Trapped and Pigeon Holed

by Dan Krell

A May 13th 60 Minutes piece that aired nationally attempted to portray a balanced view of how online brokerages have been chipping away at “standard” Realtor commissions. If you missed the segment, it was a story about the success and battles of an online brokerage called Redfin. (Interestingly, there was a similar story in the Washington Post almost a week later).

The story appeared to be an underdog piece about how Redfin is pitted against a real estate industry that is against change. Everyone loves an underdog, right? Although the story attempted to offer both sides of the story, 60 Minutes decision to interview a top real estate agent in the Seattle area made for sensationalism but little for advancing the truth and facts.

The agent interviewed was clearly not representative in income or business methods of an average Realtor. It appeared that the agent’s comments fed into the stereotypes being portrayed by her comments when challenged to lower her commissions as well as comments about home buying not being high tech.

The facts are that according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average licensed real estate agent income was $35,670 in 2004. The average agent earned between $23,500 and $58,110 a year. Only the top ten percent earned more than $92,770.

Additionally, the real estate industry has embraced technology to assist in change as can be witnessed by the explosion of internet listings and computer based real estate applications. Many home buyers search for homes online before going to see the home in person. In fact new technology has allowed much of the process to become remote and impersonal; contracts and mortgage applications can be completed and signed and delivered via email. The truth is that the industry is very high tech and the National Association of Realtors is committed to technological advancement (

As a Realtor in the trenches, I can tell you that commission structures have been changing for a while, however not because of “discount” brokers, but as a necessity of survival in a saturated industry. The recent record sellers’ market assisted in the growth of real estate business models that are based on flat fees. Online brokerages, such as Zip Realty, as well as “full service” Realtors have been offering closing credits, rebates, and low commission structures for some time.

How do you get a full service Realtor for a “discount” price? The truth is that although some Realtors are not negotiable on commission, many are. All you have to do is ask and chances are that you can negotiate a lower listing commission or a closing credit on your home purchase.

I was once told by a professor in graduate school that once others’ perceptions have you pigeon holed, you can never get out. Although the 60 Minutes story may be good for ratings, the one sided treatment and depicted stereotype of wealthy Realtors who are steadfast for the status quo did nothing to promote the facts. The National Association of Realtors has posted depicted misrepresentations as well as the correct facts on their website: (

To CBS’s credit, some facts and rebuttal comments from the National Association of Realtors, as well as others, have been posted on the story webpage:

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 28, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.