation.”
Zillow CEO Rich Barton weighed in on the bombshell cases in both an investor call and a shareholder letter. Barton’s key comment came early in the call when he said “We also believe complete disruption to the existence of buyer’s agents is improbable for a few reasons.”
Barton reaffirmed his support for buyer agents and the theme of buyers having their own representation. “We believe a well-lit game is cleaner and more equitable. People deserve and need independent representation,” Barton said. “We’ve seen double-siding in the industry, which is clearly a conflict and is at certain times more expensive to the transaction.”
Damien Eales, CEO of Realtor.com said, “I don’t think that from a consumer perspective, they are paying a great deal of attention to what is occurring more broadly in the industry. And as much as these court cases play out, I think it will be in some respects very much confined to the industry conversation as opposed to the consumer conversation.”
During his own investor call, Compass CEO Robert Reffkin pointed to the Seattle region, where sellers have not been required to offer buyers’ agent commissions for several years. Despite that change, Reffkin said, commissions in the area remain in line with the rest of the country — an outcome that suggests the bombshell lawsuits may not radically upend the status quo.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that there will be pressure on commissions,” Reffkin said.
The history of steady commission rates will be mentioned in the lawsuit appeals.
Doesn’t the history suggest a conspiracy? Especially when combined with the ascent of home prices? Lawyers for the plaintiffs will note that the annual home appreciation gives the appearance of realtors getting a raise in income every year – including +40% since 2020.
There is no conspiracy on the street. It’s too competitive between agents!
Any pressure on commission rates will come from agents who are desperate to eat. The perfect storm of market conditions should push hundreds of thousands of agents out of the business. As they exit, they might give a seller a deal – if they can find a listing opportunity.
What do sellers and buyers want – the best rate, or the best agent? It’s one or the other.
Hopefully this mess will cause consumers to thoroughly investigate the choices. Otherwise, this will all blow over in a few months – unless the Department of Justice does something permanent.
I am willing to take the stand if it will help the realtor commission lawsuits, but the defense might have second thoughts. The complaint is that realtors have conspired to force sellers to pay a standard, non-negotiable commission rate to the buyer’s agent. My testimony could go like this:
Plaintiff Attorney: You look like you’ve been around a while. Have you ever sold a house to a buyer that cost less than $100,000?
PA: Was the commission rate offered by the seller and publicized in the MLS in the 2.5% to 3% range?
PA: Have you ever sold a house to a buyer that cost more than $2,000,000?
PA: Was the commission rate offered in the MLS in the same 2.5% to 3% range?
PA: Have you ever sold a house to a buyer on the first day you met them?
PA: Has it ever taken one to two years to sell a house to a buyer?
PA: Were the commissions in both cases in the same 2.5% to 3% range?
PA: As a buyer-agent, have you ever negotiated your commission rate with the seller or listing agent?
PA: No? Why not?
JtR: It is strictly forbidden by the rules.
PA: The rules? What rules?
JtR: The NAR Code of Ethics forbids any negotiation of the buyer-agent’s commission paid by the seller.
PA: Is that the strict Code of Ethics that all NAR Realtors abide by, and what makes them different then all other licensees? The Code of Ethics that NAR has advertised on TV ad nauseum for decades?
It’s been over two weeks since the verdict was announced on the commission lawsuit, and the response from the realtor community has been tepid, to say the least.
Agents are waiting to see a strong example of how to convince buyers to sign a buyer-broker agreement. It’s easy for management to just say, “Have your buyers pay you directly”. But will you furnish us with anything besides the cheesy 179-point list?
The annual Compass convention starts today in San Diego, and we’ll see what management has to say.
Meanwhile, CoStar senses an opportunity, and have ramped up their advertising of homes.com to agents. They say their search portal had 100 million unique visitors last month, passing realtor.dud and pulling into the #2 slot behind Zillow.
Their pitch? They send buyers to the listing agent directly.
When Zillow visitors inquire about getting more information or seeing a home, they get sent to the call center where Zillow employees scrub the leads, and send them out to agents who have agreed to pay 30% to 40% of their total commission to Zillow.
Homes.com will send those leads directly to the listing agent, no charge.
How long will it be before agents migrate their advertising budgets to homes.com? The buyer-broker agreement should be a complete failure by next summer, and instead the march towards single agency will be well underway by then.
