How Real Estate Brokerage Commissions Work

April 24th, 2015

Before I became a real estate broker, I thought I knew how real estate brokers were paid. Listing brokers would simply split the commission with the buyer’s broker, and everyone took their money at the closing and lived happily ever after. And if there was no buyer’s broker, I figured the owner of the property would save the buyer’s broker commission.

Well, I clearly had no idea how it all worked. Here are some of the common misconceptions about real estate brokerage commissions, and the truth about how real estate brokerage commissions work.

1. Real Estate Brokerage commissions are way too high!
Actually I started RealDirect because of this myth, but eventually learned this was not, in fact, true. What I did discover, however, is that real estate brokerage commissions are almost always wrong. For every deal that closes in 2 weeks from when the property was listed, there are others that are on the market for a year and then get de-listed, only to be given to another brokerage. In the first case, the broker probably received a windfall for 2 weeks’ worth of work. But in the second case, a year’s worth of work was provided for free. So in all likelihood, any given deal is probably paying too much or too little to the broker.

2. Real Estate Agents can cut their commission to get a deal done.
While some agents will cut their commissions to get a deal done, not all can. Depending on the price of the home, the number of agents on the deal and the commission offered, it may or may not make sense to reduce the commission. And some brokerages have a blanket prohibition on this.

3. Real Estate Agent commissions are fixed by the brokerage.
Rarely do brokerages have fixed commissions – but they will often have minimums that they will take, and those are often tied to gross commission revenue rather than percentages per deal.

4. All Real Estate Brokerage commissions are 6%.
Commissions vary by region and company with some higher than 6% in low price areas with slow moving inventory, and lower in others.

5. Real Estate agents split their commissions evenly with their brokerage.
Commission splits vary dramatically between brokerages and even withing brokerages. There are 100% commission brokerages, where agents pay a fixed transaction fee per deal, and a monthly “desk fee”, and more traditional brokerages where the split is determined by how much business a broker does – i.e. the more business they bring in, the higher the split.

6. Real Estate Agents split the commission evenly between buyer’s and seller’s agent.
Listing agents offer what appears to be a 50:50 split, but it doesn’t have to be. Many listing agents are willing to pay more to buyer’s agents than they are getting for their listing.

7. If I don’t use an agent, the listing broker will make more money.
In many cases, listing brokers will keep the entire commission if the buyer comes without a broker. But some brokerages, like RealDirect, take a fixed commission or fee regardless of whether there is a buyer’s broker – so the seller gets the benefit of a direct deal, and not the broker.

8. If I don’t use an agent, the owner will save money, making my offer better to them.
While this is true for RealDirect, and for FSBO sellers, in most situations, as we have said above, the owner does not benefit from direct deals. So using a service like RealDirect for Buyers is the best way for buyers to gain an advantage on a purchase.

Kitchen Renovations for Resale: What You Get For the Money

April 24th, 2015

From a few hundred dollars for some paint and new hardware, to a six-figure gut renovation, updating a kitchen can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. Whether your kitchen just needs to be freshened up, or requires a complete overhaul, you’ll want to create a space that works for your own needs and adds to the resale value of your home. We’ve put together this guide to help you determine what your kitchen renovation needs really are and how best to accomplish your goals with an eye to resale.

Before undertaking a kitchen renovation, it’s important to assess your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

What is my budget?
Does my current kitchen layout work?
What condition is my kitchen in? Can it be refinished, does it need to be gutted, or somewhere in between?

Once you have a clear picture of what needs to be addressed and how much you want to spend, you can move forward with your renovation project.

