The Ultimate Guide to 100% Commission Real Estate Brokerage Pros & Cons (2023)
How to choose the best real estate brokerage in 2023. The ultimate guide for real estate agents comparing 100 percent commission companies vs traditional real estate brokerages.
“I genuinely believe 100% commission for real estate agents is more important than ever.”
DARIN THOMPSON, FOUNDER & CEO, STUART ST JAMES
What Are the Pros and Cons to 100% Commission Real Estate Brokerages?
If you’re a real estate agent and not a licensed broker, meaning you must affiliate with a licensed broker to legally practice real estate as opposed to working entirely for yourself, the commission split with your brokerage is the single biggest factor in determining how much money you make as a real estate agent.
And let’s be clear, there’s a difference between gross commission income (GCI) and net commission income (NCI). GCI is what your brokerage is paid when you sell a home and NCI is what your brokerage pays you, said differently, NCI is actual agent take-home pay.
What is 100% Commission Real Estate?
Have you thought about leaving your traditional brokerage and moving to a 100% commission model where real estate agents can earn the most money?
Maybe you’re a brand-new real estate agent and want to fast-track income generation and have discovered traditional real estate brokerages like Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams are not the right fit for you.
This is your ultimate guide to comparing 100% commission split brokerages vs. traditional real estate brokerages to see if becoming a 100% commission real estate agent is right for you.
How Much Do Real Estate Agents Make?
How much do real estate agents make per sale and why 100% commission real estate is gaining popularity among real estate agents and brokers.
It has been awesome. I do the same stuff I did before, but make more money. Easy process to sign up and get started. The main reason why I joined Stuart St James is the flexibility and generous commission compared with old brokerage models.
Nick Hoffman, Worcester MA Real Estate Investor Agent
Do Real Estate Agents Keep All the Commission?
Commission split has the biggest impact on how much money real estate agents make. A commission split, commonly referred to as a “split”, simply describes how gross commission income is split up between a brokerage and their agent when a real estate deal closes.
Gross commission income (GCI) is the amount a brokerage is paid when a property is sold. At traditional real estate brokerages, GCI gets chopped up, the real estate brokerage takes a cut and also collects some additional fees, and whatever is left over the agent keeps as net commission income (NCI), real estate agent take-home pay.
Let’s do the real estate agent transaction math.
Traditional real estate brokerage model commission splits range anywhere from 50% to 90% (meaning the agent takes home between 50% to 90% of GCI), depending on a number of factors. Oftentimes, real estate brokerage commission splits are expressed as two numbers, like 50/50, 70/30, or 90/10.
What do these numbers mean?
50/50 - real estate agent and brokerage each keep 50% of GCI
- 70/30 - real estate agent keeps 70% of GCI and brokerage keeps 30%
- 90/10 - real estate agent keeps 90% of GCI and brokerage keeps 10%
Some companies, like Keller Williams for instance, use a combination of a commission split and a “cap” system, whereby all deals an agent closes will fall under a commission split (for instance, 70/30) until the agent has paid the brokerage a certain amount of money (for instance, $48,000 in the Boston market) and then the agent “caps” and moves to 100% commission - the dirty little secret of a cap system is the cap resets each and every year and even after you cap, you continue to pay a host of silly fees.
Real estate agent commission split examples.
Most real estate agents are fascinated with million dollar deals - did closing million dollar deals and cashing five and six-figure commission checks enter your mind when you decided to become a real estate agent?
Let’s use a real transaction from a Stuart St James agent as our example.
Milos closed 290 Ridge St Arlington MA 02474 for $1,260,000. That transaction generated a GCI of $25,200. Running that through various example commission splits:
50/50 - agent keeps $12,600 and pays brokerage $12,600 (Yikes!)
- 70/30 - agent keeps $17,640 and pays brokerage $7,560 (Boo!)
- 90/10 - agent keeps $22,680 and pays brokerage $2,520 (Why!?!)
So how much did Milos actually make on this deal?
Watch the video interview with Milos Stevanovic where he talks about closing 290 Ridge St Arlington MA 02474 for $1,260,000, and jump to 👉 this exact spot in the video interview where he reveals how much of that GCI went into his bank account - many real estate agents think this is too good to be true.
100% Commission Real Estate Is Gaining Popularity - Why Join a 100 Percent Brokerage?
There are a growing number of reasons to join a 100% commission real estate company, modern real estate agent technology has accelerated the pace, and the reality exposed by the pandemic that an office and the expected trappings of a traditional brokerage are just not needed make 100% commission brokerages a realistic and an attractive alternative to traditional brokerages for many real estate agents.
Crush Your MA Real Estate Agent Salary Goals with 100% Commission!
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How 100% Commission Real Estate Brokerages are Different
What are the pros and cons of joining a 100% commission real estate brokerage in 2023?
Joining Stuart St James has changed my life for the better. I now practice real estate in a manner that is right for me. With a responsive broker to help you each step of the way if you need it without pressure. I believe Stuart St James is the real deal for true entrepreneurs.
Amir Sajjadi, Massachusetts Real Estate Agent
Truly evaluating 100% commission realty options requires looking at what each brokerage actually offers (some 100 percent commission companies provide more benefits than others) and stack ranking what’s important to you as an agent with your eyes wide open to what fees are involved with 100% commission brokerages and how those compare to traditional brokerages.
Consider the Pros and Cons of Each of the Following When Deciding to Join a 100% Commission Real Estate Brokerage
- Commission and agent business model flexibility
- Real estate agent fees
- Real estate leads
- Brand name recognition and stability
- Real estate agent technology
- Agent work from home office flexibility
- Real estate brokerage support and training
Commission and Agent Business Model Flexibility
Have you ever caught yourself doing the math when watching a show like Million Dollar Listing, taking the sale price, multiplying by 1%, double or triple that number, assuming that’s how much money you would make if you were selling one of those New York City or Los Angeles homes?