The conversion to single agency will look like an obvious solution to the casual observers like judges, juries, and the DOJ because it will give the illusion that fees are coming down. But it will just add to the trouncing of buyers that has been going on for years.
Just when quality buyer representation will really be needed, the trend will be in the other direction.
First, let’s identify how realtors get their business.
Either they earn the business (#1&2 above), or they buy the business (#3 above).
They earn it by creating relationships with friends and family that turn into sales. Those results create word-of-mouth endorsements that will hopefully be the foundation of the realtor’s business.
Or agents can buy the business through advertising.
There are several realtors in our area who spend $25,000 to $50,000 per month on advertising, which means they need to charge the higher commission rates – and that probably won’t change.
Billboards, bus benches, trailers in movie theaters, grocery store carts, etc. all lathered with realtor advertising that supplement their online ads, social media, and mailers to the neighborhood. These realtors hope to subconsciously create a positive image in the homeowners’ minds, which causes them to reach out to the ‘local expert’ when the time comes.
Which realtor will help you the most, and be deserving of their pay?
The best part of the realtor lawsuits is that they might cause consumers to investigate the choices more thoroughly. It is a daunting task because of the number of realtors out there, and the lack of hiring knowledge available. It’s why 80% of consumers hire the first agent they meet – they haven’t moved in a while, and in the microwave society they just want to grab an agent and go. Plus, the realtor industry provides virtually no guidance on the selection process, so you’re on your own.
My General Tips:
Those who spend the big money are vunerable to investigations – they hope that you grab and go instead. Once a team gets to 10 people or more, you have to wonder who is doing the heavy lifting. There are many top producers now in North County who have retired – but you wouldn’t know it because they leave everything in place, and just let the assistants run the machine. See if you can get the team leader on the phone, and check their reviews on Google and Zillow to see which agent is being acknowledged for the work. It’s not a bad thing to work with the assistants, but you’d like to know that up front.
The bigger the team, the less personal attention you will get. Their expertise will hopefully make up for it, but you should know that if your sale doesn’t work out, it’s not going to change their lifestyle.
Realtor websites look the same – brags about their sales, a button to search for your ‘dream’ home, and another for a computerized value of your home. With both buttons, you give up your contact information so they can pester you. Do they provide any helpful content on their website or social media? Their published content is a direct reflection of their expertise, and awareness of current market conditions.
Are they too busy for you? Simple way to find out. Call their phone number, and see what happens.
Every agent has their sales history on Zillow (whether they like it or not, because Zillow auto-loads them). If you are looking to conduct a full analysis, you’ll have fun with this data. One sale per month is a good sign, and check their mix of buyers and sellers, mix of price points, the SP:LP ratio on their sold listings, their listing presentations (quantity/quality of photos) and days on market. It’s takes work, but time well spent.
Do you want to hire the local expert? Rarely do they go into detail on what that means for you, and besides, every agent calls themselves the local expert.
Do you want to hire a long-time veteran? Only if they are still on their game (minimum one sale per month, etc.). More than half of all realtors are 60+ years old, and you don’t want to be their last sale.
Are they available? Deals are being done 24/7, so how the agent handles that is important.
Can they put a few sentences together to describe the current market conditions? It means you have to talk to them live, but it’s a terrific way to judge a realtor’s competency.
My big hope is that the realtor lawsuits give consumers the idea that they should shop around more, and they search for the best combination of quality realtor and commission rate. My guess is that the commission rates won’t change much, and they sure won’t be advertised. It should mean more scrutiny on what a realtor does for you – which is a great thing, and how the decision should be made!
A simple analogy for realtor commissions is a long-distance flight abroad.
Someone who was booking a flight from San Diego to Phoenix probably wouldn’t be too concerned about the quality. Because the flight only takes an hour, most can endure the inconveniences…..mostly due to the generally lousy service we get in every industry. We’ve become accustomed to not expecting much.
But when it comes to a long-distance flight, we might look harder at the differences.
Buying or selling a higher-end home is like flying to Australia.
A non-stop flight from LAX to Sydney, Australia is 15.5 hours, which should make people think harder about the choices. Not only does the airline, the staff, the type of airplane, the quality of the food, reviews, etc. get more scrutiny, but so does the seating chart.
Sitting in the economy section can be endured for an hour on a flight to Phoenix, but will you put up with screaming kids, the barking dog, and the guy who fills up more of his share of the seat for 15.5 hours?
Or do you deserve first class?
