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Real estate commissions are negotiable, no matter what any lawsuit says

(FINANCE) An anti-trust lawsuit against major players in the residential real estate industry sheds light on misinformation and misunderstandings about commissions – when you’re buying or selling a home, you’re in the driver’s seat. Negotiate!

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Minnesota home seller, Christopher Moehrl, has filed an class action anti-trust lawsuit [in April], alleging a “conspiracy” to price fix broker compensation in the 2.5-3% range, naming the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Realogy, HomeServices of America, RE/MAX, and Keller Williams (with more to be named, inevitably).

The complaint intimates that by requiring brokers to offer buyer broker compensation when listing a property on the MLS, fees are “fixed” and inflated, violating anti-trust laws. In short, they believe buyer’s agents shouldn’t be paid because buyers can find their home online now.

The class action suit claims that because the seller has to pay the buyer’s agent, commissions are inflated. The truth is that although it is NAR’s rule to require compensation, it could be as little as one cent, and Associations support all compensation models (flat-fee, discount, rebates, traditional 3% per side, and even higher on luxury listings).

Let’s take a look at some of the court documents directly:

8. Defendants’ conspiracy has kept buyer broker commissions in the 2.5 to 3.0 percent range for many years despite the diminishing role of buyer brokers.

This point continues to outline how buyers agents are essentially useless in an era where homebuyers have direct access to listings and can find their own home online. That claim is similar to claims made by anti-Realtor bloggers in the early 2000s, and is wildly uninformed. All agents, no matter which side they represent have a fiduciary duty to their client, negotiate on their behalf, and walk them through (and oversee) a complex financial process.

Beyond that, buyer’s agents are often the person that has to inform a buyer that their dream home they found on Zillow (or other sites that use non-MLS data) actually sold several days ago, or was not real to begin with.

They’re the individuals that have to not only be educated on real estate law and contracts, lending options and processes, but be experts in a certain geographical area and be informed of architectural styles, smart home features, green home features, and so on.

The indication that a buyers agent’s sole value is to pair a homebuyer with a home is ludicrous and objectively false.

17. In that sales transaction, Mr. Moehrl was represented by a RE/MAX franchisee, and the buyer was represented by a Keller Williams franchisee. As part of the sales transaction, Mr. Moehrl paid a total broker commission of six percent, and 2.7 percentage points of the six percentage points were paid to the buyer broker.

It is important to note that it is not illegal to buy or sell a home without representation. It happens every day across this nation. If there was a legal requirement to hire a real estate professional, this lawsuit might have merit. But there is not.

Further, the fact that the buyer broker was only given 2.7 percent indicates that Moehrl negotiated against the supposed 3.0 percent standard the lawsuit is so aggressively fighting against.

Obviously this home seller knew he could negotiate commissions.

Not only did the Plaintiff not have to hire a Realtor, he didn’t have to allow any negotiation of the compensation, given that the buyer side earned 2.7 percent, and his own Realtor earned 3.3 percent.

38. As required by the Buyer Broker Commission Rule, the seller broker makes a blanket, non-negotiable offer of a three percent commission to the buyer’s broker when it lists the home on the local MLS.

The Plaintiff’s attorneys have clearly not done any homework. Compensation is required, that is factual, but there are no bylaws that dictate the amount. It can be as little as one cent. Or as high as 100%, it is all negotiable. All of it.

63. For years, buyer broker commissions have remained steady at two-and-a-half to three percent in the areas in which the Covered MLSs operate despite both an increase in home prices (increasing the dollar amount of the commission) and the diminishing role of buyer brokers described above.

NAR does not track or store broker commission data, and while brokerages individually do, they don’t uniformly or openly share that information with any competing brokers. There is no conspiracy regarding commissions.

The responsibilities of a buyer broker have actually increased over time, not diminished. Ask a broker in 1980 if they had to be well versed in modern marketing, social media strategies, analytics, paperless contract technologies, know the privacy laws regarding the collection and dissemination of information online, and so forth.

