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Give consumers what they want, ask for more in real estate commissions

Technology has made this housing crash more bearable, not easier, so why haven’t real estate commissions increased tenfold? They haven’t, yet there is still this burning need to negotiate from a floor – do you think your home seller respects this? No way, they love easy prey, sucker.

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An innocent question posed in a Facebook group this morning was about the 6% commission debate and why commissions are 6% if it’s a myth. It is a simple question with a simple answer that I can give because I am no longer a Realtor, and I’m absolutely entitled to my opinion whether you like it or not, as are you.

The 6% isn’t really a myth, albeit the average actual paid real estate commission is much lower at around 5%. It is a fact that the commission is negotiable, but what consumers and Realtors have never understood is that from a sales perspective, that 3% per side has become more of a fictitious floor than a ceiling. When you ask a Realtor why, quite honestly, no one really knows, but the default knee-jerk response is, “but commissions are negotiable.”

Sure they are, it’s an absolute fact, but again, from a sales perspective (a lesson for any sales related business, not just real estate) negotiating from the floor is a failed proposition as a business.

Sure, people like to say it’s so easy to list a property because they have an iPad now, and possibly a responsive MLS they can enter data into, but quite frankly (and I know listing agents will mostly agree, or at the least successful ones anyway) the expectations on listing a property have grown exponentially, as well as the expectations on the property agent themselves. The amount of hours it takes to actually hammer a square transaction through the round hole of closing has indeed increased tenfold – this is just a round number factoring shortsales, troublesome financing, or combating a neighborhood marred by failed mortgages and foreclosures.

Technology has made this housing crash more bearable, not easier, so why haven’t real estate commissions increased tenfold? They haven’t, yet there is still this burning need to negotiate from a floor – do you think your home seller respects this? No way, they love easy prey, sucker.

As milk prices have increased, gas prices have exploded, the cost of paper, ink, technology, supplying real estate porn to aggregators, the costs of featuring property within online environments and so many other factors of day to day life and business have risen due to the cost of doing business, yet real estate commissions have remained the same – around 5%?

These costs have to be passed on somewhere, and to be quite blunt, volume listing of property is costly and in high demand – just ask Trulia, Zillow, and Homes.com and others why these portals are not out acquiring their own property listings? Their answer will be that it’s not profitable. And why aren’t consumers uploading their own properties for sale in greater numbers? Because in the end, real estate search sites cannot support the consumer demand side in service of the listing, and that’s a fact. Instead, that’s laid on the backs of the listing agent and broker in their model – another cost of doing business.

So, in summation, I’m not going to tell you what you should be charging as a real estate commission per side, but I do think listing agents that are really in business have to look at the reality of the cost of doing business. Buyers agents say every day that it’s easier because of technology, but that’s not true of the listing side.

It wouldn’t surprise me if in this very year you don’t see listing brokers increase their commissions for their side of the transaction and lower the buyer side offering, and if they are the smart sales professionals I believe them to be, that fictitious floor and cieling could burst upwards to 8 or 9%, and why stop there? In some ways the cieling is regulated, but I’m not sure that’s really been challenged in court. If you’re truly negotiating commissions, shouldn’t you negotiate from a position of strength? It’s just good business.

So I say that each broker needs to do a real analysis of their business models and listen to their consumer – they want to negotiate, and it’s about time listing brokers gave them what they’ve asked for.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Jeff Brown

    April 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Not sure what’s ‘regulating’ commission ceilings, unless you’re referring to market forces.

    Though I’ve known a few top producers who consistently get 7-8% on a large portion of their listings, since the late ’90s, they added value in return.

    I can’t see commissions rising, at least not industry wide. Just don’t see it.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Nope, not market forces, they’re (regulation) real life reality on the ceilings on builders, and lenders that red flag transactions in residential real estate. I’ll investigate a little more and bring you a case study as I’ve had to deal directly with this issue. 🙂

      • Jeff Brown

        April 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm

        REO/ShortSale specialists have long told me about lenders ‘red flagging’ commissions they feel are too high. That’s ‘market’ forces, imho. They’re the 800 pound gorilla in those transactions, so the brokers knuckle under 99% of the time.

        There’s no gov’t agency of which I’m aware telling brokerages how much they can charge. Have I missed a new development? Thanks

        • Benn Rosales

          April 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm

          This is another article all together, Jeff. 🙂

  2. Greg Cook

    April 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Benn, in markets dominated by REOs and short sales. the 3% is the ceiling not the floor. The banks dictate the commissions paid and they have absolutely no desire to pay for services rendered.
    The “wholesale approach” of awarding listings makes the concept of “value added” as archaic as a rotary phone.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      In that case, you would have to determine it by the hourly rate, and if you’re making less than minimum wage per unit on a case by case basis, and being required by a non-human, ie, a corporation to earn a wage less than the minimum based on any requirements set by that entity that would require you to work more than 40 hours in a work week, then you could potentially be seen as an employee and demand over time and benefits by that employer.