The Budget Kitchen Overhaul:
kitchen has functional layout, working appliances, cabinets & countertops in good condition
-paint walls
-paint cabinets
-change hardware
bonus – change out flooring, laminate, peel & stick, tile, add backsplash

Entry level renovation:
kitchen has functional layout, may need new appliances, countertops, floor
-paint walls
-paint cabinets
-change out light fixture
-new countertops (laminate)
-change out flooring
-add backsplash
-new hardware
-stainless steel appliances

Mid-range renovation
layout doesn’t work, nothing is salvageable
-new kitchen layout
-move plumbing
-midrange appliances
-rearrange cabinetry
-new cabinets (Ikea or Home Depot)
-new hardware
-new flooring
-new fixtures

High-end renovation
custom everything
high end appliances
architect design–ny.aspx


ikea cabinets
stainless appliances

pre-fab cabinets
solid surface countertops

high end:
custom cabinetry
space reconfiguring

How to Save Money When Buying or Selling a Home

April 24th, 2015

Use these 4 tips to save money when buying or selling your next home.


1.  Negotiate directly with FSBOs.

Many FSBOs advertise that they are willing to pay a brokers commission, but keep in mind that if you bring your buyers broker to the deal, the price you offer will be 3% less attractive to the buyer than if you were to have come to them as a direct buyer.  So while buyers brokers offer a lot of value and do a lot of work in a transaction – and do not typically cost the buyer any money (because of how commissions are structured) – a buyer can sometimes get a better deal without one if the seller is a FSBO.

2. Ask for a rebate.

Sellers often ask for reduced commissions from their listing agents, but buyers rarely do.  Since buyers do not technically pay the broker (the commission is paid by the seller), buyers often feel that the service is free.  Of course, nothing is free, and that is especially true in real estate!  A buyer’s broker gets a percentage of the deal (usually 3%) and a buyer can sometimes negotiate a rebate from the buyer’s broker ahead of time.  In our case at RealDirect, we rebate up to 1% of the sale price to the buyer on closing, keeping just 2% for ourselves.  This rebate is, in effect, a reduction of the purchase price, and a great way to get a better deal on a property.


1. Use the web to list your home.

The internet provides great opportunities to reach buyers more efficiently than ever before, and you can use web based services to easily get the word out that your home is for sale.  Places like, Streeteasy and Facebook will reach most of your buyers.  And some companies like RealDirect’s Owner Managed service will send your listing to those places and also the local broker database for a monthly fee. In this case, you can save a listing broker’s commission, and potentially save the full commission if you sell to a direct buyer.

2. Negotiate a different commission with your broker if a buyer doesn’t have a buyer’s broker.

Many sellers try to negotiate their overall commission, but most do not realize there are other ways to bring your commission lower and can have a higher degree of savings.  In a typical commission agreement, if a buyer is unrepresented, the listing broker keeps the full commission (usually 6%), which is usually at least 2x as much as they would have received if there was a buyer’s broker on the other side.  Yes, there is often some more work to do if there isn’t a buyer’s broker, but not 2x the work.  Some brokers would consider shaving a point off the commission if there was a direct buyer. And other firms, like RealDirect’s Agent Managed program, only takes a 2% commission regardless of whether the buyer has a broker or not.  If they do not, the seller gets the benefit of the savings, not the brokerage.

RealDirect is NYC’s Discount Real Estate Broker

March 5th, 2015

For the past 4 years, I bristled whenever someone would introduce RealDirect as a discount NYC real estate brokerage. My thought was that we are so much more than that. Our technology is the driving force behind our business, and while our technology allows us to do what we do for less money than a traditional brokerage, the discount brokerage terminology makes us sound like a schlocky storefront discount brokerage, rather than a technology driven business. Do people refer to Zip Car as a discount car rental? No – it is the efficiency of the technology that allows them to keep the price lower than traditional car rental business. Same with us!

But over the past few years, I have mellowed a bit – and I have come to embrace the “discount” term. The truth is, most of our clients love our technology, but they love even more the fact that they pay only a 2% commission (or low monthly fee) to RealDirect when they sell their homes. And while buyers really dig our collaborative buying platform, they like our cash rebate of between .5 and 1% better.

So I am done fighting, and I have come to terms with the discount brokerage label. But I will continue to let everyone know that while RealDirect is a discount real estate brokerage, our technology is what allows us to offer FULL service at the discount price. And for New Yorkers who don’t want to be seen using a discount real estate brokerage, they can tell everyone that they use us for the cool technology.

