What’s the Average California Real Estate Commission Rate?

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

Editor’s note: On March 15, 2024, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) announced a landmark lawsuit settlement that will change the way real estate agent commissions are handled in the future. These changes will “decouple” seller and buyer agent compensation. Industry experts predict that this decoupling will likely lower agent fees and give buyers the ability to negotiate commission amounts directly. Learn more.

Most real estate agents in California get paid through commissions. Commissions are typically calculated as a percentage of a property’s sale price, though some brokerages will charge a flat fee. The average agent commission rate nationwide is 5.8% of the home sale price, according to HomeLight’s real estate transaction data of thousands of home sales each year. But how does that compare to the average real estate commission rate in the Golden State?

In this post, we’ll help you determine how much commission you might pay on your California home sale, and what options are available to earn the highest proceeds possible.

Find a California Agent 100% Worth Their Commission

HomeLight can connect you with a top-performing, trusted agent in your California market. We analyze over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs.

What’s the average real estate commission in California?

According to HomeLight’s Agent Commissions Calculator, you can expect to pay approximately 5%-5.5% in commissions to a full-service agent when selling a home in California, with some variation based on location within the state. On a property worth the current statewide median home sale price of  $791,490, that amounts to between  $39,575 – $43,532 in commission costs.

Here’s a breakdown of how much you might pay in real estate commissions based on local commission data and what a home sells for in six of the largest cities in the Golden State:

California city  Median home price Avg. commission rate Typical commission
Los Angeles Metro $735,000 5.25% $38,588
San Diego $915,000 4.98% $45,567
San Jose $1,487,000 4.96% $84,320
San Francisco Bay Area $1,228,000 5.04% $61,891
Fresno $409,500 5.43% $22,236
Sacramento $500,000 5.04% $25,200

Median home prices: California Association of Realtors, March 2023

HomeLight gathers agent commission data from cities throughout the U.S. To see if we have commission rates for your city, try our Agent Commissions Calculator. You might also be interested in our Net Proceeds Calculator and Home Value Estimator.

Still curious about commission rates in California? Here are the answers to common questions about real estate agent commissions:

Who pays real estate commission fees?

The commission is typically paid by the home seller, and the seller’s agent will then split the commission with the buyer’s agent.

As top San Francisco Bay area agent Carl Medford explains, “Typically, 2.5% goes to the listing broker out of which the listing agent is paid; and, the same thing on the buyer’s side.”

However, “Everything in real estate is negotiable — including commissions,” adds Medford, who was named a HomeLight Top Producer in 2021 and received the Bay East Pinnacle Award for eight years.

Because agent compensation can vary wildly, listing agents include the buyer’s agent commission on the multiple listing service (MLS) description. That way, the commission structure is transparent before the buyer’s agent shows the house.

When is the commission paid?

The real estate commission will automatically be deducted from the sale proceeds at the time of closing. Until then, you won’t owe any money to the real estate agent.

Does the agent get to keep the full commission?

Although the seller pays the entire commission, the listing agent, who is representing the seller in a transaction, doesn’t keep it all. Part of their commission will go toward marketing your property with professional photography, open houses, offline marketing, and more.

“A  huge amount of our commission pays for marketing expenses,” Medford explains. “In our market, we are expected to pay for staging and a full photography package which is pretty expensive.”

The commission is also typically split 50/50 with the buyer’s agent to compensate them for bringing a buyer to the sale and coordinating the buy-side of the transaction. So, around 2.5% to 3% goes to the listing agent, and the other 2.5%-3% goes to the buyer’s agent.

Both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent will then share a percentage of their commission with their sponsoring broker.

These split rates can vary; however, it’s common for the listing agent to give their broker anywhere from 30%-50% of their commission, depending on the agent’s level of experience, their market size, and brokerage agreement.

How is the commission divided between agents?

The commission that’s paid by the seller will typically be split among each agent and the brokerages through which they hang their real estate license. Let’s say you sell your California home for $730,000 with a 6% commission rate. You pay a commission of $43,800, and each agent has a 70/30 split agreement with their brokerage. Here’s how that might look:

  • Listing agent: $15,330 (70% of their $21,9000 commission share)
  • Listing broker: $6,570 (30% of their $21,900 commission share)
  • Buyer’s agent: $15,330 (70% of their $21,900 commission share)
  • Buyer’s broker: $6,570 (30% of their $21,900 commission share)

In addition to the 2.5% typically distributed to both the buyer’s and seller’s brokers (which they share with their affiliated agent), “we typically use the transaction coordinator,” says Medford, “who usually receives a $300 to $600 flat fee paid out of the commissions.”