      Now if all you’re required to do is enter it into a database, and put up a sign, then yeah, 3% is a good day when and if the deal gets done – ever.

      Again, It’s your business model, and your decision, but in macro there is no shortage of properties that need to be sold making it even more competitive and more valuable.

  3. Brian Hickey

    April 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Benn,

    Hope you’re right, though IMO the real estate transaction model is headed more towards direct-connection between buyers and sellers (of course, agents may play a part on one-side or the other).

    Under this model, which is perpetuated by the Internet, commissions will head south, possibly big-time.

    We’ll see.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  4. Cristine Gritz

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    When we finally get to closing…we have made about a dollar an hour!!! LOL We spend a lot of time and money on our clients. It takes at least 30 days to close. We don’t make that much in the grand scheme of things. How many slam dunks do we get nowadays??? Not many. Buyers take their sweet time and Sellers want to price their listings too damn high. 3% just isn’t enough as far as I am concerned!

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So the Labor Department is cool with unpaid internships again

(BUSINESS NEWS) Regulations on unpaid internships continue to wax and wane, and businesses that opt to use unpaid labor should be aware of new regulations.

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Unpaid internships are a deacreasingly common institution in the United States, with help from former regulatory attempts to make them more difficult to create.

That regulatory oversight might become more relaxed after the Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that governs the role of unpaid internships in the modern American workforce.

Last week, the United States’ labor governing body decided to revise its guidelines on unpaid internships using the concept of a “primary beneficiary test.”

The core principle behind the seven statements that comprise the primary beneficiary test revolves around the idea that the reason you are hiring unpaid interns is for work that provides the intern with the primary benefit (educational opportunities, hands on learning, and networking), not because the company isn’t paying someone else to perform the same activities.

So with these guidelines, there’d be no more call for jokes about interns fetching coffee or making copies. Sounds like a win for the intern, right?

Not exactly.

The guidelines stress, however, that there is no magic quota of yes or no answers that yields the unpaid intern in question has job duties that would require payment. That even includes answering “no” to the statement that reads: “the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.”

Of course, if a company were in violation of these guidelines, especially the one regarding compensation, it would be easier for adjudication to be brought against the company into a court of law. These rules start as the groundwork for any legal action interns can bring against an organization.

The first set of six guidelines were developed in 2010. By 2011, a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns against Fox Searchlight while working Darren Aronofsky feature, Black Swan, claiming the interns were performing job duties in need of compensation (read: they weren’t already paying employees to do the same roles, rather using interns as free labor).

The ruling in 2013 was in favor of the interns, but a different federal court reversed that decision in 2015. It is interesting to note that the revised guidelines published by the DOL only a week ago were derived from the Court’s 2015 decision on this case.

The larger trend of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns may cause a company pause if they reverse decisions about payment of employees.

Despite the judicial onslaught, some organizations may still choose to pursue unpaid internships in light of the relaxation of the guidelines by the DOL.

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Starbucks’ Teavana chain finally settles lawsuit with Simon Property Group

(BUSINESS NEWS) A bitter battle over store closures concludes with private settlement – and Teavana stores are still closing.

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A months-long legal fight between Starbucks’ Teavana and Simon Property Group, the number one mall operator in the U.S., has come to an end with a private settlement that reportedly allows the tea chain to move forward with some of its store closures.

In July 2017, Starbucks unveiled plans to close all 379 retail locations of its floundering Teavana stores.

Shortly thereafter, Simon Property Group got a local judge to bar Starbucks from closing the 77 Teavana locations in its malls, a peculiar legal move for this situation. Starbucks would be breaking its lease agreement with Simon, and Simon wasn’t going to stand for it.

Simon Property Group cited the ongoing financial plights traditional malls have experienced for years as more and more retailers shut their doors as its primary reason for blocking Starbuck’s actions. The difference with Teavana is that Starbucks isn’t under great financial stress and can actually afford to keep the stores open, per court documents.

Starbucks disagreed, but in November, a judge sided with Simon and ordered Starbucks to keep its Teavana stores open and not break dozens of leases nationally. Starbucks fought back with a December appeal, but the case moved up to Indiana’s highest court, bypassing the intermediate Court of Appeals.

And now, before Starbucks’ appeal could be heard, the dueling companies have apparently reached an undisclosed settlement, according to New York Post reports. Exact settlement details have not been revealed, but the Post has found at least two Teavana locations that are closing in just a few days, indicating that settlement may play out in Starbucks’ favor.

