CBB: The Art of Setting Buyer's Agency Compensation on a Listing
First off, let me make something very plain. All a CBB can do is give good agent an incentive or disincentive to look at the property. A high one will not, by itself, sell the property. A low one will not prevent it being sold. Buyers, being interested in their own bottom line, will persist in choosing the property that offers them the best property for their purposes at the lowest price, and agents with about an hour in the business should understand this. I not only cannot sell a buyer on a property that isn't at least as good a bargain for them as the competing properties, I won't try. It's contrary not only to my client's interest, which should be the ultimate consideration of any agent, but it's not in my interest either.
Now with that said, you really don't want to do is give agents a reason to sell the other property instead of yours. A cheap CBB does not motivate the agents to work. Suppose a boss told their workers "You will be paid $10 for every green widget you sell. You will be paid $15 for every purple widget you sell." Assume the widgets are identical in every way except color. How many green widgets do you think would get sold versus purple? Sure, they'll sell green if the customer wants it, but that's not going to be what they suggest first. If a customer came in the door wanting a green widget, they'd get a green widget. But if they walk in the door and aren't sure they want a green widget, the sales staff will quite predictably see if they can sell them the purple widget first. If they can, the green widget sits unseen, untried, and unsold.
In real estate, the person who sets that compensation is the owner of the property. There are lots of properties out there, even in a seller's market. Do you want your property to be treated like a green widget, or a purple one?
This isn't evil. Agents have to eat, pay the mortgage, pay expenses, etcetera, and we don't make as much money as people think. Even less so than most people, agents don't get to keep every dollar their company gets paid for their services, and they don't get paid instantly for waving a magic wand. It takes time, work, and expertise - I've spent six months, hundreds of hours, and over a thousand dollars just in expenses working with clients to close a deal. If the company gets paid $10,000 and the agent has an 80% split (better than most), they get $8000 gross. Less monthly desk fees, less per transaction fees, and less fixed expenses of staying in business, that's maybe $6500, and social security eats twice as much of that as normal, leaving about $5400 - and we haven't even considered income taxes or advertising yet. For a solid month of work, and who knows how much time looking before the clients made the offer that was accepted. With practically unlimited liability, and requiring continuous training and work to keep their edge. If it takes 3 months in all, that's barely minimum wage, and most agents work sixty hours per week at a minimum. Quite often, we've got to reduce our commission to put some money back into the transaction so it can close. Sound like a cushy sinecure to you?
Of course, most agents are working with more than one set of clients at a time, but as you can see, a $10,000 commission doesn't translate into a huge windfall for the agent. If the company only gets paid $8000, that translates into maybe $4100 that the agent can use to pay their family's living expenses and taxes. Which do you think they'd rather have, the bigger check or the smaller? Ask yourself what you'd do in their place. If it's a question of the smaller check or nothing at all, there's no question, but there are a lot of properties competing with yours for the available buyers, and more coming onto the market all the time. Do you want to give agents a reason to try and sell your property, or a reason why they'd prefer to sell someone else's property?
With all of this in mind, a screaming deal will sell. You don't have to worry about whether or not the agent is going to be on your side. Buyers will beat a path to your door, with or without an agent. However, pricing your property as a screaming deal is not something most rational owners want to do. They want to get top dollar for that property, and it takes at least ten percent below the rest of the market - more likely fifteen - to get attention as a screaming deal. I've said this before, most notably in How to Sell Your Home Quickly and For The Best Possible Price, but this is fifteen percent off the correct asking price, not the owner's fevered dreams of greed. The average CBB around here is three percent. So, save three percent to lose fifteen? Not something I'd do. Furthermore, you're not going to put up a CBB of zero, no matter how low it's priced. I've explained before why the seller pays the buyer's agent. Finally, if you end up needing to give the buyer an allowance for closing costs to get the property sold, you're quite likely giving out with the other hand the same money you withheld in the first place, as buyers paying their agent is a closing cost. Why not put it out there in the first place, where it is likely to do you some good?
The differences a higher CBB makes for the seller are three: You don't have to worry that buyers needing to come up with cash to close for their agent will impact buyer cash to close, you get more attention for your property more quickly and more consistently, and you don't have to worry about buyer's agents creating reasons not to buy your property. Put yourself in this situation: Most buyers are reluctant to pull the trigger on a half million dollars. They need some good hand-holding and reasons to buy, and instead, their agent is looking for a reasons to help convince them why they want to buy some other property instead. Do you think it might take longer for the property to sell? With carrying costs of somewhere around two-thirds of a percent per month for most properties, if a CBB a half percent higher gets the property sold three weeks faster, you are ahead of the game. The time difference will almost certainly be more than that, and - statistical fact - the longer your property sits unsold, the lower the price it will sell for.
