Transparency in the home buying process including buyer’s agent commissions

Buyers Agent Commission TransparencyIn December I wrote about multiple class-action lawsuits filed against the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), as well as some of the largest real estate brokerages, like ReMax and Keller Williams as well as a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint filed again NAR over issues related to the lack of transparency in the home buying process.

The aforementioned complaints claim, among other things, that there has been an effort by the defendants to force buyers to pay an “inflated” price for a home as a result of the buyer not realizing the seller was forced to offer a commission to a buyer’s agent in order to get their listing in the MLS.  In addition, they claim that NAR and its members misrepresented to buyers that a buyer’s agent’s representation and services were “free”, when in fact their agent was being paid a commission,  which came from the seller and as a result, they claim this expense inflated the cost the buyer was forced to pay for the home.

I’m not here to address the accuracy of the claims made in these complaints nor get into an analysis of the legal merits of the case, but instead just want to address the changes I see that have already taken place or will take place in the home-buying process.  NAR has already reached a settlement with the DOJ in which they (NAR) agreed to make several changes, so those are pretty easy to predict and I think I have a reasonable idea of some other changes that will come along in the comings months as well.

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So, what are these changes I see coming to the home-buying process in terms of transparency?

Below are some of the changes I already see or expect to see:

  • Buyer’s agents aren’t FREE, nor should they be.  NAR has already agreed to prohibit their members from claiming their services are free as they are not.  A good buyer’s agent is invaluable to a home buyer and not only will earn the commission they make but in many cases,  will “pay for themselves”.   What I mean by this is their guidance and advice to their clients, which comes from their knowledge of the market and process, as well as experience, will help their clients avoid pitfalls and to make informed, good decisions.
  • Commission transparency.  Prior to the lawsuits, many MLS’s around the country, including the one that serves the St Louis area, prohibited the amount of commission being offered to a buyer’s agent by the seller from being shown on broker’s real estate search websites.  MARIS, the company that provides the MLS for St Louis area REALTORS® was quick and pro-active in this area and began allowing brokers to display buyer’s agent’s commission on their websites.  I’m happy to say that my company, MORE, REALTORS® was, I believe, one of the first brokerages in the area to begin displaying this information.  On consumers can find the amount of commission being offered to buyer’s agents on listings.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention I’m on the board of directors for MARIS and I’m an officer and shareholder of MORE, REALTORS.
  • Sellers won’t have to offer to pay a buyer’s agent to get in the MLS.  While the first two bullet-points above are things that have happened, now I’m predicting what will happen.  I believe that soon, perhaps as soon as “months” or as long as a year or two, the MLS requirement that a seller offers compensation to a buyer’s agent to have their listing be in the MLS will be dropped.  This is nothing that should cause panic as buyer’s agents won’t go away nor work for free, it’s just the structure of the transaction will change.  The changes made will no doubt provide a much greater level of transparency to the buyer though as I believe they will have a clear picture of the process including how their buyer’s agent is getting paid.
  • Agents won’t have to be REALTORS® to be part of the MLS.  Even though this is already true in several parts of the country, most MLS’s require that agents be a REALTOR® (so be a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)) to join the MLS.  I believe that all MLS’s in the country will be forced to allow participation by all licensed real estate brokers and agents and not just REALTORS®.  I think my prior prediction will come to fruition sooner and this one will follow so it will likely be a couple of years at least before this happens.

The bottom line is some obstacles exist today for the real estate industry as well as there are changes taking place and more coming.  While many folks don’t embrace change, call me a Pollyanna, but I think the result will be positive both for the real estate professional as well as the consumer that is buying or selling a home.

I’ll close with a quote on the topic of obstacles that I frequently share on a coaching session I do for our agents that is from Victor Kiam (the Remington razor guy) – “….there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity…


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