Posted almost 7 years ago

How does a real estate agent get paid?


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So you are thinking about a career in real estate? 

Smart decision. The demand is there. According to the 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers published by the National Association of Realtors, 88% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker. The income is reasonable. Real estate agents have a median income of $40,990 with the top performers making much more.

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Naturally your first question is "how does a real estate agent get paid?"

SHORT ANSWER: 

Real estate agents work for real estate brokerages they earn money via commissions when they assist buyers and sellers buy or sell homes.

LONG ANSWER: 

First let's go over some terminology. 

When brokerages hire real estate agents they typically set them up on what is known as a commission split. This means that when a commission is paid to a real estate brokerage it is split between the brokerage and the real estate agent. Some common commission splits are 50/50, 60/40, 70/30 & 80/20. This will vary from brokerage to brokerage and even from agent to agent. There may be a brokerage with 5 real estate agents who all have different commission splits.

Generally speaking in any given real estate transaction there will be between 1 and 4 real estate agents or brokerages involved in the transaction. All of whom expect to be paid.

Listing agent– This is the person that meets with a home owner who is interested in selling their home. This person works for a real estate brokerage. This person is then hired by the sellers to sell their home. The sellers signed a contract which explained the amount of money they were going to pay this listing agent's brokerage to sell their home. This contract is known as a listing agreement.

Listing brokerage- All real estate agents work for real estate brokerages. Every real estate brokerage has a licensed real estate broker who is in charge of the real estate agents working at that brokerage. Some real estate brokerages you may have heard of are Keller Williams, Century 21 and The Holton-Wise Property Group etc... Every real estate agent you meet will work for a brokerage like one of those mentioned. The brokerage that employs the listing agent is the listing brokerage.

Buyer's agent This is the real estate agent that meets a person who wants to buy a home. Just like with the listing agent all buyer's agents work for real estate brokerages like Keller Williams, Century 21 and The Holton-Wise Property Group etc..This agent will show a potential home buyer homes that are listed either by themselves or other listing agents.

Buyer's brokerage The brokerage for whom buyer's agent works

It is important to note that these roles can be different in each transaction. A real estate agent can be a buyer's agent, or a listing agent depending on the deal. A real estate agent can even be both the buyer's and seller's agent.


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Let's go over some different scenarios to illustrate how each of these agents and their brokerages get paid.

Scenario A.

A buyer wants to buy a home. She meets a real estate agent named Brian. Brian works for The Holton Wise Property Group. Brian is on a 60/40 commission split with The Holton Wise Property Group. Brian takes his buyer to a home that is listed by Carla. Carla works for Century 21. Carla is on a 50/50 commission split with century 21 and has been hired by the owners of a home on 123 Main Street in Cleveland, Ohio. The price this home has been listed at is $249,900.00 The sellers have agreed to pay the brokerage Carla works for 6% of whatever she can sell the house for.

Brian and his buyer put in an offer on 123 Main Street for $225,000.00 That offer is accepted by Carla's sellers. Carla's brokerage is going to get paid 6% of the sales price by the sellers, but why did Brian take his buyer to Carla's home on 123 Main Street? Who is going to pay Brian and The Holton Wise Property Group?

Answer: Carla and her brokerage.

When Carla was hired by the sellers of 123 Main Street she entered their home into something called the multiple listing service (MLS) This is a website that real estate agents and brokerages use to help their clients buy and sell homes search for homes. When Carla put 123 Main Street on the MLS she offered all other real estate brokerages a share or split of the commission she gets from the sellers of 123 Main Street if they were able get their buyers to buy the house. In this situation Carla and her brokerage offered Brian and his brokerage 50% of the commission for the sale of 123 Main Street.

So let's see how this whole thing played out.

The house sold for $225,000.00 The sellers agreed to pay a commission of 6% to Carla's brokerage. That amount is $13,500.00

Carla's brokerage agreed to pay 50% of the commission to Brian and his brokerage. Carla is on a 50/50 split with her brokerage and Brian is on a 60/40 split with his.

Here is the breakdown of the commissions earned by all who were involved.

  • Total commission paid by the sellers $13,500.00
  • Total commission paid by the buyers $0.00
  • Carla's commission $3,375.00
  • Carla's brokerage commission $3,375.00
  • Brian's commission $4,050.00
  • Brian's brokerage commission $2,700.00

Scenario B.

As I stated before these roles can change by the deal. There is not always that many people involved in the scenario.

Let's assume Brian's buyer did not like Carla's house. Instead Brian's buyer liked a house that Brian had listed himself. This house was also listed for $249,000. The sellers signed a listing agreement with Brian that paid him a commission of 6% of the sales price. Brian's buyer put in an offer of $225,000.00 that was accepted by the sellers.

Here is the breakdown of the commissions earned by all who were involved.

  • Total commission paid by the sellers $13,500.00
  • Total commission paid by the buyers $0.00
  • Brian's commission $8,100.00
  • Brian's brokerage commission $5,400.00

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About the author:

James Wise is the Broker and Owner of The Holton Wise Property Group, a real estate brokerage and property management company operating in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area.



Comments (3)

  1. Another great article! Thanks for breaking this down so simply!


  2. Good explanation