If you sell your $300,000 home in the US or Canada today, you can expect to pay real estate commission of around $18,000 (i.e., 6%). However, if you’re fortunate enough to sell that same home in say the UK or Australia, you will only pay about $4,500 in commission. Have you ever wondered what the American home seller gets for that extra $14,000? After all, homes seem to sell just as easily in other countries as they do here.
The answer to the question, what does the American home seller get for that extra money is simple. Nothing. It’s con, a fraud, a ripoff. Chang-Tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago has another name for it: social waste. Whatever.
Economists are generally at a loss to explain why this ripoff persists in the Internet age with unrestricted access to home information, but I think the explanation is pretty simple. A long time ago someone got the idea that American home buyers are so clueless and scared about buying a home, that they should have a real estate agent help them AND the seller should pay for that hand-holding. Brilliant.
How much would a buyer’s agent make if the buyer had to pay? Nothing. We know that because in countries where the buyer is expect to pay for their own agent, there are almost no buyer’s agents. Hey, if a buyer has an extra grand in their pocket, it’s going to a bigger down payment on a nicer home, not to some real estate agent. If they have to pay for an agent themselves, somehow buyers figure out how to buy a home on their own.
To make matters worse, what’s become abundantly clear in this age of high tech home buying and selling, is that buyer’s agents don’t even need the commission that the sellers pay. Buyer rebates, where the buyer’s agent gives half or all of their commission to the buyer, are all the rage today.
Never give a sucker an even break
So, why do home sellers continue to pay for buyer’s agents who clearly don’t need the money? For the same reason Bob the baker pays Vito protection money: extortion. You see, the buyer’s agent may not need the money, but if you don’t offer it, they’ll work like hell to keep their buyer from buying your home. They call this little move buyer steering and according to some Yale economists, it’s very real.
Of course this is not a real estate industry problem, it’s a home seller problem. If I’m a buyer’s agent and a home seller voluntarily offers me money, I’m keeping it. So, what can a seller do to extricate them self from this decades-long ripoff? Alone? Nothing. If you put your home up for sale and request the buyer pay for their own agent, your home will likely sit on the market forever.
But, working in concert, home sellers together can put an end to it today. If all home sellers refuse to pay for the buyer’s agent, homes are still going to get bought and sold, just like they do in every other country where sellers don’t pay. Buyers still want homes, and whether they pay for their own agent or do it themselves, they’ll find a way to buy a home. And then the buyer’s agent’s commission will end up where it rightfully belongs: in the home seller’s bank account.