Are California commission rates negotiable?

You can negotiate real estate agent commission rates, but don’t be surprised if California full-service agents hold firm on how much they charge. A Consumer Federation of America report found that only 27% of agents are willing to negotiate the commission.

One reason agents often don’t lower their rate is that it may reduce their ability to negotiate a higher sale price for the seller. An agent’s services often include photography and pricing analysis, so a lower commission could also translate into a smaller marketing budget for your property, an inaccurate list price, fewer home promotions, and a lower likelihood of selling.

Exceptions can occur if you’ve already found a buyer. Let’s say you’re selling your Cape Cod-style cottage to a friend, or have decided to sell to a family member. In that case, the agent would likely be willing to play the role of transaction coordinator and independent go-between for a reduced commission rate.

Overall, commissions in California are negotiable but do your research first. When asking an agent to lower their pay, you’re limiting the pool of agents willing to work with you. And the downsides to working with a low-commission agent can be steep. Without a top California agent in your corner, you could dramatically undersell your home, have a rough selling experience, or fail to sell the home at all.

Sell your house faster and for more

Thinking about selling soon? We’d be happy to introduce you to a few top local real estate agents. Our service is 100% free, with no catch. Agents don’t pay us to be listed, so you get the best match.

What is included in a real estate agent’s commission?

A full-service real estate agent in California will provide a high level of offerings that go toward giving you a great selling experience and boosting exposure to your home.

An agent’s services fall into a few main categories:

Guidance on pre-sale improvements

Agents see a lot of houses in their California markets. They will have an eye for the small but impactful improvements you could make to help it sell for more. The best agents will go above and beyond to help their clients get the job done.

Pricing strategy

An agent will put together a comparative market analysis (CMA) in the form of a thick packet featuring charts, facts, figures, and photographs of houses. The analysis will show you what your home is worth based on comparable sales in the neighborhood, market trends, and local price per square foot. This key tool helps you set a realistic price that can attract offers right off the bat in a fraction of the time it would take a non-professional to determine.

Marketing services

As part of their commission, at a minimum, California agents should offer expert home prep and staging, professional photography, marketing flyers and pamphlets, direct mail, automatic postings of your listing on major home search sites, local advertisements, exclusive previews for other brokers, and open house coordination. Advanced agents may also offer the development of a virtual tour.

Offer management and negotiations

When you receive one or multiple offers, an agent will help you determine the strength of the offer and work with you to proceed with responding to buyers. They’ll advise on whether to accept, reject, or make a counteroffer while putting together offer spreadsheets to identify the best offer in bidding war situations.

If a buyer requests repairs after the inspection, an agent will help you push back where appropriate and advise on when to concede. Should the appraised value be lower than the contract price, an agent can help you determine whether to ask the buyer to make up the difference or if you should lower your price.

Market knowledge and neighborhood expertise

Great California real estate agents know what local buyers seek in homes and which of your home’s attributes to highlight. An agent will skillfully incorporate key features into your home’s listing description and immediately be able to recognize what makes your house or the surrounding area special.

What is a fair real estate commission in California?

As noted above, the average commission rate in most California markets is between 5%-5.5% to hire a full-service real estate agent. This rate should mean you have an agent who is dedicated to selling your home for the best possible price, who is available and communicative, and who is willing to shepherd the transaction from start to finish. If an agent isn’t willing to offer all or the majority of services listed above, you should interview more candidates.

“It totally depends on what kind of services the agent is going to provide,” says Medford.

It’s also important to remember, “When you’re negotiating a commission, you’re always negotiating two sides,” Medford explains.

Ideally, a California buyer’s agent looks to make at least a 2.5% commission. “If you go lower than that, there’s a danger a buyer’s agent might try to avoid showing a listing,” says Medford. “That’s not ethical; but, it does happen.”

On the seller’s side, you may be able to find a listing agent who charges as little as .05% to enter the listing on the MLS — if the seller provides all the data, photos, and manages all other aspects of the sale.

“Sometimes, agents might even charge a flat fee — maybe $2,500 — for listing,” Medford says.  “It’s completely flexible.”

What if my California house doesn’t sell?

Real estate agents only get paid commissions if and when your home sells successfully. Most real estate contracts include an exclusive right to sell, which gives the real estate agent the sole rights to market the property, list the property on the MLS, and receive the commission if the sale closes in a determined time frame. If your house remains on the market beyond the time period outlined in the listing agreement, you are not obligated to pay your agent.

