Brokerages have sprung into action as commission lawsuits proliferate — and not a moment too soon, according to the results of November’s Inman Intel Index survey, released Wednesday.

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By late November, real estate leaders had pivoted from processing the Sitzer | Burnett verdict to a full-scale response within their brokerages, according to the results of Intel’s flagship industry sentiment survey, the Inman Intel Index.

The effort came not a moment too soon, as clients were already catching wind of the case, according to insights from 675 real estate professionals who responded between Nov. 21 and Nov. 30 to the monthly survey, otherwise known as the Triple-I.

  • Over 1 in 4 agents who responded said a significant chunk of their clients had mentioned commission suits, three times as many as in late October.
  • This rise in awareness places more pressure on brokers. More than half of brokerage leaders in late November said their response to the suits so far has been training agents on how to talk about commissions with clients.

TAKE THE DECEMBER INMAN INTEL INDEX NOW

Dive into key findings from the brokerage world’s response to the Sitzer verdict below — and keep an eye out for more insights on technology and the economy from Inman’s monthly Triple-I survey heading into 2024. In the meantime, crunch the numbers from the latest results with Inman’s director of research.

Ahead of the curve

Breaking down the results, it’s clear that the vast majority of clients are not yet aware of the rumors of change rippling through the real estate industry.

But that’s shifting quickly.

Share of agents who say they have discussed the lawsuits with…

  • …at least some buyer clients: 7 percent of agents in October → 22 percent by November
  • …at least some seller clients: 9 percent of agents in October → 29 percent by November

Chart by Daniel Houston

From this, we can see early signs that homesellers are ahead of the curve compared to buyers. This savvier group of clients has been through this process before, has already worked with at least one agent, and is perhaps more likely to keep regular tabs on the housing market. It’s also a portion of their eventual sale price that currently goes toward the buyer’s agent commission.

But more than that, it’s clear that if client questions were merely beginning to trickle in during the weeks after the Sitzer verdict, the pace is picking up — and fast.

Inside agents’ heads

One thing Intel wanted to confirm was how brokerage leaders and agents were feeling about the impact the lawsuits might have.

  • Most brokers — 62 percent — expect these lawsuits to negatively affect client perceptions of commissions.
  • Only 9 percent anticipated it would bring about a positive change.

Agent opinions on the outcome have hardly changed since October. Most believe that Sitzer | Burnett, and other commission lawsuits like it, will result in a significant number of agents leaving the industry.

  • 53 percent of rank-and-file agents surveyed say cooperative compensation will become optional and lead to a decline in agents.
  • 4 percent believe cooperative compensation will be banned outright.

That pessimism closely mirrors that of brokerage leaders when asked the same question. But this negative outlook isn’t universally held.

  • 16 percent of agents agree with some of their peers that cooperative compensation will become optional, but differ with them on the impact, arguing these changes will have a minimal effect on agent count.
  • 14 percent were even more optimistic, saying they think the suits will result ultimately in either a win or a series of settlements that mostly preserves the status quo for industry trade groups and brokerages.
  • 12 percent gave another response.

Chart by Daniel Houston

Plan of action

As agents start to hear from more clients about commissions, brokers have sprung into action, trying to get ahead of the wave of questions.

Intel: What is the biggest change you are making as a result of the bombshell commission lawsuits?

More than one response allowed

  • 56 percent of brokerage leaders said the biggest change they’re making is increasing their training for agents
  • 28 percent are now requiring their agents to use buyer agreements
  • 15 percent are now requesting their agents to use buyer agreements
  • 15 percent are consulting with legal counsel
  • 11 percent are consulting with their insurance companies
  • 18 percent provided another response

Brokerage leaders had more to say on this matter. Here are some of their comments.

The final word

  • “All of the [response options] above, plus asset protection companies.”
  • “My agents are required to use buyer representation agreements. 5+ years now it’s a must. I am planning a training soon to be sure they know how to fully explain to sellers the cooperative compensation section of the listing agreement with extra initial spaces or how to if it becomes a thing of the past.”
  • “Making sure we’re talking to our referral partners more about anything that we might be able to do to help clients.”
  • “We are not making any changes until our brand makes the change.”
  • “[Washington] state is way ahead of the other 49 states who are still digesting what just happened.”
  • “Undecided where we are with this until we have more info on appeals, etc.”

Methodology notes: This month’s Inman Intel Index survey poll was conducted Nov. 21-30, 2023, and the entire Inman reader community was invited to participate, and Intel received a total of 675 responses. Respondents for this survey were directed to the SurveyMonkey platform, where they self-identified their profiles within the residential real estate market. Respondents were limited to one response per device, but there was no limitation to IP addresses. Once a profile (residential real estate agent, mortgage broker/banker, corporate executive/investor/proptech, or other) was selected, respondents answered a unique set of questions for that specific profile. Because the survey did not request demographic information for age, gender, or geography, there was no data weighting. This survey will be conducted monthly, with both recurring and unique questions for each profile type.

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