The problem with realtor commissions is that the agents all get paid the same, regardless of the quality of service provided. It’s as if everybuyer and seller pays for a first-class seat, but then only 10% to 20% of them get that level of service. It’s why there are so many complaints about realtors not being worth it – most don’t live up to the expectations, or their fee.
The commission lawsuits intend to change that, and they think they will cause the rates to go down.
But realtors intend to convince you that they are worth the usual fee by improving their presentations. The consumers who are willing to investigate will probably find something like this:
The exceptional realtors probably aren’t too interested in lowering their fee, so let’s examine the hiring of a realtor in the post-lawsuit era. Note that after years of using a pixel phone, I have finally switched to the iphone15promax – my first video with the new phone will start the inquiry:
The copycat lawsuits are pouring in now, with attorneys from across the country looking to get their piece. The latest, called Batton 2 (other versions were filed previously), is for buyers from the last 27 years:
“All persons who, since December 1, 1996 through the present, purchased in the Indirect Purchaser States residential real estate that was listed on an NAR MLS.” For this class, the plaintiffs are asking for damages under “antitrust, unfair competition, consumer protection, and unjust enrichment laws.”
The class will include millions of people! If NAR goes out of business (which is likely), it won’t change much because we’ll still have state and local associations. We’ll have less lobbying, but lower dues!
All plaintiffs have momentum now, and the lead attorney from the first lawsuit doesn’t just want money. “One of our goals in filing the case is to make sure any changes are brought nationwide,” said Ketchmark. “We’re extremely focused on making sure any change that comes from this is real change.”
But the NAR is taking it lightly, just like they have from the beginning:
“We are currently reviewing the new filing, and it appears to be a copycat lawsuit,” Mantill Williams, NAR’s vice president of communications. “We continue to assert that the practice of listing brokers making offers of compensation to buyer brokers is best for consumers. It gives the greatest number of buyers a chance to afford a home and professional representation, while also giving sellers access to the greatest number of buyers.”
Here’s our corporate viewpoint:
Compass spokesperson Devin Daly Huerta said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but provided comments from the company’s earnings call on Monday, saying the company “will respond accordingly to the complaints filed against us at the appropriate time” and that the company feels “confident that Compass is well-positioned.”
Compass pointed to rule changes at Northwest MLS that made listing broker compensation to buyer brokers optional and didn’t result in any decrease of offers of compensation or the amounts offered. “So we have evidence in a major U.S. market of what this change might look like that gives us confidence,” the company said.
“Secondly, we believe we are positioned well because we have the combination of some of the most productive agents and the only end to end technology platform in our industry. Third, we currently have agents that successfully ask their buyers to sign buyer broker agreements in order to work with them. We are in the process of launching trainings to all of our agents to empower them to successfully get buyer broker agreements signed with their buyers.
“Lastly, we operate largely in the luxury segment, where we think buyers will always want the help of an advisor through their home-buying journey.”
Similar statements from other brokerages are downplaying the impact. Yes, we will probably have better presentations of what realtors do and why we are worth the money, but anyone who thinks that will fix everything will be sorely disappointed. Consumers will be empowered to consider other options.
The only people who think that buyer-agents are needed are the agents. Buyers find homes for sale online, and they are proud about finding them before their agent does. They wonder why they need their own agent, when they can just contact the listing agent. The listing agents will be enouraging those thoughts!
Here’s a paragraph from the red team – the first to publicly mimic my prediction:
But if buyers’ agents become less common, Redfin will prosper in that world too. We run the largest brokerage website in America. We’ve built self-service technology for buyers to set up their own tours and to make offers. We’ll use that technology to market the properties listed by our agents directly to consumers, taking market share from other brokerages. We may open that platform to other listing agents who work with us as partners.
This is an opportunity for major changes to be implemented on how homes are sold, and these lawsuits are the disruption device. Realtors will roll out fancier graphics that tout the status quo, leaving it wide open for new ideas. Zillow and Homes.com have surged ahead of what should have been the dominant search portal, realtor.com, which NAR also screwed up when they sold it to an outside company.
Zillow has been amassing the pieces to build a super app, and create one-stop shopping for homes. If they add an auction component, it will be O-V-E-R for realtors.
Did you know that none of the jurors had sold a house before?
It was part of the screening too, and the defense attorneys were so cocky that they didn’t think it would matter. Their witnesses were a smart-aleck NAR CEO on his way out the door, and an elderly gazillionaire. Is anyone surprised we lost?
