| | |

How Do the New Real Estate Rules Impact Buyer-Agent Contracts and Transactions?

VerraTerra founder, James Hsu, has seen many changes in real estate over the past two decades. A forward thinker, James began offering flat fee seller real estate commissions after founding his own agency in 2009. This innovative approach positioned VerraTerra ahead of industry trends and new real estate rules emphasizing transparency and value for clients.

Landmark Settlement

In March 2024, a game-changing settlement by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) resulted in several changes. In particular, a big shift in how MLS members work with buyers. Member agents are now required to have a separate contract with buyers in which the agent commission is to be outlined. This new real estate rule is designed to create more transparency between buyers and their agents, including fees. Even more stunning, sellers are no longer obligated to pay the buyer agent’s commission. This significant change means buyers may be on the hook for the entire buyer agent commission and commissions are wholly negotiable. While this was technically always the case, many buyers and sellers just blithely went along with the “standard” of 6% agent commission split between the buyer and seller side.

Major Change for Sellers

Sellers are seeing this as an opportunity to keep more money in their own pockets—potentially significantly more when considering today’s home sales prices. Traditionally, the buyer’s agent receives 3% of the sale price. In 2024, the median home sale price in Seattle is about $750,000. This means sellers have the opportunity to retain an additional $22,500. It’s easy to see how that might be appealing to sellers, while creating an unexpected burden for buyers.

Major Change for Buyers

In Washington State, all buyers engaging in real estate activity with a real estate agent must now enter into a buyer agency agreement. The primary function of this agreement is to detail and create an open discussion to buyer agent commissions directly with the buyer.  Since sellers are no longer required to offer a commission to buyers (though at the time of this writing, most of them still do) it is important for every buyer to be aware that they are free to negotiate how much their agent should be paid.  The agency agreement will list out that agreed upon fee and how it is to be paid if the seller does or doesn’t offer to pay it.

NAR’s Role and Local Autonomy

The NAR plays a significant role in setting nationwide standards and practices in the real estate industry. However, it’s important to note that NAR does not have direct authority over every local Multiple Listing Services (MLS) in the country.  For instance, in Seattle and greater-Seattle area of Washington state, local MLS systems such as the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) operate independently from NAR. NWMLS has already instituted many rules and policies in recent years to increase transparency and competition in the local market. 

VerraTerra’s Commitment to Transparency

At VerraTerra, we have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to transparent and fair real estate practices. Our flat fee seller commission model has long provided clarity and value to our clients, ensuring they understand exactly what they are paying for without any hidden fees. This means that even with the new buyer-agent commission laws, VerraTerra will continue to offer the same level of transparency and dedication to our clients, ensuring they receive the best possible experience in their real estate transactions.

What Do New Real Estate Rules This Mean for Buyers and Sellers?

In traditional real estate transactions, the seller would typically pay a commission to both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent, often around 3% each. However, with the new law, this is no longer mandatory. Sellers can now choose to offer 0% commission to the buyer’s agent, potentially shifting the entire burden of the commission to the buyer.

This change has sparked numerous questions and concerns from both buyers and sellers. Below, we address the most frequently asked questions from both perspectives to help you navigate this new landscape.

FAQs from Buyers About New Real Estate Rules

  1. Do I now have to pay my agent’s commission out of pocket?
    • Yes, if the seller does not offer to pay enough or any part of the commission, you may have to   cover whatever fee you agreed to with your agent.
  2. How much is the typical buyer agent commission?
    • The typical commission is around 2.5% of the purchase price, but this can vary based on the agreement with your agent.
  3. Can I negotiate the commission rate with my buyer’s agent?
    • Yes, commission rates are negotiable. It is important to discuss and agree upon this before entering into a purchase contract.
  4. Will my agent still represent me if I can’t afford the commission?
    • This depends on the agent and the terms of your agreement. The standard buyer agency agreement does cover the scenario where your agreed upon commission is higher than what the seller is willing to pay.  You and your agent have to decide what happens.  .
  5. Can the commission be included in the mortgage?
    • Based on the conversations we’ve had with several local lenders, no.  Buyer paid commissions are being treated as additional closing costs and you can’t directly roll it into the mortgage.  A possibility would be to increase the sale price and have the seller cover it, however this may create issues with appraisals.  
  6. What happens if the seller offers partial commission?
    • If the seller offers partial commission, you will only need to pay the remaining balance agreed upon with your agent.
  7. Are there any benefits to paying my agent’s commission myself?
    • You are in direct control of how much you negotiate to pay your agent.  However, who pays them (seller or the buyer) doesn’t really impact your purchase directly.  
  8. How can I ensure I’m getting a fair deal with my agent?
    • Research market rates, interview multiple agents, and carefully review the terms of your agreement to ensure fair treatment.
  9. Can I switch agents if I am unhappy with my current one?
    • Yes, but this may depend on the terms of your contract. Ensure you understand any cancellation policies before making a decision.
  10. What should I look for in a buyer’s agent under the new law?
    • Look for transparency in commission rates, strong negotiation skills, and a clear understanding of the new legal requirements. Remember, one of the purposes of this was to create competition for buyer agency. Not all agents will demand the same commission amounts. 

FAQs from Sellers About New Real Estate Rules

  1. Do the new real estate rules mean I can I sell my home and offer 0% commission to the buyer’s agent?
    • Yes, you can offer 0% commission, but this may reduce interest from buyers as they may not be able to afford their agent’s fees and thus force them to look for other homes that do pay a buyer agent commission.
  2. How does offering 0% commission impact my home sale?
    • Offering 0% commission may deter buyer’s and their agents from looking at  your property, reducing the pool of potential buyers.
  3. Should I still consider offering a commission to the buyer’s agent?
    • Offering a commission can incentivize buyer’s agents to show your property, potentially leading to a quicker and higher-priced sale.
  4. What is the typical commission rate I should offer?
    • The typical rate is around 2.5% for the buyer’s agent, but this is negotiable and can be adjusted based on your strategy.
  5. Can I offer a lower commission and still attract buyers?
    • You can offer a lower commission, but be prepared to negotiate and possibly offer other incentives to attract buyers.
  6. In light of the new real estate rules, how do I negotiate commissions with my listing agent?
    • Discuss your goals and budget with your listing agent to find a mutually agreeable commission rate that aligns with your selling strategy.
  7. Will the new law affect the market value of my home?
    • The new law itself does not directly affect market value, but the approach to commissions can influence buyer interest and final sale price.
  8. Can I sell my home without using a real estate agent?
    • Yes, you can sell your home privately, but this may require more effort on your part and may not achieve the same results as using a professional agent. Without an agent, you likely will not get your home on the local MLS which is by far the best exposure for your listing.  The better the exposure, the more potential buyers see it, the more likely of getting a good offer. 
  9. How should I prepare for selling under the new real estate rules?
    • Consult with your real estate agent to understand the implications of the new law, set realistic expectations, and develop a strategy that aligns with your goals.

Conclusion

The new real estate rules about buyer-agency contracts introduces big changes to the real estate market. Buyers and sellers alike must understand these changes and how they impact real estate transactions. By being informed and prepared, you can navigate these changes effectively and make the most of your real estate endeavors.