To repeatedly argue that anything other than market conditions have determined commission levels is dead wrong. In fact, some would argue that commissions on both sides of the transaction should be higher (and therefore, some brokerages offer services at higher commission levels than 3%).

The takeaway is that all commissions in real estate are negotiable, it’s not a legal requirement to hire a real estate professional when buying or selling a home, and that buyer agent responsibilities and values have actually increased over time.

Anyone in America who doesn’t like a Realtor’s services offered at a specific commission level can negotiate or hire a different Realtor – there is no conspiracy here. This lawsuit has a variety of factually inaccurate statements regarding commissions, and is laughable.

This story was first published in April of 2019.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kyle Kopytchak

    July 4, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Great article!

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Business News

Fake news? Well, what about fake reviews?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is swamped with fake reviews, making it harder than ever to trust whether or not a product is legit. How can you spot them and avoid falling victim to this shady practice?

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Person shopping online with credit card, but are they reading fake reviews?

These days, most of us have turned to online shopping in lieu of brick-and-mortar establishments to get our favorite items shipped directly to our front door. With many retailers still closed, and many more of us understandably wary of exposing ourselves to the risk of COVID-19, it’s easier to just click “buy” and then spend the next two days with our noses pressed to our windows in anticipation of the arrival of our new toy or garment. But are we at risk of being tricked by fake reviews?

If you’re like most people, you probably depend on product reviews to make a purchasing decision. Honestly, it’s perfectly reasonable to see what others thought of the item before you buy it. These online reviews are almost like your neighbor, who whipped out his lawnmower and bragged how it goes from 0 to 4 mph in less than thirty seconds. Obviously — obviously — you had to run out to your nearest garden center to pick up one of your own after his glowing review of it, right?

That’s kinda like online reviews, too. You can’t just knock on the purchaser’s door and ask them what they thought of it, which is why you carefully peruse those reviews and weigh those pros and cons. Okay, this shirt fits loose. Fine, these kitchen shears broke after three uses. Whoa, this brand of potato chips puts hair on your chest…? Sweet! And you also probably looked at those 3-star reviews, too, to see what was merely “meh” about the product. With this assortment of mixed reviews, you can be confident that you’re making a rock-solid choice.

Uh, sadly, nope.

Unfortunately, Amazon (as well as other major retailers, such as Walmart) are often fraught with a glut of fake reviews. In fact, there are numerous Facebook pages dedicated to the purchase of these reviews, and many of the reviewers are compensated with a monetary reward (usually the cost of the item, plus a few extra dollars for their work) for posting the glowing 5-star rave.

So what can you do to help protect yourself for falling for these seemingly harmless lies?

Well, first and foremost — a fake review isn’t necessarily harmless. If a defective or dangerous product is boosted by a false review, it can seriously harm you. Sure, there’s a good chance the fake reviews are benign, and the worst you’ll be in for it is losing a few bucks on a crap item. But if something is using counterfeit or unsafe ingredients (such as minoxidil in potato chips because, real talk, chips aren’t supposed to put hair on your chest), then yes, you need to be informed of it so you can make an educated decision about whether or not that item is coming home with you.

So, the question remains: How can you, intrepid shopper extraordinaire, avoid purchasing a lemon? (Unless, of course, your goal was to buy an actual lemon in the first place. Margaritas, anyone?) The good news is that there are a couple things you can do. For starters, common sense goes a long way. Do the reviews offer any context, or is it just line after line of, “Loved it!” without any actual feedback on the item? That’s why those 3-star reviews are so priceless. Usually the reviewer actually used the item and had a valid reason for their tepid review, allowing you to make an educated decision about it.

Finally, there are a couple of websites you can use to help you out. First, there’s Fakespot. This web extension will cull out all the fake reviews, allowing you to see at-a-glance the remaining genuine reviews. It then reviews the item for its credibility, letting you know if the seller was trying to pull a fast one on you. Then there’s ReviewMeta. Unlike Fakespot, this website goes through the views and instead of grading the seller, it actually grades the item based on the average score of the remaining real reviews. And by using both of these websites together to check those reviews? You’ve now got yourself a pretty decent idea if the product is actually worth your hard-earned dollars.

