What’s a Fair Commission For a Real Estate Agent to Charge?

Each year, around 90% of sellers work with a real estate agent to sell their home. Once you’re ready to put your house on the market, you’re likely curious to know how real estate agent commissions work and whether they’re worth paying. Here’s an overview of details that will be useful to know before you start the process, like how much you’ll owe in commission, when payment will be due, and what services are included in exchange for the typical fee.

How do real estate agents get paid?

If you’re an employee, you may be used to receiving a monthly paycheck of the same amount every month. In contrast, most real estate agents do not collect a base salary. Instead they earn a sales commission that comes directly out of a transaction’s sale proceeds at closing. Usually, agents do not receive a commission or compensation of any kind until the sale closes.

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How is real estate agent commission calculated?

Commissions are typically calculated as a percentage of a property’s sale price, though some niche brokerages will instead propose a flat fee for their agent’s services.

A calculator used to determine a real estate agent commission.
Source: (Katie Harp / Unsplash)

What percentage do most Realtors® charge?

The average real estate agent commission rate nationwide is 5.8%, according to HomeLight’s transaction data.

(A quick point of clarification: A real estate agent is someone who’s been licensed by the state to help transact real estate and is usually also a Realtor®, but not always. A Realtor® is a member of the National Association of Realtors®. Both agents and agents who are Realtors® will usually charge a commission fee.)

Here’s how much you would pay in commission based on what the home sells for:

Home price 5.8% real estate agent commission
$200,000 $11,600
$350,000 $20,300
$500,000 $29,000
$750,000 $43,500
$1,000,000 $58,000

Do Realtor® commissions vary?

Realtor® commissions tend to range from 5%-6%, but they can vary by locale. Using real estate transaction data from thousands of home sales each year, our Commissions Calculator estimates average commission rates by city.

Market Average home price Average commission rate Average commission paid
San Francisco $1,434,900 5.04% $72,318
New York $839,000 5.33% $44,719
Los Angeles $810,400 4.96% $40,195
Miami $515,000 5.95% $30,642
Atlanta $369,500 5.98% $22,096

Data source: HomeLight’s Agent Commission Calculator

Who pays real estate commission fees?

Typically commission fees are paid in full by the seller in the transaction. As explained by top real estate agent Rachel Moussa of Flower Mound, Texas, in most places, “the standard is for sellers to pay both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent’s commission. The listing agent puts on the MLS what percentage the seller has agreed to pay cooperating brokers.”

When is the commission owed?

The real estate commission will automatically be deducted from the sale proceeds at the time of closing. Until then, no money to the real estate agent will be owed.

A dollar that is included in a real estate agent's commission.
Source: (Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash)

Does the agent get to keep the full commission?

Although the seller pays the entire commission, the listing agent (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.

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. 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 paid for by the seller will be split among each agent and the brokerages through which they hang their real estate license. Let’s say you sell your home for $220,000 with a 6% commission rate. You pay a commission of $12,000 and each agent has a 70/30 split agreement with their brokerage.

Here’s how that might look:

  • Listing agent: $4,200 (70% of their $6,000 commission share)
  • Listing broker: $1,800 (30% of their $6,000 commission share)
  • Buyer’s agent: $4,200 (70% of their $6,000 commission share)
  • Buyer’s broker: $1,800 (30% of their $6,000 commission share)

Are commission rates negotiable?

Sure, commission rates are negotiable. But do your research first. Top-producing agents would not be likely to devalue their services. A lower commission could translate as a smaller marketing budget for your property, reducing its promotion and exposure.

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-commision agent can be steep. Without a top agent in your corner, you could dramatically undersell your home, have a rough selling experience, or fail to sell the home at all.

“There was a house that was being listed by a ‘you move free’ discount broker.” It was on the market for 81 days,” shares Moussa. “They fired that agent and hired us. It was a renovated farmhouse. We brought in a stager, did drone photography and videography, and properly marketed it and got multiple offers.”

A bathroom in a house that's selling with the help of a real estate agent commission.
Source: (Francesca Tosolini / Unsplash)

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

A full service real estate agent 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 have seen a lot of houses. 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.

“We had one seller — they had stuff everywhere, it was super dirty, the furniture wasn’t working the way they had it. But the house was over a million dollars. We went through the whole process of making a list of things that they needed to do,” shares top-selling agent Sandra Rathe of her experience selling the home of a client in South Florida. “This particular client had a lot of paperwork from their business. So we called in our intern; we bought a shredder and sent it over with the intern.”

Pricing strategy

An agent will put together a comparative market analysis 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 is going to help you set a realistic price that helps you 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 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 development of a virtual tour.

“Our team actually meets the photographer out at the house to make sure that all the right angles are taken,” shares Moussa.

Offer management and negotiations

When you receive one or more offers, an agent will help you determine the strength of the offer and work with you to proceed on 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 real estate agents know what local buyers seek in homes and which of your home’s attributes to highlight. Whether your sunroom is the only one like it in the area or your location can’t be beat, an agent will skillfully incorporate these features into your home’s listing description and immediately be able to recognize what makes your house or the surrounding area special.

Moussa summarizes an agent’s services and the ultimate goal:

“The agent puts everything into the MLS, asks detailed questions about the home, writes the property description, and then markets it. We do Facebook Ads, door hangers, whatever we need to do to get it out so that every possible buyer’s agent can see the home. The listing agent’s responsibility is to bring as many offers as they can to the seller.”

What is a ‘fair’ real estate commission?

A commission rate between 5%-6% is standard for most markets to hire a full service real estate agent. This rate should translate as having an agent who is dedicated to selling your home for the best possible price, who is available and communicative, and who is willing to quarterback 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 some more candidates.

What if the house doesn’t sell?

Real estate agents only get paid if and when your home sells successfully. Most real estate contracts are “exclusive right to sell” which provides the real estate agent the sole rights to market the property, list the property on 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.

Keep in mind, though, 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.

A phone used to calculate real estate agent commission.
Source: (Joshua Mayo / Unsplash)

How can you avoid paying Realtor® fees?

There are two main ways to avoid paying Realtor® fees. You can either sell your 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 — and potentially assume more legal risk along the way. When going FSBO, you’ll need to hire an attorney at a minimum to make sure the paperwork is right.

Typically, FSBO makes the most sense if you already have a buyer. Industry data since 1981 shows that FSBO sellers often sell to a friend, family member, or neighbor. As of 2020, 51% of FSBO sellers knew their buyer, compared to 8% of all sellers.

This indicates that while the FSBO route is rare (8% 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 the National Association of Realtors, the average “For Sale By Owner” property sold for $217,900 last year, compared to a median of $242,300 for agent-assisted sales. That’s an 11% loss in value for a 6% commission saved.

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. You can receive a competitive cash offer through HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, with no hidden fees or agent commission.

HomeLight provides offers for homes in almost any condition, while giving sellers a flexible move-out date. Just be aware that the price offered by any cash buyer may not match what you could receive on the open market with the help of a top agent.

Now you know how 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 an 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 the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average agent.

We’d recommend going through an online agent matching service like HomeLight that can surface top 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 several agents in your area well worth their salt.

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