This is the American legal system, so there will be talk of settlement. Two brokerages already settled before the trial, and the other two would be smart to settle now – and leave the NAR to pay the bill. If NAR has to pay the entire amount, there will be trouble. They only have half of the money.
Given how quick the plaintiffs settled with ReMax and Anywhere (for only $130 million), a settlement could come flying down the pike any minute. Who knows? Are the NAR attorneys seeing the big picture, and crafting a settlement agreement that solves all the problems?
Can we package up all the things that can be manipulated into class-action lawsuits while we are at it?
Dual agency ensures that every buyer and seller in a transaction gets represented by an agent. But just the sound of ‘dual agency’ is nebuous – it sounds like realtors are up to something. There isn’t anything wrong with dual agency – in California, it is legit, legal, and practiced regularly by me and others. We like it!
But as we enter the single-agency era, only one agency/brokerage will be handling the sale. There will be two agents, but they are both employed by the same brokerage.
Today it’s called dual agency – because the broker represents both parties. The agents can give sound advice separately to their clients which qualifies as legitimiate represention, but lawyers could make it sound shady in front of inexperienced jurors.
If there will eventually be the Big Settlement, let’s find a way to include dual agency in it too so we can get on with the future of selling homes.
Going forward? After a settlement that absolves all previous dual agency, we should better describe the choices. In Colorado, there are transaction agents who don’t represent either side, but that sounds like it could cause a smaller commissions. Can we find the in-betweener that makes everyone happy?
As more buyers go direct to the listing agent to avoid paying a buyer-broker fee, they will be assigned a junior agent for assistance. A box needs to be checked here. Currently, you have to call it either single agency where that buyer is officially unrepresented, or call it dual agency.
While the listing agent is fully representing the seller and their best interests, the buyer only gets enough help from the junior-agent to make it to the finish line. Instead of dual agency, it’s more like single+ agency. Call it Agency 1.5.
Later a buyer could claim dual agency was the cause of all his troubles in the world, and sue realtors to get even. Did he get full representaion from his junior-agent that was comparable to the representation provided to the seller by the agent’s boss? It would sound unlikely and beg of another class-action suit.
Are agents going to call it single agency (only one side represented) and hope for the best?
Because it’s more than single agency, but not strong enough to be called dual agency.
Let’s add a third box for when the buyer gets the in-house junior agent: dingle agency.
If we don’t, we’ll be facing more class-action lawsuits shortly.
The first week after the realtor-lawsuit verdict went as expected – chaos, doom, and no sexy alternatives. It will take years to appeal, but it won’t matter how it turns out. Buyers are going to be paying their agents.
If sellers aren’t obligated to pay any commission to the buyer-agents, will they appreciate the benefit of incentivizing buyer-agents with a bounty, or reward? Probably not, unless their listing agent makes it very clear, and insists on it.
It is more likely that listing agents won’t push it, and because sellers naturally will want to pay less commission and not more, they will list for 2.5% or 3% and hope for the best. Both will shrug it off, and joke about how it’s about time commissions came down!
It will be a grave mistake.
Why? Because the buyer-broker agreement is a disaster:
Buyers won’t like it.
Agents won’t like it.
The market won’t like it.
Today’s buyers are picky, and you can’t blame them. They’ve had to endure +40% on prices, +200% on interest rates, and -50% on inventory…..talk about challenging!
The buyer-broker agreement will be a disaster because both agents and buyers will sign a short-term arrangement and hope the seller might kick in some of the commission. But then everyone will go back to doing it the same way we always have – refreshing your feed every hour and praying!
The real opportunity will be for buyers to hire an aggressive buyer-agent who does more than just watch the MLS. When a seller hires a listing agent, they get a thorough marketing campaign to source every potential buyer in the market. Buyer-agents can do the same, in reverse!
The buyer-agents who offer a rifle-shot soliciting of specific homes that fit the needs perfectly of their buyers will eventually find one. If an aggressive buyer-agent brings the complete package to the seller’s table without having to mess with a full listing, they will likely get an audience. It could even take the place of listing agents!
Because auctions aren’t close yet, this could be what changes the world of residential resales!
It will mean more off-market sales, which means more fuzzy comps because not much if anything is known about the home’s condition. But if it catches fire and the MLS or a rogue search portal insists on buyer-agents reporting everything about their sales including photos, we could still have a database full of accurate market data. But if we don’t, we don’t – good luck everybody!