I don’t charge 6% to sell homes. Realtors…you’re welcome.

Yes, I believe change and some of these lawsuits against Realtors are long overdue. But that doesn’t mean I completely agree with the $1.8 Billion verdict.

Stick around to find out why. 

The lawsuits against Realtors

What would cause you to hire someone, pay them a fee you agreed to before you hired them, and then sue them afterward to get your fee back? Good question, but that’s precisely what is happening to the National Association of Realtors and dozens of large brokerages across the country. 

Home sellers and now even some home buyers are taking their Realtors to court in a wave of local, regional, and now even class action lawsuits. The first verdict came down a few months ago, and it was a doozy. In Burnett vs the National Association of Realtors et al., the jury awarded home sellers a refund of $1.8 Billion in commissions and penalties. 

The gist of the case was that home sellers who sold from 2020-2023 felt they were forced to pay 6% commissions. They contended that all the local Realtors got together to make sure every agent charged the same amount (6%) to every home seller for the same set of services. Naturally, this approach would be unpopular with consumers…and highly illegal. There were other facets to the case, but from what I can find, this was the core of the argument. 

The jury may have gotten this one wrong.

As a Realtor, I talk with dozens of people every week, and they all seem to fall into one of two camps. The first camp says, “It’s about time someone stood up to these Realtors.” The other camp says, “The jury made a mistake.” 

Most of my fellow Realtors are in the second camp. This is no surprise since they can easily imagine themselves in a similar situation. Most Realtors are taking this personally. Most feel like this is an attack on their livelihood, and in a lot of ways, they are not wrong. 

The public (and the jury) is basically saying that the residential real estate market needs to change and that if Realtors won’t make those changes, these huge verdicts will force them to. If you get sued enough, eventually, you’ll probably get the message. Change or go broke. 

But what may surprise you is that I, Glen Whitten, long-time practitioner of Flat Fee non-6% real estate and self-labeled industry gadfly, also feel the verdict could have been a mistake. Just not for the reasons you might think. 

I’m certainly not defending the traditional 6% model used by nearly all Realtors. In fact, it’s about time that model had some real competition. (Disclaimer Alert!) I’m not a lawyer, and I wasn’t in the courtroom, so if those Realtors broke the rules and actually colluded to keep commissions artificially high, well, then they likely got what they deserved.

But, if the verdict was handed down because home sellers felt they were being forced to use the only model out there and had no alternative but to pay 6%, then they are wrong. How do I know? Because I’m that alternative. 

You don’t have to pay 6%

Even though I’m a Realtor, I have absolutely no worries about being sued over my commissions for three reasons: 

  1. Reasonable rates: Here at my company, OhioMLSFlatFee.com, we don’t charge 6%. We are Realtors, and we offer many of the same services that other Realtors offer, but instead of charging a 6% commission, we do everything for a low flat fee
  2. Maximum control to the seller: Our sellers decide how much, if anything, to offer as a buyer agent commission. Our listings go into the MLS and enjoy the same massive public exposure as every other listing in the MLS but without the giant commission or expectation to offer a king’s ransom to a buyer’s agent only to have them work against our sellers. 
  3. Nice guy: I’m a really nice guy.

For at least the first two reasons, I will not be joining my fellow Realtors at the defense table. My company, the Ohio Property Group, offers a sensible alternative with maximum control to the seller (where it belongs) and significantly lower fees. 

Our sellers decide how much help they want from us and only pay for the services they need. In the traditional Realtor arrangement, the seller pays 6% for a cookie-cutter set of services they may not want, need, or ever get. 

No buyer’s agent = No Commission. 

In traditional 6% land, if the buyer for your home doesn’t have an agent, your listing agent usually becomes a Dual Agent and “helps” both parties reach the closing table. This should be outlawed, but as of today, dual agency is still a thing. (Heavy sigh.)

Dual agents can’t actually work for either party because it’s illegal, but they do keep the entire 6% commission. So to recap, dual agents do less work for twice as much money. I know…bananas. In our system, if a buyer comes along without an agent, our sellers pay ZERO commissions. Savings and control. What a concept. 

Real Estate Law #6: More buyers = more offers = more money. 

Nearly all my non-Realtor friends and acquaintances are in the “It’s about time these Realtors got sued” camp. Many feel that the fix is in when it comes to the residential real estate market. Some of them actually worry that if they don’t use a Traditional 6% Realtor to sell their home, they may be boycotted and have a harder time selling. This is garbage, of course, but people are slow to change. Here’s why.

In 2024, if you want to sell your home, almost everyone knows that you need to be on Realtor.com and other such sites. Yes, you could go FSBO (For Sale By Owner), but that would significantly reduce your marketing power and exposure to buyers. Just like an auction, if you have more buyers, you will get more money for your home. The opposite is also true. 

You must be on Realtor.com

Therefore, at least from a marketing standpoint, you need as much web exposure as possible. That means Realtor.com and the MLS. (For the next paragraph, when I mention Realtor.com, assume that I’m also mentioning the other 200+ Realtor-controlled websites like Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, Home.com, Remax.com, KellerWilliams.com, etc.) 

Follow the logic here. 

  • Nearly all buyers search and locate their next home on Realtor.com 
  • The only way to get your home on Realtor.com is to be in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service)
  • The MLS is controlled, owned, and operated by Realtors
  • The only way to get your home in the MLS is to list it with a Realtor
  • Most Realtors charge 6% and lock you into long-term contracts

Bottom line: Home sellers feel they “have no choice” but to pay those fees. If they don’t list with a Realtor, their home will be excluded from Realtor.com and all the other sites. That means it either won’t sell or won’t sell for as much. Consumers feel like they are backed into a corner, so like any red-blooded American, they sue.

