Editor’s note: Inman News Publisher Bradley Inman wrote a controversial blog about the real estate industry’s elephant in the room — falling commissions. It prompted a fascinating debate inside the Inman News blog — prompting more than 200 reader comments. The original blog entry is pasted below.
This weekend, I e-mailed an old friend Katie Beacock, a Realtor in Seadrift, an exclusive stretch of Stinson Beach in Northern California’s beautiful Marin County. I always dreamed of owning a home there and wanted to check in with Katie on any new or pending listings.
I have always used a Realtor when buying real estate and cannot imagine doing it any other way. As expected, Katie let me know about current listings, which I had already found on the Web, but she also told me of a house that might be coming on the market. I can also count on her to give me the scoop on the market in West Marin, navigate the issues of buying oceanfront property and closing the transaction without any contingent liability.
I recently bought a car from an independent car broker, used a nutritionist last year and probably should hire a personal trainer. Middlemen are part of my life.
As I always use a Realtor, I also always negotiate the real estate commission, which I consider my legal and economic right. If intermediaries cannot take the heat of negotiation, they are in the wrong field.
Last week, I penned a blog about real estate commissions that listed 10 things that I believe may explain why commissions are under siege. As usual, I tried to offer our readers a perspective on a series of unrelated events and how they added up to some sort of tipping point on a bigger trend.
In my 25 years of writing thousands of stories, I have never written anything that sparked such a wide and diverse range of opinion. The comments section of the Inman News blog is loaded with intelligent reader commentary, some outrage, a couple of expletives and entertaining observations.
The reaction suggests two things: a segment of the public is outraged by the size of commissions, and some Realtors are either in denial, in fear or merely frustrated by the industry’s inability to communicate their value. Others recognize that we live in a wonderful country where the free market should live and breathe without interference, giving people choice and the best possible prices on services and products.
Here is a sampling of the feedback:
1. Brokers are the first to know a house is on the market;
2. Brokers are the first to know BEFORE a house is on the market.
Inman’s original blog entry, “Elephant in the room“:
Every few years, Realtors and their commission structure come under siege. It is happening now. Why?
1. Zillow’s coming-out party in February prompted the popular press to peel back the onion on the industry with tough questions. Do you need a Realtor? Do you need to pay 6 percent? Zillow launched a free home-valuation service, offering online access to value estimates and data on some 60 million houses in the United States.
2. The Justice Department lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors has brought heat on the industry, turning attention to commissions. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division has accused the NAR of being too restrictive about the display of online property listings.
3. Some strange industry events such as real estate veteran Steve Ozonian moving to a discount firm has prompted people to question the tried and tested model. Ozonian in January was appointed CEO and chairman of the board for Help-U-Sell Real Estate, a flat-fee real estate brokerage network.
4. Flat home prices and squeezed equity due to non-stop borrowing raises the economic question of what is an affordable commission in this environment.
5. Brokers have been complaining way too much and for too long about their business model being broken, begging the question that the pricing structure itself is in need of reform.
6. Fast-moving houses with fast-rising commissions, based on inflation not performance, has raised the “fairness” and the “greed” charge.
7. Sensitivity to price has never been higher with price-busters like Wal-Mart setting a new standard.
8. The Web has opened the debate, introducing alternative models and giving consumers more control. When we do more ourselves, we expect to pay less.
9. The industry is getting way too defensive; there is usually some truth when people get overly sensitive.
10. Realtors have been whipping boys for at least two decades, since David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” a merciless satire of the profession. And every group needs one group it feels better than. Real estate agents have always suffered low rankings in the respected profession lists.
In the past, such storms have not led to significant changes. Most people still want a full-service broker and are willing to pay 5-6 percent. Is this a case of the elites being out of touch with what people ultimately want and will pay for? Are things any different now? What do you think?
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