How New Rules for Real Estate Commissions Could Affect First-Time Buyers – The New York Times

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Economists and real estate experts warn that changes in how agents are paid could have unintended consequences for people buying their first homes.

With a landmark legal settlement poised to upend a decades-old norm that has dictated who pays real estate agents and how much, economists, agents and lenders are beginning to worry that the burden could now be on first-time home buyers.

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Buyers may soon have to pay out of pocket for something that had always been baked into the price. And buyers who are new to the market or have smaller down payments on hand — typically, moderate- and middle-income households: often Black and Latino home buyers who have long lagged behind their white peers in homeownership rates — are going to feel the most pain.

“First-time home buyers are usually the people who don’t have much cash and experience — and that experience matters,” said Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist of Redfin, the online brokerage that cut ties with the National Association of Realtors last year.

Buyers did not have a seat at the negotiating table when N.A.R., the powerful trade group, agreed on March 15 to pay $418 million in damages and to abandon its longstanding rules about how commissions are set, advertised and paid. The lawsuit was initially brought by home sellers in Missouri who accused N.A.R. of artificially inflating home prices by coupling commissions paid to sellers’ and buyers’ agents.

Under the settlement, once it is approved by a federal court, there will be a commission “decoupling.” That means buyers and sellers would each be responsible for paying their own agents rather than expect the seller of a home to pay a single commission, invariably 5 or 6 percent of the sales price, to the listing agent who then splits it with the buyer’s agent. The new rule changes will likely lower commission costs considerably, by as much as 30 to 50 percent, economists and analysts estimate. Still, another fee — albeit potentially a smaller one — will be added to the buyer’s side of the ledger.

Most buyers will also have to sign an agreement with an agent before even viewing a property. Sellers will no longer be allowed to include commissions in the listing. Sellers could still ultimately pay buyers’ commissions but are likely to drop them in competitive markets, the very ones where buyers are under the most financial strain.

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