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Zillow sued for concealing Zestimates on certain listings

(BUSINESS NEWS) Zillow being sued for Zestimates is nothing new, but they’re now being accused of concealing Zestimates on “Co-Conspirator Broker” listings, violating federal Antitrust laws.

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From our real estate section, The Real Daily:

The latest Zillow legal troubles again surround their Zestimates; this time they are being sued for their Zestimates violating federal Antitrust laws. The company has allegedly violated and continue to violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 and the New Jersey Antitrust Act, N.J.S.A. 56:9-3.

Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, based in New Jersey, filed suit again Zillow Group Inc. and Zillow Inc. today. In a 21-point legal brief outlining their specific violations, two things become immediately clear (assuming of course there is truth in these allegations): Zillow is giving preferential treatment to preferred brokerages (labeled ‘co-conspirator Broker[s] in the lawsuit) and Zestimates are wildly inaccurate (as many have adamantly stated since Zestimates’ conception).

The first few points of the brief explain exactly what Zillow is being accused of doing: “this antitrust action arises from Zillow’s conspiracy with certain real-estate brokerage companies to selectively conceal ‘Zestimates.’” Zillow’s estimate of a residential property’s “fair market value” which the lawsuit states they know “to be inaccurate,” have allowed “only select brokers to conceal the display of Zestimates on their listings to the exclusion of the general public.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that “these agreements between Zillow and certain co-conspirator brokers of residential real estate restrain trade (read: the agents/brokers being allowed to conceal unwanted Zestimates, henceforth referred to as ‘Co-conspirator Brokers’) and deprive Plaintiff and the public in general of the benefits of open and robust competition in two markets: the residential real estate market and the residential real estate brokerage market.”

In essence, Zillow and the Co-conspirators Brokers have made an illegal agreement regarding the display of Zestimates on Zillow’s site.

Zillow has long touted their Zestimates as a “user-friendly format to promote transparent real-estate markets and allow people to make informed decisions;” except Zestimates are often believed to be inaccurate and now they’re being concealed at the request of a select group of Co-conspirator Brokers – a far cry from making real estate more transparent.

If the lawsuit’s claims have any validity behind them, it seems as though Zillow may be in for a bumpy ride. Item 10 in the suit states, “Zillow has acknowledged that it conceals Zestimates as a result of agreements with only ‘certain brokers’ who receive ‘certain treatment’” and uses a message screenshotted from Zillow’s Help Center as proof these words were in fact used to explain why some listings had prominent Zestimates while others did not:

You may be wondering what brought about this lawsuit; it seems Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, owns and is marketing a property located in Cresskill, New Jersey, through an agent unaffiliated with Zillow (not a Co-Conspirator Broker). Therefore, their listing contains a prominently displayed Zestimate, while a similar listing in nearby Alpine, New Jersey, which is listed through a “Co-conspirator Broker,” conceals the Zestimate:

The above example is not the only one outlined in the case, however. Item 12 of the lawsuit states that further evidence can be seen by comparing a residence page for a property while it was listed with a Co-conspirator Broker versus the same residence page once the property was off the market. One clearly conceals the Zestimate, while the latter displays it clearly underneath the listing price.

For reference, the Co-conspirator Broker listing was screenshot on December 26, 2017 and the screenshot after it was taken off the market with the Zestimate was taken on January 2, 2018. Merely a week in between images, and yet the difference of how the ad is displayed is quite apparent:

In essence, Zillow has violated the very transparency they claimed to create.

Zillow is allegedly promoting misleading and inaccurate information while using their marketing power to charge brokers to hide this information which could negatively impact a sale, and which Zillow itself has acknowledged is sometimes inaccurate.

Also, general members of the public have no way to prevent Zillow from obtaining and posting information in this way, and it cannot be altered without hiring a Co-conspirator Broker, as Zillow has explicitly refused to offer the option to hide information to individual home owners, further deepening the dependency on Co-conspirator Brokers.

Because of their alleged refusal to treat everyone equally and “empower homebuyers with information,” they have potentially restrained trade in connection with the exchange of information regarding home valuation and offered anti-competitive benefits to only those brokers chosen to purchase that ‘special’ service package from Zillow that removes Zestimates from listings.

Therefore, brokers are not on even footing: when a seller attempts to price check; the brokers without it could be losing out to those who have the ‘special’ package and removal of Zestimates alongside listing prices.

So far, each individual Co-conspirator Broker has not been named; they have been named as a group: Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, Century 21 Real Estate LLC, The Corcoran Group ERA, and Weichert Realty, according to court documents. It is unlikely that any action would ever impact the brokerages, rather Zillow Group itself.

Zillow is being sued for five counts: two counts of conspiracy to restrain trade, one count of violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, one count of slander of title/product disparagement, and one count of interference with prospective economic advantage. A jury trial has been requested.

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