Demystifying Real Estate Commissions: How Agents Earn Their Keep

Embarking on the journey of selling your home involves a myriad of decisions, and one critical aspect is understanding how real estate agents are compensated. The process may seem mysterious to many, but breaking down the mechanisms behind real estate commissions unveils the value these professionals bring to the table.

Understanding the Basics of Real Estate Commissions:

Real estate agents work on a commission-based model, meaning their income is directly tied to the successful sale of a property. Real estate commission vary and the rate can be anywhere around 5% to 6% of the home's sale price, but this percentage can vary based on factors such as the local market, the complexity of the transaction, and the agent's experience.

Who Pays the Commission?

Contrary to what some might think, it's the home seller who typically foots the bill for both the seller's and buyer's agent commissions. The total commission is usually split evenly between the two agents, with each receiving a percentage. This arrangement is established in the listing agreement between the seller and their chosen real estate agent. In some cases an agent may have an agreement with their buyer's to pay a portion or all of the commission.

The Listing Agreement:

When a homeowner decides to sell their property, they enter into a listing agreement with a real estate agent. This legally binding contract outlines the terms and conditions of the sale, including the agreed-upon commission percentage. The listing agreement also stipulates the duration of the contract, the property's asking price, and the agent's responsibilities in marketing and selling the home.

How Agents Earn Their Keep:

Real estate agents only earn a commission when a sale successfully closes. This performance-based structure aligns their interests with those of the homeowner – to sell the property at the best possible price. Here's a breakdown of how agents earn their commission:

  1. Listing Agent's Role: The listing agent is the one hired by the seller to market and sell their property. They invest time and resources in creating an attractive listing, conducting open houses, negotiating with potential buyers, and guiding the seller through the intricacies of the transaction.

  2. Buyer's Agent's Role: The buyer's agent represents the interests of the purchaser. They assist in finding suitable properties, provide market insights, negotiate on behalf of the buyer, and guide them through the closing process. In return, they receive a portion of the total commission agreed upon in the listing agreement.

  3. Brokerage Split: Real estate agents are affiliated with a brokerage, and a portion of their commission goes to the brokerage. The exact percentage varies and is predetermined in the agent's contract with the brokerage.

Commission Structures in Alternative Models:

While the standard commission model is prevalent, alternative structures exist. Some agents may offer a reduced commission in exchange for limited services, or they may employ a tiered commission structure based on the sale price.


Real estate agents play a crucial role in the property sale process, and their compensation is a reflection of the value they bring to the table. By understanding how commissions work, both sellers and buyers can appreciate the symbiotic relationship between these professionals and their clients. As you navigate the real estate landscape, remember that the success of your transaction is intertwined with the expertise and dedication of the professionals guiding you along the way.