When Moya Skillman, a real estate broker with Compass in Seattle, goes out with friends, they’ll often dish about the latest episode of “Million Dollar Listing,” the Bravo franchise and part of a genre of reality TV shows that spin real estate agents into slick, fast-talking, designer-clothes wearing sharks.

“Everyone knows reality TV isn’t real, right?” Ms. Skillman said, sounding unconvinced. “Right? You don’t just negotiate a deal over speakerphone and all of a sudden collect $500,000.”

Mr. del Rosario, in New York, put it more bluntly. Real estate “is looked at as a shady business,” he said. “We’re right there with the used-car salesman.”

Ms. Skillman rattled off her list of tasks and costs. To list a house, she often meets with a seller a year or more before the house goes on the market, offering advice about repairs and improvements. To ready a property for sale, she pays for staging, photography, videography and marketing materials, costs that she does not recoup if the home doesn’t sell and can add up to as much as $20,000 for a high-end listing. As a buyer’s agent, she may spend dozens of hours and countless tanks of gas showing properties at night, on weekends and on holidays, and making offers, with no guarantee that a buyer will find a home. Then she negotiates the offers, draws up contracts, and reads and synthesizes disclosure statements.

Agents also pay fees for licensing, insurance and to rent a desk at a brokerage. And once a deal closes, the brokerage takes a percentage of the commission, a fee that can vary wildly depending on the firm and the experience of the agent. A few relinquish nothing, many pay around 20 percent and some hand over as much as half of their earnings, Mr. Brobeck said.

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