Real estate commission is the way in which real estate agents are paid for the services they provide. They receive a percentage of the price received for the property. Effectively, the real estate agent requires the seller of a property (the vendor) to sign over to the real estate agent a part of the property being sold.
Another way of looking at it is to say that the real estate agent, through the wording of the listing contract, effectively has his name added to the title deed of the vendor's property, so that the real estate agent becomes a part-owner of the property. When the property sells, the real estate agent receives a payment that represents his share in the vendor's property.
Most readers will be aware of the arguments in favour of real estate sale commissions, so I won't discuss those here. My focus is on the ways in which the sale process can be skewed against all parties involved, when the motivation to win a commission takes precedence over more important considerations.
Commission is a “winner-takes-all, loser gets nothing” situation. This increases the pressure on the real estate agent to secure a sale. Time is also a problem. If the real estate agent cannot secure a sale within a time acceptable to the vendor, the vendor may take the property off the market, or away from the real estate agent's agency. This will result in a total loss for the real estate agent.
Finally, the vendor becomes an obstacle between the real estate agent and his commission goal. In order to receive payment for his share of the vendor's property, the real estate agent must receive an offer to purchase within the available time, but the offer must be accepted by the vendor. If the vendor decides that the offer is not acceptable, then the real estate agent loses.
In order to win the gambling game that is real estate sales, the real estate agent may decide to tip the odds in his favour – and there are numerous ways in which this can be done.
At the listing stage the real estate agent may use improper means to win the listing contract. These include over-quoting on valuation, and offering dodgy sales figures.
During the sale process the real estate agent may be tempted to tell potential purchasers things that are untrue. I have seen many sale contracts with clauses designed to protect real estate agents against the consequences of false statements. Known as “porkies clauses”, they invariably state that the purchaser acknowledges that any information provided to the purchaser by the real estate agent is provided on the understanding that the purchaser will not be relying on it for any purpose.
When a purchaser has submitted an offer, and the purchaser cannot be convinced to increase her offer, the real estate agent may be tempted to pressure the vendor into accepting what would otherwise be unacceptable. Observations, such as “the market has softened” or “the market has spoken to us” are used by real estate agents to convince vendors that the real estate agent's high estimation of value can no longer be relied upon, and that the vendor should now accept what the vendor believes is an unacceptably low offer.
For some years now, I have been arguing that real estate services should be provided on a fee-for-service basis.
I will explore the replacement of real estate sale commissions with a fee-for-service structure further in future articles.
Melbourne Lawyer Peter Mericka B.A., LL.B is a real estate lawyer and consumer advocate. He is a former police detective, with experience in areas of criminal investigation and police internal investigations. Peter is the Director of Lawyers Real Estate, a law firm that sells real estate and offers conveyancing services. He also instructs in real estate conveyancing at the Leo Cussen Institute, Melbourne, and edits the http://www.AustralianRealEstateBlog.com.au.