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Working Papers

Conflicts of Interest and the Realtor Commission Puzzle

Working paper #787
Panle Jia Barwick, Parag A. Pathak and Maisy Wong

This paper documents uniformity in real estate commission rates across markets and time using a dataset on realtor commissions for 653,475 residential listings in eastern Massachusetts from 1998 to 2011. Newly established real estate brokerage offices charging low commissions grow more slowly than comparable entrants with higher commissions. Properties listed with lower commission rates experience less favorable transaction outcomes: they are 5 percent less likely to sell and take 12 percent longer to sell. These adverse outcomes reflect decreased willingness of buyers’ agents to intermediate low commission properties (steering) rather than heterogeneous seller preferences or reduced effort of listing agents. While all agents and offices prefer properties with high commissions, firms and agents with large market shares purchase a disproportionately small fraction of low commission properties. The negative outcomes for low commissions provide empirical support for regulatory concerns that steering reinforces the uniformity of commissions.

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