Can I Still Lower an Agent's Commission?
(MONEY Magazine) – Q I'm getting ready to sell my home, but with prices falling, I'd like to avoid paying 6%. Any chance I can get an agent to take less? --Adam Reed, St. Louis
ANSWER Theoretically, yes, that number is negotiable--and the average commission is actually 5.1%, according to industry consultancy Real Trends. But this buyer's market doesn't bode well for sellers looking to haggle. There's a lot of inventory, for-sale houses are sitting longer and brokers are awash in listings. Worse, agents representing builders are increasingly getting more than 6% for unloading vacant new homes. (See page 44 for more on that.)
What brokers are not awash in, however, are buyers. So if your home is in a desirable neighborhood, in move-in condition and priced to sell fast, an agent might be more inclined to cut you a deal. And, of course, if it's a million-dollar listing, "it'd be a no-brainer to get to 4%," says Eric Cunliffe of RealEstate.com.
Even if you don't have such a prized property, there's no harm in asking for a break. Interview several agents, let them know you're talking with their competitors, and "simply tell them you don't want to pay 6%," says real estate broker Robert Irwin, author of Tips and Traps When Negotiating Real Estate. "You'll find out pretty quickly whether they'll work with you." Just beware of a listing agent who's willing to negotiate by cutting the take of the buyer's agent. (The two usually split the commission.) When there's a glut of houses, buyer's agents will steer clear of ones paying less than the going rate.
Should your efforts fail, check out HungryAgents.com, a free site that allows full-service agents to bid on your listing. Within an hour of registering a $500,000 home in Oregon, we received a proposal from an agent offering to sell it for 5.5%, including the full 3% for the buyer's agent. As long as you're not in a hurry, you might also consider a discount broker. You'll be charged less than 6%, though you may have to pick up some of the work. Redfin.com, for example, charges $2,000 to put your house on the multiple-listing service and handle the closing; you market the property. Even accounting for the buyer's agent's 3%, you stand to save $13,000 on a $500,000 house.
UPS AND DOWNS Mortgage rates continue to slide, albeit at a slower pace, while home-equity loans and credit lines are inching up.
[UP] Up from previous month [DOWN] Down from previous month
NOTES: As of Sept. 22.  $417,000 or less.  More than $417,000. SOURCE: HSH Associates.
DEALS: 5/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortgages
The banks below offer some of the best loan rates and terms. Use them as a benchmark for your own shopping. Visit hsh.com for more deals.
NOTES: As of Sept. 22. Rates and terms subject to change. SOURCE: HSH Associates.
BAD NEWS FOR HOME SELLERS
After five years of growth, home sales are expected to drop 8% in 2006 and 2% in '07.
SOURCE: National Association of Realtors.