Low Inventory: What does this mean for NYC Home Buyers and Sellers?

December 16th, 2014

Brokers like to quote market reports showing that NYC Co-op “inventory” is lower than last year, and that in general, there are fewer homes on the market now than in the past few years. What does this mean, and why is this happening?

First, the word “inventory” needs to be explained. While homes are not like cars that sit on a lot, the amount of homes that are for sale at any given moment is the “inventory” that buyers have to choose from. There is also the “shadow inventory” that people referred to a few years ago – homes that would have been for sale but for the fact that they have mortgages that have put them under water, keeping them temporarily off market. But those don’t have much of a presence in the NYC since most homes are purchased with a 15% or more down payment, and the market never had the sustained dip that others have had.

But the question remains – why are there less homes for sale now – specifically in the NYC market – than there have been historically?

There are all kinds of theories about why (both macro and micro) but our opinion is that people prefer cities to suburbs more than they did in the past. It used to be that the “first home” segment of the market was heavily favored towards urban living, but that as people advanced to other stages of life, they would gradually leave for the suburbs. This started in the 1950s when highways opened up suburban neighborhoods, and many middle class families fled to suburbs for lower crime and open spaces.

However as we now see, with a steep decline in the crime rate, and the appreciation for a shorter commute and greener footprint, city living is a more and more attractive alternative not just for young singles, but for families, retirees and other demographics. Others have pointed out that suburban homes were designed to have a full time “homemaker”, and that families with a homemaker are in rapid decline.

And as fewer people leave, and demand grows, inventory declines and prices increase.

This is exacerbated in Manhattan and to a lesser but still significant extent, Brooklyn, by the fact that all new construction seems to only be for the wealthy and foreign investors, with prices from $2-4K/foot.

So with the new construction market favoring the wealthy, what’s an average buyer to do? RealDirect CEO, Doug Perlson, offers the following 3 tips:

“First, if you want to live in a “hot” neighborhood, buy a co-op over a condo (assuming you can qualify). You will get more bang for your buck, because you will not be competing with investors and foreign buyers, who are typically limited to condominiums.

Second, consider neighborhoods that are “up and coming” rather than the ones that you have been priced out of. For example, if you can’t find the perfect home in Park Slope, consider Jackson Heights, where a charming pre-war classic 6 apartment could be less than half of the price.

Third, use RealDirect and get back up to 1 percent on your purchase to offset the sting of the high price.”

And if you are a seller, congratulations! You are selling into a market with limited choices for buyers, so you should see a great return on your investment.

14 Tips To Pass Your Co-op Board Interview

December 12th, 2013

Every NYC buyer must make the decision whether or not they want to live in a condo or co-op. If you want to go with a co-op, then understand that there is a process involved. A big process. With lots of steps. Lots of paperwork. But the last step in the process can sometimes be the most frustrating (and scary!)…The board interview. (cue Jaws theme song)

If you’ve gotten this far though, please remember that it’s a great sign. It means that the board feels your paperwork was sufficient and now they want to get to know you better as a person. So here’s a few tips of the trade that we advise our clients before the big day:

1. Make sure you know the time and location before the day of the interview. Nothing could be worse than showing up at the wrong location or arriving late.

2. Answer only the questions that are given to you. No need to add extraneous information that they have not queried.

3. Smile! Above all, these people will be sharing the elevator, mail room, etc with you — they want to know that you will be a good neighbor.

4. Dress like a job interview. Try to be as “put together” as possible. Nobody wants a messy neighbor.

5. If it comes up, try to express any long term plans to stay in the apartment. Absolutely do not mention anything about wanting to sublet or leaving the apartment vacant for too long. Even if it’s a pied-a-terre, they want to know that you will be using it as a weekend residence as opposed to a hotel.

