SELLER IS NOT REQUIRED TO PAY BUYER AGENT IN GREATER SEATTLE AREA

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Nearly all real estate brokers in the Greater Seattle Area join the NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service) and nearly all the listings the buyers can find online are from NWMLS. For many years, NWMLS obliges the seller to list and provide buyer agent commission (which is usually set at 3% by the seller/listing agent in the Greater Seattle Area) when listing the property. That’s the reason that your buyer agent tells you that you don’t need to pay him/her. Some aggressive buyer agent may even tell the buyers that the buyers can receive money, i.e. a rebate, from the buyer agent at the closing. The buyer agent’s rebate to the buyer is from such buyer agent commission. However, effective 10/1/2019, NWMLS no longer requires the seller to pay buyer agent commission. Under the new NWMLS rule, there are three options: (1) the seller can still provide the buyer agent commission as usual; (2) the buyer requests the seller to pay the buyer agent commission in the offer; or (3) the buyer directly pays the buyer agent commission.

What does this mean to the buyers and the sellers?

Since no data is available now, we cannot say for sure. Our estimation is:

  • In the non-hot areas, the seller will likely still list the buyer agent commission as before to attract the buyer agents to bring more buyers;
  • In the hot areas - if there is a chance of bidding war - the best strategy for the seller is to not provide the buyer agent commission when listing the property. The competing buyers will be afraid to request high buyer agent commission in their offers or even directly pay their buyer agents. Thus, although the sale price of the property may slightly change, the net price that the seller can take home can be increased 1% - 2% due to less or none buyer agent commission to be paid by the seller.

For example, let’s compare two offers for a $970k listing price property.

  • Offer A: $1M offer price and the seller is responsible for 3% buyer agent commission, i.e. $30k
  • Offer B: $970k offer price and the buyer directly pays $30k buyer agent commission to the buyer agent

You would think these two offers have no differences for the buyer and the seller, as the net price for the buyer in both offers appear $1M and the net price for the seller in both offers appears $970k. However, an experienced listing agent would tell the seller that the seller also needs to pay exercise tax and listing agent commission based on the closing price. The exercise rate in King county is a progressive 1.1%-3% based on the closing price. For $970k property, the exercise tax is $11,516. For a $1M property, the exercise tax is $11,900. The difference in exercise tax is $384. The listing agent commission is usually 3% for traditional brokers. Thus, there is another ($1M-$970k) x 3% =$900. In other words, the seller loses $900+$384=$1,284 if choosing offer A over offer B. In the real world, the difference is even higher as the seller’s closing costs, such as the seller’s portion of escrow fee and the owner’s title insurance that is usually paid by the seller at the closing, are often tied to the closing price.

That’s not the end of story. The experienced listing agent will also warn the seller if the buyer uses loan to finance the deal. Under the current market, there is a high risk that the lender’s appraisal result is less than $1M for a $970k listing price property. Now it’s not only just a difference of a few thousand, but also prompts the big question: can the buyer close it? Thus, if advised by the experienced listing agent, the seller shall choose offer B.

For the same appraisal concern, the buyer shall worry about losing his/her earnest money, which is usually $20k-$30k in this case, especially if the buyer waives financing contingency. In addition, the buyer may also save some money by using offer B as the buyer’s closing costs, such as the buyer’s portion of escrow fee and the lender’s title insurance that is usually paid by the buyer at the closing, are often tied to the closing price too. Thus, if advised by an experienced buyer agent, the buyer shall choose offer B too.

How does this affect the buyers and sellers in choosing realtors?

The above examples clearly show that both the buyer and the seller need to find the experienced buyer agent and listing agent respectively to advise them to evaluate different offers. Writing an offer is not just a number game. You need your agents fully understand the financing and tax implications.

Moreover, it is ideal that the buyer agent or the listing agent can provide high rebate or charge low commission so that the buyer can win the property using less money and the seller can take more money home.

For example, if the buyer uses a buyer agent who charges 3% buyer agent commission, the buyer may have to user offer A. However, if the buyer uses another buyer agent who charges 1% buyer agent commission, the buyer can even make a better offer than offer B, like offer C:$970k offer price and the buyer directly pays $10k buyer agent commission to the buyer agent.