It’s far too easy to get scammed these days. However, by staying alert and remaining mindful about your online purchases (and avoiding the temptation to give into those stress-motivated impulse buys), you can avoid being bilked, too. And hey, instead of looking at online reviews, maybe you should go back to the old-fashioned way of doing it: By asking your neighbor for their opinions of items. Just, y’know, do it from at least six feet away, while wearing a face mask.

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Manufacturing is bouncing back, but supply of materials is struggling

(BUSINESS NEWS) As manufacturing demands surge, so do material costs. The pandemic has shifted where we’re putting our money, but supply is struggling to keep up.

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Manufacturing worker sealing a large pipe together.

As the United States’ manufacturing process comes back up to speed, a surge in demand is creating a shortage of the one thing manufacturers need in order to do their jobs: Supply.

Fox Business reports that, due to a much quicker return to normalcy for manufacturing than some expected, a price hike for materials is affecting everyone from the bottom up: “Prices for steel, aluminum, lumber and other materials are rising in response to higher order volumes. Commodity supply chains are now clogged with orders, causing some producers to add weekend hours and overtime for employees.”

The fast manufacturing rebound seems to be a harbinger of better days ahead, but this supply bottleneck could dampen producers’ resolve.

It should be noted that the spike in demand for goods which use the materials in question isn’t an entire surprise. As Fox notes, much less of consumer money has been going toward travel and dining out. This has resulted in more money flowing into things like appliances, vehicles, and entertainment commodities.

But the toll is hitting producers coming and going as things like depressed oil and the paper used in packaging undergo substantial price hikes, leading some companies to stockpile resources in hopes of having an edge in the future.

Others find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between lower profit margins or higher prices on manufactured productsa choice that is sure to impact consumers, if not the rate of consumption.

Indeed, some companies, such as Northwest Hardwoods, have an upper limit on the price they can charge on a finished product regardless of rising material costs.

It’s not all bad, of course. Global prices for materials like aluminum and scrap steel have gone up, which means people like Brad Serlinthe president of United Scrap Metalcan make a killing. “We can sell everything we have,” says Serlin, referencing “big orders” from recently busy steel mills.

As the pandemic wears on, though, one thing is crystal clear: The high demand for domestic goods coupled with rising global prices for materials is going to make for some severe price hikes in the coming months.

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Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon CEO, moves into space travel

(BUSINESS NEWS) Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s CEO in order to focus on other passions, such as his space company, Blue Origin.

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Jeff Bezos standing in front of very large Blue Moon spacecraft.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will no longer be Amazon’s CEO starting in the third quarter of 2021. On Tuesday, Bezos announced he is resigning and will hand the job over to Andy Jassy, Amazon Web Services’ CEO. Bezos will transition to the role of Executive Chair on Amazon’s board.

“I’m excited about this transition. Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods. Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming,” said Bezos to employees in an email. “When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else,” he said.

By stepping down, Bezos says he will have more “time and energy” to focus on “other passions” like Blue Origin, his space company. In 2000, the billionaire started the rocket company to make space travel affordable and easily accessible by using reusable launch vehicles.

Since the company was founded, it has yet to reach orbit and is lagging behind Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). SpaceX, which began two-years after Blue Origin, has already achieved some huge milestones.

In September 2008, Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fuel rocket to reach Earth orbit. In May 2020, SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to space.

Blue Origin has a lot of catching up to do, but, with more free time, Bezos might make sure the company moves full-speed ahead.

I mean, look at what he did with Amazon. In 1994, Bezos founded the multinational technology company. Since then, the e-commerce giant has grown into a trillion-dollar company. It has more than 1 million employees and millions of customers.

“This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name,” Bezos said. “Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.”

There is no word about how much more involved Bezos will be with Blue Origin, but the company already has things to look forward to.

Last December, NASA selected Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket to “launch planetary, Earth observation, exploration, and scientific satellites for the agency.” This contract will allow the company to “compete for missions through Launch Service Task Orders issued by NASA.”

Last month, it conducted a successful flight test of its New Shepard capsule, and many more tests are, without a doubt, in the company’s future.

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