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Op/Ed

Brokers, agents taking on too many listings and hurting homeowners

With technology connecting agents and consumers in new ways, the industry has responded by taking on more and more listings, but who really pays the price? Homeowners. Let’s look at a new study on the topic.

It stands to reason that with a finite number of work hours a week, agents, no matter how efficient or technologically empowered they might be, can handle a limited number of listings successfully at any given time.

Yet some brokers and business models today—and agents themselves–are flirting with disaster by taking on too many listings to reap rewards from a system built upon commission-based compensation. The emergence of discount models that seek to increase agent productivity with technology based tools may be making the problem worse.

It stands to reason that if this hamster wheel keeps spinning out of control, somebody is going to lose. Now there’s proof. The big loser is the home seller, but it stands to reason their disappointment will rub off on the agencies and agents that that push too hard for profits.

A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Housing Economics, How Many Listings Are Too Many? Agent Inventory Externalities and the Residential Housing Market, was conducted by Scott A. Wentland, Xun Bian and Bennie D. Waller of Longwood University in Farmville, VA and Geoffrey K. Turnbull of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

It found that agents who take on too many listings (15 or more) will end up selling them for 3.0 percent less and will take significantly longer to sell them (129 percent more time) than agents with modest listing inventories (2 to 7 listings).

Moreover, they found that home sellers are the victims of a system that rewards agents with inventories that are too large

Too Many Clients, Too Little Time

“Agents representing 15 or more listings may be trying to represent ‘too many’ clients at one time, resulting in a substantially longer marketing duration and an important source of illiquidity for numerous homes in this market…The compensation structure in the real estate brokerage industry constantly puts agents in situations where they must balance their own interests with various clients’ interests. Agents are rewarded only if the property sells, as traditional full service broker compensation does not take into account the effort exerted to sell a particular property,” the authors concluded.

The study looked at whether agents have an incentive to take on too many listings—at least from the point of view of their clients. Additional listings may represent additional broker commissions, but they also place greater claims on the broker’s time and energy, which in turn can have adverse sales performance consequences for their clients. The dilution of agent effort and agency costs by very large numbers of listings adversely affects home prices and liquidity, the study found.

The study consisted of 21,450 properties residential properties obtained from a Virginia multiple listing service (MLS) for the period April 1999 through June 2009. Roughly half of all listings were represented by agents with medium inventory, where the agent is representing anywhere from two to seven additional listings. Nearly 10 percent of listings were represented by agents with very high inventory where agent inventory exceeded 15 or more additional listings. Nearly 17 percent of listings in the data set were represented by agents with a high or above average number of listings, from 8 to 14 additional listings. Nearly 20 percent of homes sold with listing agents who had one or zero additional inventory on the market. The bulk of the low listings were likely represented by agents who work part-time.

Baseline results showed that a small increase in agent inventory is associated with a slight discount in price and a substantial increase in time on market. The magnitude of the marginal effects are small, which is consistent with the expectation that one additional listing may not impose a very high marginal cost. An increase in agent inventory (9 listings) reduces the sale price by only 0.6 percent and increases marketing time by 13.6 percent, or approximately $1,000 and 15 days on average, respectively.

However, if the listing agent representing a seller had a very high number of other listings (i.e., 15+), that home generally sold for approximately 3 percent less and remained on the market for 129 percent longer than a home listed with an agent with a more modest inventory (i.e., 2 to 7 listings). This amounted to 142 days compared to the reference group whose time on market was on average 110 days. Despite the fact that this group represented only 10 percent of their sample, the result was still striking.

Greater Inventory = Lower Price, Longer DOM

“It is clear from the results that there is a relationship between agent inventory and sales outcomes that sellers care most about: selling price and time on market. Greater agent inventory is associated with a slightly lower price and a significantly higher time on market,” wrote the authors.

The study also compared sales of agent-owned homes with homes owned by clients and found that agents generally sell their homes for approximately 1.6 percent more than client properties. Inventory competition increases the time on market by 26 percent for clients, but only 12 percent for agents. In sum, agent-owned homes still take longer to sell with additional inventory, but not as long as client properties. This supports the theory that the inventory effect is driven primarily by agent incentives.

In the end, the authors place blame on agents, not their brokers or business models. “The results imply that agent incentives to secure additional contracts and potential commissions generate negative externalities for other properties in their inventory. Greater inventory diverts selling effort from existing inventory, resulting in longer time on market for all houses in the inventory. Agent effort to list properties has a direct effect on selling effort itself—a relationship previously overlooked. Further, the effect appears to be causal as well, in light of the identification strategy of employing an owner-agent interaction. It is clear than agent incentives drive this effect,” they said.

This story was originally published on June 08, 2015.

Written By

Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch, which has been recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites in the nation by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, Cook was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

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