Let’s make the case more real and introduce the cash offer scenario which is not uncommon for hot homes in the Greater Seattle Area. This comes a one million dollar question:

Is there magic: can a low price and financed offer beat a high price all cash offer?

Still use the above example and assume that the offer A is an all-cash offer and the offer B is financed or mortgaged. After submitting the offer B, the experienced buyer agent would inquire the listing agent whether there is any competition. The listing agent may say that we have another offer A $1M cash offer. As the buyer agent only charges 1% commission, the buyer has more room to raise the offer price even if he/she uses loan, and makes the offer more attractive. For example, the buyer can make offer D: $990k offer price and the buyer directly pays $10k buyer agent commission to the buyer agent. Certainly, the experienced buyer agent would advise the buyer to make sure that he has extra $20k cash to make the difference if the loan appraisal comes back only at $970k later. The experienced buyer agent would also advise the buyer to obtain the underwriter pre-approval from the lender to contingent the loan approval solely on the appraisal result, so that the buyer can confidently waive the financing contingency or convince the seller that there is no financing concern.

The seller compares offer A and offer D. For offer A, the net price for the seller after exercise tax, the buyer agent commission, and the listing agent commission is $1M - $11,900 - $30,000 - $30,000 = $928,100. For offer D, the net price for the seller after exercise tax and buyer agent commission is $990k - $11,772 - $0 - $990k x 3% = $948,528. There is $948,528 - $928,100 = $20,428 difference. In the real world, the difference may be even higher as the closing costs are often tied to the closing price too. Thus, the seller would seriously consider offer D, as the seller can put $20k+ more in the pocket. The experienced buyer agent will also discuss with the buyer and the lender to evaluate the loan risk and make the offer D sweeter and irresistible to convince the seller that the offer D is almost like cash offer and the buyer can close the deal by:

  • presenting the lender’s underwriter pre-approval letter to contingent the loan approval solely on the appraisal result, and presenting the funding statement to show enough cash cushion, even if the appraisal result may be lower than the offer price;
  • waiving the financing contingency; and/or
  • raising earnest money and/or releasing the earnest money to the seller early;

As long as the seller is convinced that the buyer has no problem closing the deal, it is highly likely that the seller will choose offer D over offer A to take $20k more home. This shows how a lower price and a financed $990k offer can beat the $1M all cash offer.

There is no magic. You cannot beat a high priced all cash offer if the other conditions remain the same. However, under the above scenario, using the high rebate or low commission from the buyer agent, there is a high chance that you can beat the cash offer with careful and thoughtful offer drafting, and excellent communication skills from the experienced buyer agent.

I got it, but are there such low commission & highly professional agents? Sounds too good to be true.

Congratulations!  If you read thus far, feel free to check my profile or shoot me a message for further discussion.

Feel free to distribute this article to your families, friends, or colleagues in its entirety so that they can understand the implications of the new NWMLS rule if they are buying or selling homes.

Unfortunately, like commercial real estate, business opportunities, many sellers chose NOT PAYING a fee to buyer agent. In our SFBA, Northern CA most distressed properties are not offering much commission and many sellers do not want to pay to the buyer commission may be 1% after buyer pays a fee (several %) to sign up.  

With the technology and data available the buyers often just look on their own contact listing agent without their own agent. That has been going on for several years. All data are available on the website compiled from third party sites, the buyer agent is close to endangered profession. Sells need someone to market put it on the MLS with min fee.

The traveling service used to be full service. But most are out of business. The new technology allows one to bundle trips, lodging etc without talking to someone.  

In the Greater Seattle Area, in the old rule, the seller needs to list commission to the buyer agent when listing the property at NWMLS.  If the buyer has no buyer agent, all commission goes to the listing agent.  The buyer does not save money by directly talking to the listing agent.  No matter under the old rule or the new rule, for most inexperienced buyers, you need to be represented by an experienced buyer agent.  It's just like you won't save much money or even be screwed if you got an accident and directly talk to the insurance company without your own lawyer if you are unfamiliar with the process and terms.  Even if you believe you know, there are traps and loopholes which you can avoid with your own lawyer.  It's the same for realtors.  The problem for most buyers and sellers is to find the experienced and excellent realtor that charges low commission or offers high rebate under the new rule.  As said, making an offer or accepting an offer is not just a number game.  You need to consider other terms and risks as well.  This is where we, experienced realtors, add values.