If you want to offer a low CBB, that's your prerogative. The property had better sell itself enough better than anything comparable to still the doubters - and practically every buyer is a doubter. The lower it is, the worse it will be, the longer you'll have to pay carrying costs, and the lower your final sales price. A low CBB, especially in conjunction with other factors about the listing can advertise to buyer's agents that you aren't ready to sell yet, warning them of a difficult transaction. If I can find a model match with an obviously motivated seller around the corner, why should I take my buyer to yours? We're going to get a better price on the same thing with the property around the corner, there will be fewer issues with the transaction, and the fact that I'll make more money even though my client got a lower price is pure bonus for being a good agent. Call it karma.
On the other hand, offering a significantly higher than average CBB doesn't work as well as some people seem to think it does. It definitely won't sell the property for more than it's really worth. Furthermore, it raises all kinds of red flags in my mind, and, I imagine, in the eyes of most agents. "Why do they think they need to offer five percent when the average is three?" springs to mind pretty much unbidden. Most often, the property is overpriced. Almost as often, there's something wrong with it that only an experienced investor is going to be able to deal with - and experienced investors don't pay top dollar for a property. Ever. Quite often, there's something unrepairable detracting from the value of the property. It might get the property sold much more quickly - most agents have some investors I can call if we have reason to, and if you get our attention with a high CBB, both we and our clients are happy. So if you're stuck with a property that has something seriously wrong with it, a high CBB and a low price will cause it to see a lot more action. But they have to be coupled together. High CBB won't do it on its own. On its own, high CBB is pointlessly wasted money.
An average CBB or maybe slightly higher will quite likely accomplish what you want; a quicker sale and therefore a higher sales price. If you're a half percent above average, that's not enough to raise red flags, and it will get you attention. Good buyer's agents will still require that it be an above average value for the client, but they will look, where they might not otherwise. It also stands a good chance of motivating them to really take a good long look at the property.
Short Sales are worse than everything else, as far as CBB goes. Short sales usually take much longer, are more often than not overpriced, and there's a much higher chance of transaction falling apart and the agent losing the client as a result. In my area, over eighty percent of all short sales fall apart, and there's not much the buyer's agent can do to alter the odds - it's in the hands of the listing agent. The lender is going to require the agents involved to reduce their commissions. Agents know this, and they can't really fight it. If you're out there on the cheap end of CBB before the lender wants to grab money we've earned away from us, and four out of five self-destruct and lose the client without closing, what reason is there to show your property, as opposed to the one down the street that's not a short sale? Cost my client money and time to no good purpose, when I can usually find them something just as good at a better price that closes faster and without the eighty percent chance of fallout. But there's always a reason for a short sale. I've never seen one yet where the owner didn't need to sell for some reason or another. Why doesn't matter; If a short sale is the least bad thing that can possibly happen to you, the one thing you don't want is for the property to fail to sell, and a below average CBB on a short sale will practically insure that the property won't sell.
If I had my druthers as a buyer's agent, I'd rather buyer's agency commission be set as a flat amount, regardless of the actual sales price, so that the agent isn't shooting themselves in the foot if they can negotiate a better price. On the other hand, it's not a crime for the seller to structure it in a way that produces dissonance between the interests of the buyer and the interests of that buyer's agent. I may not like it, but I take shameless advantage of it when I'm listing property - I advise owners to make CBB a percentage. Just because I understand a happier client is likelier to bring me more business doesn't mean every agent does. Maybe it's because I read Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz at an early age, and military history has always been an avocation with me. Maybe it's because I took almost enough probability and statistics courses in college for it to count as a major. Maybe I'm just competitive by nature. Whichever it is, I believe in taking every opportunity to load the dice in my client's favor before they get tossed. Anytime there are large amounts of money at stake, you're either in it to win or you are a sucker. There's a lot more money involved in real estate than almost anything else.
At higher valuations, reasonable agents expect CBBs to go down. There's not much difference in the actual work between a half million dollar property and a full million dollar one. Higher liability exposure and a little more hand holding and a little more service. Furthermore, the kind of people who buy million dollar properties tend to be better qualified to do so, leading to fewer escrows failing due to buyers failure to qualify.
One of the things I don't understand is that many agents are the worst about CBB. They should know the power, and yet when it comes to their own money they disregard the facts and try and to do it on the cheap. I make a special note when I notice those listings, because it's like they're shouting, "I'm just out for a quick buck! I don't really know what I'm doing!" to those with the ability to hear it. With that information, I keep a special eye on their listings for other clients. Just part of my desire to look for opportunities to depth charge fish in a barrel. When I find one, it always results in a happier client.
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