This List should not have to exist. If fee competition existed among buyer agents, more agents would advertise their fees instead of concealing them. Instead, the buyer agent fee is almost never negotiated, it is fixed. Instead of negotiating their fee, most agents only disclose their fee after the fact. That is not competition. That is price fixing. A common misconception is that the buyer agent’s fee is free because the seller pays it. The Buyer agent’s fee often exceeds $10,000 and that money comes out of the transaction that the buyer is funding. It is not free.
By law, the broker fee is supposed to be negotiable (exception – these states actually prohibit homebuyers from negotiating the fee (click here)). That means that it is not acceptable for the fee to just get disclosed to the buyer, it should be negotiated and agreed upon upfront with the buyer. Once the buyer agent’s fee has been negotiated, it can then be collected from the seller: Any extra goes to the buyer, not the buyer’s broker. Unfortunately, most buyer brokers now pocket this difference providing them with an incentive to encourage you to buy the home with the highest fee.
Warning: Watch out for firms that ask for your personal information before providing you with a lead to a buyer broker who discounts – those firms typically extract secret and substantial referral fees from your Realtor.
The Fee Agreement
Buyer brokers derive their right to get paid from a fee agreement that they sign with their buyers. That agreement is between the buyer and their buyer broker, not the seller’s broker. From a contractual perspective, we are not even asking the buyer agent to discount their fee. Instead, we are saying that buyer agents need to openly discuss and set their fee with their buyer clients before they begin working with them. Any extra being paid by the seller goes to the buyer, not the buyer’s agent. We find it unacceptable for buyer brokers to set their fee at “whatever the seller happens to be paying,” because that opens the door for seller agents to provide extra incentives (bribes) to your agent to get you to buy a particular house. It is a terrible conflict of interest for the seller agent to set the buyer agent’s fee. The Multiple Listing Service is filled with properties where listing agents are offering inappropriate and secret financial incentives to buyer agents in the form of bonuses or higher than normal fees. A buyer agent has a lot of influence in the decision-making process of their clients and we want to eliminate financial conflicts of interests.
This list is intended to eliminate seller paid incentives and force buyer brokers to negotiate their fee up front. The money going back to the buyer is not really a discount or even a rebate. Rather, it is a refund of a fee overpayment.
By eliminating seller paid financial incentives we aim to align the financial interests of the buyer and the buyer agent. If the buyer negotiates a fee that is less than what the seller is offering, then the remainder will be paid to the buyer (a “rebate”). We have found many agents who will pay a 25% referral fee to an agent in another state but will not pay this same money to their own client for fear that the practice will cause fee competition. Most agents do not want you to know that their fee is negotiable.
This is a list of buyer brokers who will not only negotiate their fee but who will also agree to rebate the difference (between the seller offered amount) to their buyers.
The practice of buyer agents rebating part of their fee has been around for a long time. Here is a 2004 article from the Wall Street Journal about Bill Wendel, a well known Massachusetts Exclusive Buyers Agent (“EBA”) who routinely rebates part of the seller paid commission to his buyers (he’s on The List). In addition, the United States Department of Justice has taken a strong stance in favor of buyer rebates and has devoted an entire web page to educate consumers about this practice (it even has a Rebate Calculator).
Although there is a short list of states that prohibit rebates, do not trust your broker to tell you if your state is one of them. We have reviewed multiple online forums where brokers have inaccurately stated that rebates are illegal. Many brokers do not know that they are legal. Most agents do not even understand that rebates are actually encouraged in the spirit of competition and are an important part of a free market system.
Negotiating the buyer agent fee is one of the most misunderstood yet most important aspects of any residential transaction. CAARE homebuyers can benefit by thousands of dollars by just using our list.
In order to be included on our LIST, at the very least, buyer brokers will need to discount the fee that they would normally receive from the seller by the typical 25% they would pay out for a referral. Those who advertise a higher discount will be allowed to publish that information on our website. In addition, brokers must be willing to set a fixed fee or commission upfront and be willing to reduce that fee even more if the seller offers less than the negotiated amount. Any overages being offered by the seller or the seller’s broker must be passed on to the buyer in the form of a rebate or price reduction of the house.
One of the things we’re trying to eliminate is the secret bonuses that sellers or their brokers often offer to buyer brokers. We believe that when a seller broker pays a bonus to the buyer broker that completely miss-aligns the financial interests of the buyer broker and creates an insurmountable financial conflict of interest.
No administrative fees or other junk fees allowed either. And we reserve the right to exclude agents from our list. Commissions are supposed to be negotiable (it is the law), but buyers rarely are given an opportunity to negotiate those commissions. If buyers ask, they are often told not to worry about it, “the seller will pay for it.” The buyer broker’s commission is possibly the most important fee to be negotiated in the transaction. It is extremely detrimental to buyers to allow the seller to determine how much the buyer broker gets paid. And agents who keep their buyers in the dark about their fees are not just acting badly, they’re acting illegally.
WARNING 1: – CAARE is not recommending agents who appear on our LIST. We are only passing on information on fees that we receive from agents. We have no knowledge of their experience, integrity or even if they are licensed. Consumers must do their own research to determine if the agent or brokerage they hire is competent.
WARNING 2: Always share information about this rebate with your loan officer early in the transaction or it could interfere with your closing. Loans will often have to be reduced by the same amount as the rebate so as not to affect the loan to value ratios.
LEGAL NOTE: In most states, it is legal for a buyer broker to pay part or all of the commission they collect from the seller’s broker to the buyer. So if a buyer were to negotiate a commission that was 50% of the amount being offered by the seller’s broker, that would result in a 50% “rebate” being paid to the buyer. On a $250,000 house, that would typically mean that instead of the buyer broker collecting $7,500 (for typically 40 hours of work), the seller would pay your broker $3,750 and pay you the same amount. If you want to calculate how much you would save, try out this rebate calculator at the Department of Justice’s website.