6. If it pertains to you, talk about your stability of career, family ties, etc. Do NOT mention if you know anyone in the building unless you are sure everyone loves them. (Being friends with the neighbor who takes out his garbage in the nude won’t do you any good.)

7. Do NOT mention anything that would infer you would be coming into/out of the building late at night or hosting parties.

8. Do NOT bring a gift or flowers.

9. Do NOT tell them you are a smoker, and if you are, please do not smoke before the meeting. (although you might want one afterwards!)

10. Try not to ask too many questions. You are the one being interviewed.

11. Don’t be offended if they ask you personal questions. This is par for the course and unfortunately part of the process. Answer these questions with direct responses and try not to elaborate too much.

12. It’s the 21st century, so please realize that the board members will likely google you either before or after the interview, so it’s important to take a quick look at what the public can see on your twitter/FB/instagram accounts. Make sure that whatever you are telling them about your job, living situation, etc matches up with what they can find online. (aka take down any pictures of you hugging a 200-lb pitbull)

13. Board interviews can range from exchanging simple niceties to an all-out inquisition. The best policy is to expect the worst, but hope for the best. That way there are no surprises!

14. Be yourself, be polite and don’t forget to mention how much you love the apartment and want to live in the building!

Best of luck!

O.P.P. – 200 West 79th Street #10N

May 23rd, 2013

Whenever I see a listing description that says “bring your contractor” I immediately get excited. That usually means that the apartment needs a lot of work, and that the home will trade at a discount because of this – and a savvy buyer can get a brand new apartment customized to their taste – and one that has never been lived in.

This particular apartment has nice views and is in a prime location. The building is well amenitized, and has a highly desirable convertible 3BR floor plan. It also has through-wall A/C and large closets. But what makes this unit stand out is that the kitchen layout includes a window, which is highly unusual for the typical convertible 3BR, in which the kitchen is usually on an interior wall with no window.

I could see the next owner opening up this kitchen to the living room and building a 3rd bedroom/home office in the dining area. Add new floors and 2 new bathrooms, and the price of this renovation on top of the asking price is still less than a comparable renovated apartment.


May 21st, 2013

For some of us, the term O.P.P. takes us back to the early ’90s when the Naughty by Nature single was ubiquitous. But here at RealDirect, O.P.P. means “Other People’s Property” i.e. a property that RealDirect is not representing (or representin’, if you you want to keep with the theme.) Every once in a while we see some O.P.P. that is so interesting or compelling, that we highlight it in our team meeting so everyone will know about it and can share with their potential clients. Well, rather than just keeping it to ourselves and our clients, we are starting a new post that highlights these properties and explains why we are “down” with it.

How Do Real Estate Commissions Work?

March 20th, 2013

Here at RealDirect, our goal is to work with our clients in the way that suits them the best. Sometimes that means they use our free services (RealPrice). Other times we work on a monthly fee basis (as in our Owner Managed program). And still other times, we earn a commission Agent Managed and Buyer Service). However, not all commission based real estate brokers are the same, and to best understand our commission structure, you need to understand how the typical brokerage is compensated. Read the rest of this entry »

The RealBargain

March 4th, 2013

We have recently added a new feature to RealDirect search called the RealBargain. This is an algorithm we have devised for finding homes that are priced particularly aggressively. We look for homes that have a total cost per foot that are in the bottom 20th percentile or lower for comparable homes. We exclude homes that are unrenovated, are dark, and have other associated issues. They are then flagged in our Finder so that you can easily spot them.

Keep in mind that these are not necessarily the lowest price homes in a neighborhood. A home may have a very low maintenance, but be priced in line with other homes in the area. But the very low common charge may make it a bargain. And the opposite is true as well – a home that is priced low, but with very high common charges will not qualify. And we only look for bright, renovated apartments because most buyers put “light” as their top must have, and they are typically unwilling to do more than a moderate renovation. Of course, if you are willing to renovate a dark apartment, you will find even lower cost/foot opportunities, but they are not necessarily bargains for the average buyer.

Take a look and let us know if you think this is a useful feature.