It’s a question you’ve always gotten as a real estate agent. And with all the recent headlines talking about “slashed commissions” you’ll be getting even more:

Who pays the buyer agent?

This week, BAM hosted a live Knowledge Brokers panel with Byron Lazine, Tom Toole, and Lisa Chinatti, joined by special guest Humaniz founder and CEO, Chris Giannos, to discuss the NAR settlement. 

The live started with an overview of what we know now about the NAR settlement

  • No co-op requirement
  • No buyer compensation offers in the MLS
  • Buyer comp offers can still be made off the MLS
  • Buyers must sign a buyer representation agreement
  • Commissions are—and always have been—negotiable 

In this first recap of the panel, we’re focusing on who pays the buyer agent if cooperative compensation offers can no longer be included on the MLS. 

Byron, Tom, and Lisa explored three scenarios for buyer agent compensation and the benefits and downsides of each model. 

Read on for the highlights. And to soak up all the knowledge, watch the full panel

And for a full Q&A session that took place after the panel (along with all the other perks of membership) join BAMx. Use the discount code MADNESS for 20% off your first year or month of subscription. 

#1—Seller pays buyer agent

In the first scenario, the homeowner/seller agrees to pay the buyer agent a set dollar amount or percentage of the home sale price. 

The listing broker does not pay the buyer agent. That compensation is gone. But the seller has the right, has the choice, has the strategic position to pay the buyer agent… That can be negotiated in every single offer that we make… The only change is that compensation won’t live on the MLS.

Byron Lazine

Pros: 

  • The seller gains a competitive advantage by getting the question of agent compensation out of the way, saving the buyer both time and money, which could ultimately result in a faster home sale at a higher price. 
  • The buyer is off the hook and benefits from buyer agent representation without the additional out-of-pocket cost—which appeals particularly to buyers not in a position to pay a buyer’s agent even 1% of the home’s final sale price. 

Cons: 

  • Buyers who see buyer agent services as “free” may be more likely to view homes that don’t meet their core criteria. 
  • Buyers in this position may have little knowledge of—or interest in—the value a skilled and knowledgeable buyer agent brings, as long as they’re not paying for it.
  • In a post-NAR-settlement world, some sellers may still be more likely to regret paying the buyer agent’s commission, especially if the listing agent hasn’t taken the time to discuss agent compensation and the benefits that come with seller-paid commissions. 

Moving forward, every agent should make it a priority to articulate the benefits that come with agent representation for both buyers and sellers—along with the fact that commissions for both agents is (and always has been) negotiable. It has never been set in stone at 6%. 

#2—Buyer pays buyer agent

In the second scenario, the homebuyer agrees to pay the buyer agent a set dollar amount or percentage. That payment amount is explicitly stated in the buyer representation agreement, which must be signed by both buyer and agent before the agent shows the first home. 

Obviously, without the entitlement to buyer compensation (you’re going to hear me say this a lot), you’ve got to nail your appointments. You have to have a very compelling meeting with clients upfront, explaining everything, knowing all the guidelines, all the rules in your state, all the paperwork. Because the reality is the COVID market created a lot of weak agents that cut corners because it was easy. This is to combat that exact behavior. And maybe it flushes out a lot of those people that want to cut corners and don’t want to sit down, explain the process, [and] go through all those steps.

And I would argue…a lot of the things we’re talking about—commissions being negotiable, signing a buyer rep form—good agents were doing that in the first place.

Tom Toole

Byron outlined a script demonstrating how a buyer’s agent can pivot when they find a home with a seller that is not offering any buy-side compensation. In this case, the only scenario possible is the one where the buyer pays the buyer agent for their services. 

This is where a buyer’s agent presents the fact of the seller’s offer of zero compensation, along with a compelling argument for the buyer to agree to sign a buyer representation agreement with a clear negotiated amount for agent compensation. 

That agreement should outline exactly what the buyer is paying for, highlighting tasks the buyer would rather pay for than do on their own (if they have the skill required to do them). 

If there is a home that does not offer compensation, the moment I find out…you’re going to be alerted of that fact as the buyer. Now, we go to [scenario] number two where you are going to pay the buyer representation fee for the services I’m providing you. 