Conspiracy anyone?

We offer an alternative, but to be fair, we are in the vast minority. Making things worse, many local Realtors don’t play by the rules. There is significant pressure for non-traditional brokers like me to go away and let the majority have their way with the market. 

Every week I experience some form of discrimination or other shenanigans from local Realtors who see my model as a threat. Some complain to me that my model is “ruining things for everyone” or “killing the golden goose.” Those are actual quotes, by the way. 

I don’t want to use the word conspiracy here, but apparently the people who are suing have no issue calling it that. You have to admit that when services like Realtors offer are nearly identical from Miami to Seattle, and they all charge around 6%, it makes you wonder. 

Couple that with the fact that this model has been largely unchanged for decades despite massive growth in home sale prices and the advent of the internet and well…maybe conspiracy is the right word. Whether this behavior is an organized effort or not, it’s not good for consumers. 

There’s a reason the Department of Justice is taking a hard look at how Realtors do things. They’ve already forced several changes and seem interested in breaking up the band. In case you weren’t aware, the DOJ doesn’t idly poke around industries unless they really feel the need to look out for consumers. I know…innocent until proven guilty, but evidently they feel that something is amiss. But…I digress.

Many Realtors legitimately feel entitled to collect these fees and are insulted when anyone rocks the boat. Well, lucky for you, home seller, I’m good with the persecution. 

As my old friend and mentor Harry Green used to tell me when I first started down this road, “You know the definition of a pioneer, right? It’s a guy with a bunch of arrows in his back.” He’s not wrong. Wow, I miss him. 

I’m a Realtor’s best friend…in court.

Instead of breaking out their slings and arrows, what these traditional Realtors should be doing is kissing the ground. I’m the best defense out there for these Realtors who are getting sued. I’m technically a member of this club and yet, I don’t play by their rules when it comes to listing contracts and commissions. Ergo…consumers do have a choice. 

If these Realtors were smart, they would make me their poster boy. While it may seem like a bad idea for traditional Realtors to promote my flat fee approach, it would literally save them billions of dollars if they did. Stay with me here…

Imagine going to court. The plaintiffs claim that all Realtors are illegally working together to fleece the public for 6% every time they sell a home. It’s a crime. It’s a travesty. We want our money back…and then some.

All the Realtors’ lawyers would have to do is pull up my website, highlight the fact that I’m a Realtor and have been offering non-6% choices to consumers since 2003, and then dramatically turn to the jury (as they pull off their glasses) and say, “I rest my case.” It would be awesome…on TV. 

But you get my point. The public has choices and, you didn’t hear this from me, but my company is not the only flat fee model out there. There are lots of us, and we are very likely practicing the type of real estate that will become the norm in the future. That’s right, unbundling and flat fee listings are going mainstream. 

Don’t take my word for it.

I recently interviewed Kurt Uhlir on my podcast, Talking Realty. Kurt has a lot of expertise across several industries. His track record in real estate, marketing, and technology made him an ideal person to discuss these lawsuits and how they might impact Realtors and consumers. 

He was clear that, while he understood what the home sellers were saying in the lawsuit, he didn’t necessarily agree with the judgment and verdict. “The judgment that happened where I don’t agree, it was portrayed (that) the traditional way of buying and selling a home…is just what you have to take. Well, from your business, we know that that’s not the only model out there.” Game, set, match.

When I asked him for his take on these lawsuits, he said that the publicity would have a positive impact on consumers because “Unequivocally, the average consumer is going to know that they have multiple options about how they can sell their home.” Options like mine? Oh yeah. 

He also feels that, going forward, savvy brokerages will not only stop fighting models like mine, but they may actually add similar services alongside their more traditional 6% approach. “The better agents and the wise brokerages will both start to bring up additional options besides just the traditional model to have it as an option.” 

Welcome to the future of real estate

Well, what if the really savvy brokerages, like mine, started offering these options 20 years ago? If the point of these lawsuits is to make sure consumers have choices, then we are there. We may not be well-known, but models like mine have been around since the 70’s. 

I don’t know that 6% will ever go away, at least not in my lifetime. But I do believe, like Kurt, that agents and brokers will begin to offer consumers something other than 6%. There is no doubt that the lawsuits have the attention of the Realtor community. Like every other disrupted industry before us, Realtors have a choice: Change or fade away. 

There are countless industries that have been disrupted by change, innovation, and competition. Traditional 6% Realtors have enjoyed a really good run, but it’s time for a new model. 

My model isn’t new, but it’s definitely a candidate for the new norm. We’ve been practicing tomorrow’s real estate model for decades. We’ve been offering consumers an alternative and, at least for those thousands of past clients who have tried it, it seems to be a pretty good one. 

So, to my future home-selling clients, I say welcome to the new way of doing things. And to my Realtor colleagues who are practicing the traditional 6% and getting sued, I say, “You’re welcome.”

If you want to know a little more about our Flat Fee system, check out the videos on our “HOW IT WORKS” page, or if you want more personal advice, schedule a call with me. That way, we can go a little deeper. 

In the meantime, keep sending your questions. Your best bet is to send me a message at Glen@OhioMLSFlatFee.com. I read and respond to every email…eventually.

glen whitten ohio mls flat fee real estate broker
Ohio Property Group, LLC
Author: “You Can Sell It”
Host: Talking Realty Podcast

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