However, keep in mind that your listing agreement may contain a protection clause, also known as a “brokerage protection clause,” “safety clause,” “extension clause,” or “tail provision.” The protection clause states that if a buyer who the listing agent introduced to the property purchases the property after the listing agreement expires, the seller still must pay the agent a commission.

Many California agents’ contracts have an easy-out policy. If the seller decides to terminate the contract before it expires, Medford says, There may be a stipulation in the listing agreement that the seller pays for the basic marketing expenses such as staging, photography, etc.”

The contract may also have a clause requiring the seller to pay a full commission if the agent’s efforts yielded a buyer under certain conditions.

For example, if Medford’s firm can document its relationship with the buyers who place an offer within 60 days of the listing’s termination, the seller must pay their firm’s commission.

Within three days of the contract’s termination, Medford’s team provides the seller with a comprehensive list of people who actually came through and who might qualify under this arrangement.

How can you avoid paying Realtor fees?

There are two main ways to avoid paying Realtor® fees. You can either sell your California home without an agent’s help or sell it directly to a cash buyer without ever going on the market.

For Sale By Owner

Without a real estate agent, you’re responsible for preparing your home for sale, marketing, negotiating, and navigating legal and financial documents. When selling a house on your own, you’ll need to hire an attorney, at a minimum, to make sure the paperwork is right.

Typically, For Sale By Owner (FSBO) makes the most sense if you already have a buyer. As of 2022, 50% of FSBO sellers knew their buyer.

This indicates that while the FSBO route is rare, making up just 10% of sellers, it’s even more rare to forgo a real estate agent’s help when you don’t already have a buyer lined up and ready to go. In addition, according to a 2022 National Association of Realtors (NAR) report, the median FSBO house sold for $225,000, compared to a median of $345,000 for agent-assisted sales. That’s a significant loss of proceeds in an effort to save 5.25% on commissions.

“We actively go looking for FSBO to explain the value we add,” he says. “We pick up a lot of clients that way.”

Recognizing commission avoidance drives many sellers to FSBO, Medford says, “Our team has created a commission menu, which delineates a tiered level of service and commission.”

Undoubtedly, all NAR-member agents are bound by a code of ethics to provide their clients with competent representation as defined by the terms of their contract. However, full-service commission contracts allow agents to marshal more resources, time, and effort into marketing the home.

“There’s a lot more work and effort that goes into full commission listing,” Medford explains, “than a cut-rate, discounted commission.”

If the seller has a low-percentage commission in mind, Medford explains the services available at that rate versus full-commission packages that include staging, professional photo package and extensive marketing, etc.

While every Realtor is different in what they offer, “Agents typically provide more than a seller can typically do by themselves,” says Medford, who has more than 22 years of experience in real estate.

Sell to a cash buyer

Cash buyers — including iBuyers, investors, and house-buying companies — are individuals or entities that purchase your home outright, without the need for lender financing. These buyers typically make off-market purchases and can provide speed and convenience to sellers.

Just be aware that the price offered by most cash buyers may not match what you could receive on the open market with the help of a top agent.

If you’re interested in a cash sale, you can receive a no-obligation offer through HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, with no hidden fees or agent commission. Simple Sale connects you to the largest network of cash buyers in the U.S.

Need to sell your house fast?

Get an all-cash, no-obligation offer through HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform whenever you’re ready. Receive your offer quickly and close in as little as 10 days. No showings, no repairs, no open houses.

Now you know how California agent commissions work

Sellers pay real estate commissions in exchange for an agent’s expertise and services throughout the sale process. If you’re worried about the cost of the commission, consider that targeted upgrades, stellar marketing, and savvy negotiations can help you maximize your sale price. With a performance-proven California agent to guide you, you also avoid the stress of navigating this complex process without professional oversight.

The key is finding a quality agent who provides the highest amount of value for their commission fee. In fact, our transaction data shows that the top 5% of agents in California sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average agent.

HomeLight can connect you with top California agents with experience tailored to your needs. Whenever you’re ready to get started, HomeLight would be happy to put your commission worries to rest by introducing you to several agents in your area who are well worth it.

California commissions are negotiable. However, “At the end of the day, you really get what you pay for,” Medford concludes. “Those sellers who lowball listing agents to save some money are being penny wise and pound foolish.”

Writer McCoy Worthington contributed to this story.

Header Image Source: (Andrea Joshua Qoqonga/ Unsplash)