The real estate world has long been dominated by full-commission real estate firms. But now, so-called discount brokerages that once offered few services in exchange for reduced fees dangle other money-saving choices to consumers.
Homeowners can select from an a la carte menu that ranges from traditional full service to flat or greatly reduced fees if owners are willing to shoulder some of the selling load, such as personally showing their home to potential buyers.
Bill Urasky, a broker in the Aurora, Ill., office of Help-U-Sell real estate, said the reduced-fee concept has come of age. “Some customers don’t feel they get their money’s worth in a traditional real estate company,” said Urasky. “Do they (real estate firms) do anything else different from us? The answer is no.”
His Help-U-Sell office charges sellers a flat $2,950 fee to sell a home. That includes placing the home on the local Multiple Listing Service, the typical “For Sale” sign in the yard, and negotiations with buyers. From there, owners can pay an added fee for the Help-U-Sell Realtor to handle all facets of the process, including showing the home during open houses or additional advertising.
Sellers can opt to show the home themselves, although Help-U-Sell follows up with all interested would-be purchasers.
Commission savings can be substantial. In a typical 6 percent commission real estate transaction on a $200,000 home, the Realtor fee would be $12,000. The $2,950 flat-fee scenario shaves that percentage to 1.47 percent.
Karen Stephenson of Naperville says she saved nearly $23,000 on commissions by taking the flat-fee route on the sale of her $465,000 home. “I can’t think of anything they would have done differently from a traditional company. I wanted to walk away with as much of the proceeds as I could.” Stephenson got 97 percent of the asking price.
In theory, full-service firms use a group of local Realtors to round up all potential buyers. But according to Urasky, up to 70 percent of buyers use the Internet to spot properties before they ever call a Realtor for assistance. The Internet has leveled the playing field among competing real estate firms as long as properties are displayed on the local listing service that draws membership from all local Realtors, including flat-fee firms.
Yet any Realtor in the market has incentive to show even flat-fee homes to buyers. Sellers often agree to tack on an additional 2.5 percent “cooperating fee” if a nonflat-fee Realtor brings the buyer to the transaction. But if the buyer does not have a Realtor, the cooperating fee is waived.
Still, many would-be sellers want the security and advertising power of a traditional full-service firm. Many are leery of opening their home to total strangers who are quick to criticize even minor flaws in a home, and many homeowners are ill-equipped to handle the sales pressure of open houses.
Midwest attorney John Hemminger says sellers need to mull all their options “before being drawn to the allure of the flat-fee savings.” He also says negotiations can be tense for many homeowners and therefore probably best left to a professional.
Traditional real estate firms still far outnumber flat-fee brokerages. Help-U-Sell has 808 franchises in 46 states. That’s a far cry from the thousands of offices and tens of thousands of real estate agents for many of the established franchises such as Coldwell Banker or Century 21. Coldwell Banker has more than 125,000 agents spread among 3,400 offices.
But real estate companies such as Help-U-Sell continue to grow. Urasky says in his Chicago marketplace, there were only five offices 18 months ago. That number now stands at 18, with seven more offices slated to open in the first few months of 2006.