Working on a 100 percent commission basis isn’t for everyone. But it can be very rewarding, especially when the closing is over and the payday comes.
One great way to recruit and retain agents is to make sure they are paid quickly after they earn a commission. I can’t think of anything a brokerage could give me that is of more value than cutting my check quickly and without any hassle.
Agents work for free for weeks, months and sometimes years to sell a single house and earn a single check. To delay payment for weeks after a successful closing is just cruel.
After the closing, at least here in Minnesota, funds are available immediately because the buyer’s bank wires the money to the title company. If the sellers have equity, a check is cut and handed to them during the closing. Checks for real estate brokers are cut from the same funds.
There are many reasons an agent’s pay can be delayed, and over the years I have experienced each of them. So have most other agents, because real estate companies have rules and policies that slow down the process of paying agents.
I leave most of my own closings with a check. But that check has to be deposited in a bank, where it sits in an account and ages like a fine wine until it is ripe and the funds clear. After the funds clear, the brokerage cuts a check and puts it in an envelope with my name on it.
The quickest turnaround time I’ve seen is about 48 hours. There is no automatic deposit and I can’t just take a picture of the check and deposit it into the broker’s trust account.
The longest I have ever had to wait for a check was three weeks. Ten days is not uncommon when I’m representing buyers of homes listed by a certain brokerage in my market that has a system in which checks travel by snail mail.
One large brokerage that I used to be affiliated with would not cut a check for an agent if there was paperwork missing from the transaction — or even a document missing a date or some initials.
It’s understandable that a broker would want all of the paperwork completed. But the punishment should fit the crime.
Is it really fair for a broker to hang onto $10,000 because the other agent in the transaction is missing some initials on a contract addendum?
If the broker can’t trust the agents to complete the paperwork, he or she should find agents who can be trusted. If checks must be used as leverage to make agents obedient, then perhaps a few hundred dollars could be withheld for a set of initials instead of thousands.
I wonder if any agents ever put in a date themselves, or scribbled some initials that kind of look like their clients’, just so they could get the check they earned and buy the baby some shoes or make a house payment on time?
Once I had to wait a week for a check because everyone in the office who had the authority to sign a check was at a real estate convention. Nice. How did that make me feel?
Then there are the checks that just don’t come. Generally, real estate agents are responsible for collections, even though the check goes to the broker.
Last year I had a closing where I represented a buyer. I called about the check after a week had gone by, only to be told by the co-broker that a check isn’t considered late until two weeks have gone by. It took three weeks to get the check because the agent had gone on vacation and forgot to turn in the check before he left.
One company I was with would not give me my check because someone had made a mistake, and the check was smaller than it should have been. I would have been happy to have the smaller check, and would have been willing to wait for the rest of it.
But that wasn’t an option. Instead, there was no check for 10 days, but I managed to put food on the table and pay my own bills anyway, as I always have and probably always will.
Once when I got a check that was smaller than I thought it should have been, I asked the office manager about it. I was told that a fee that the buyer had agreed to pay was not collected at the closing, and that the fee had to be taken out of my check.
Since I had never agreed to pay fees for buyers — and since by law I cannot collect money from my clients — I decided to make a claim in small claims court.
Before I even finished the paperwork, I received the missing money. Not long after that, all of the agents in the office were required to sign a document that stated that they were responsible for the fee, but could have buyers pay it.
Even though I generally don’t live from paycheck to paycheck, there isn’t much that can get me as upset as a slow check or a delayed check. No one likes to fight to get paid for the work they already did.
A delayed commission check is usually the result of procedures designed to make someone else’s job easier. It is a constant reminder that in business we rarely put people first.
There are agents who leave brokerages because of problems getting checks. We work for months on one house or with one client. We work for free until the sale closes.
One check can represent many, many hours of work. All we should have to do when it is all over is endorse the check and cash it.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.