If we’re looking at a house that is offering a zero, we go back to why you hired me, the negotiation to get that zero to the number you agreed to pay me as your buyer agency rep. We also can have a discussion about what that looks like at that time. It’s very simple. Here are the steps we’re going to take through this process with clear transparency and clear disclosure the entire way forward.’

Byron Lazine

Lisa Chinatti then pointed out a crucial detail regarding the buyer representation agreement required by the proposed settlement: 

When you read the actual proposed settlement, one of the things it specifies very clearly is that each buyer agency contract needs to have absolute certainty around the amount. It cannot be ambiguous with the amount the consumer will be paying.

Lisa Chinatti

In other words, the buyer rep agreement cannot include statements like, “The buyer agent will be paid whatever dollar amount or percentage decided by the buyer/seller/both [when X conditions are met].

This conversation with the buyer is a change from what most are practicing right now. It definitely requires more consultation, more strategic alignment, more sessions—whether it be on Zoom, in person, over the phone—with the buyer. It’s why I don’t believe in the four-hour agent—the part-time agent—moving forward.

Byron Lazine

Pros: 

  • Buyers are more invested in finding an agent who will deliver the kind of value they’re willing to pay for. As a result, buyers are less likely to complain that their agent was an overpaid door-opener. 
  • Agents who don’t clearly articulate their value prop to buyers will lose opportunities to those who do—and who over-deliver on their promises. 

Cons: 

  • Not all buyers are in a position to fairly compensate buyers for the value they bring—at least not within a few months of closing.  

#3—Seller and buyer both pay buyer agent

In the third scenario, both the seller and the buyer agree to pay the buyer agent a set dollar amount and/or percentage of the home sale price. 

Again, the amount paid by the buyer must be explicitly stated in the buyer representation agreement signed by both buyer and agent. 

In this scenario, though, it pays for the buyer agent to articulate the value they bring to both the buyer and the seller. If both are paying, both will likely want to know— 

  • What they’re getting in exchange for what they’re paying (the why)
  • When they’ll be expected to pay it (the when)
  • What they’re saving by paying for buyer agent services (the alternative)

If you were to go through your day here in the next week and, in your notes app, just continue to write down everything you do for the buyers, create that list as part of your buyer presentation. Continue to add to it. I saw one in BAMx…that had over 80 roles that the buyer agent is doing right now. Create your own list that is reminiscent of what you do and is curated for your market. The list should be long. There are so many different things…There is an abundance of work that buyer agents provide that buyers do not want any part of—that buyers do not have the skillset to do.

Byron Lazine

It’s not enough to have the skills and knowledge to do your job well; you also need to hone the skill of articulating your value proposition, so every client knows exactly what to expect from you and from the process of buying or selling a home. 

The more your clients know just how much trouble and expense you’re saving them from, the better able they are to understand the price you’re asking for your services—and to see that price as a bargain weighed against the value you bring. 

My thought process through all of this is that we need to re-envision the buy side stuff to look like the list side stuff…There was an industry stat…70% of buyers would work with the first agent they met face to face. I think that number is going to change drastically. And I think we’re going to find buyers who start interviewing buyer agents the same way that sellers interview listing agents. I think buyer agents need to reimagine what their value prop is outside of just finding homes, opening doors, etc., and start looking at it from the perspective of ‘How have we helped sellers? Is there an equivalent to staging and photographs and all of the things agents bring to the table for sellers that can be brought to the table for buyers?’…  

When looking at options for buyer agency contracts, I think we’re going to see each agent choosing models that are going to work for them…and I think it’s super important that each agent pick the model or the models that are going to best suit them and the clients they choose to serve.

Lisa Chinatti

Pros: 

  • The buyer and seller share the cost of buyer representation, which benefits both parties. And both would be involved in negotiating what each will pay for buyer agent services.

Cons: 

  • Some buyers may avoid properties listed by sellers who are unwilling to pay for buyer agent services, either because they can’t afford them or because no one has ever clearly explained to them the benefits of having buyer representation. 

Watch the full panel for more. And tune in for our second NAR settlement panel recap next week, where we focus on opportunities for agents in a post-NAR-settlement world.