Then reality strikes as you come back to planet Earth, because you know that’s not how it works in traditional real estate.
There’s the concept of “commission split” with your brokerage, and depending on what brokerage you affiliate with, the brokerage could take up to 50% of your commission! Yikes!
Do real estate agents keep all the commission? No, not unless you affiliate with a 100% commission brokerage.
Due to commission splits, many agents who work at traditional brokerages don’t have enough money to support their family and reinvest back into their business, let alone pursue Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) for real estate agents.
Affiliating with a 100% commission real estate brokerage gives you the ability to reinvest back in your business while at the same time supporting you and your family.
100% commission allows you to work less, earn more, and experience more success.
Unlike traditional real estate brokerages that are rigid and have a tremendous amount of bureaucratic oversight, most 100% commission brokerages give agents the flexibility to build a business of tomorrow. The reality is agents need flexibility, creativity, and authority to identify their niche and structure a real estate agent business how they see fit to both compete and thrive. With 100% commission brokerages, you can often put apprehension and tentativeness aside, the world needs your unique vision.
For example, do you have the flexibility and support from your brokerage to develop your own innovative programs, like Andrew Schweihs from Marblehead MA did with his Massachusetts North Shore Buyer Rebate Program, pretty creative and innovative stuff!
Real Estate Agent Fees
How do 100% commission brokers make money?
100% commission real estate brokerages charge fees to their agents. 100 percent companies charge different fees, there are many models to how fees are structured, and in aggregate there’s a large range for total annual dollar amount an agent will pay in fees across 100% commission brokerages.
The most popular 100% commission real estate brokerage fees are structured as:
- Flat transaction fee for each closed deal
- Monthly and/or annual fee
At the end of the day, an agent at a 100% commission brokerage can expect to pay fees like this, perhaps it’s a combination or just one of these fees, but this is how 100% commission real estate brokers make money.
There are some 100% commission brokerages that will charge agents in one or both of the two ways above and also will charge additional fees disguised as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance riders based on the size of the deals you close - this is pretty silly, but does happen, watch out too if the brokerage is not entirely transparent with their fee structure upfront.
All that said, fees are so vastly different between 100% commission real estate brokerages and traditional brokerages, with the latter, agents are crushed with an endless spree of erroneous fees.
Traditional real estate brokerage fee examples include (these are all outside and above and beyond commission split and any resetting cap system):
- Setup fee
- Brand fee
- Franchise fee
- Administrative fee
- Errors & omission (E&O) insurance fee
- Training fee
- Technology fee
- Compliance fee
- File review fee
No real estate brokerage has the same fee structure. Not all traditional brokerages have a cap system, and not all 100% commission brokerages make use of a transaction fee.
If you’re really serious about making a lot of money as a real estate agent, you owe it to yourself to do the math.
Look at your production level, both GCI and NCI from prior years, and run the numbers through each brokerage’s business model and see what real estate brokerage is best for the agent you are today and the agent you desire to be tomorrow - ensure the brokerage you choose offers the flexibility to “upgrade” or move to more lucrative models that have lower fees to further boost your income as you build your own hyper-local brand and become less dependant on a brokerage.
And finally, in the realm of fees, there seems to be an undercurrent of fear and concern surrounding errors & omissions (E&O) insurance coverage for agents and brokers. If you’re a real estate agent and you’re hearing propaganda around E&O, examine the integrity of what’s being said and ground yourself in facts.
There are actually not that many options out there for brokerages to obtain E&O coverage, so the idea that brokerages have abundant choice in this space and they’re making clear distinctions between what is perceived to be “minimum coverage” and “A-rated” coverage is silly. Brokerages most oftentimes obtain E&O coverage from providers aligned with either the National Association of Realtors (NAR) or their state association, those E&O providers are fully vetted, provide comprehensive coverage, and offer reasonable prices because they operate at scale.
Further, for real estate agents to worry about whether they are protected and will be provided legal counsel in the event of a complaint or lawsuit simply don’t understand how E&O functions - brokerages are obligated to notify their E&O provider of a complaint or a lawsuit, the brokerage is not then wandering around trying to find “quality representation”, rather the E&O provider retains legal counsel which is prescribed to a brokerage and the agent causing the complaint or lawsuit in their defense based on location and type of complaint.
Real Estate Leads for Agents
All real estate agents are concerned about where and how they will find clients, and most real estate agents struggle with the thought of incurring upfront cost to buy leads, especially newly licensed agents.
The combination of these two things creates a (false) belief that your broker must give you leads or you won’t be successful.
For reference, you can expect to pay around $37 per online lead from a reputable online real estate lead generation provider, and some agents pay several hundred dollars in effective cost per lead for Zillow leads. None of these real estate leads are qualified via an inside sales associate (ISA) on the phone, by the way.
Many traditional brokerages put off a vibe that they generate massive amounts of online leads and pass them to agents, and many traditional brokerages trap new agents by using the idea of lead passing as justification for locking you into a shame-on-you commission split.
Get extremely specific with your broker on leads so your eyes are wide open - there are a lot of soft promises made by brokerages related to leads and agents have an equal amount of (unrealistic) expectations.
I speak from experience, as an agent, I started my real estate career with Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams, traditional brokerages that, in my personal experience, take what I call a “shame-on-you” commission split. I was told corporate leads would be passed to me but was too naive to press for details, and do you know how many I received, exactly zero! I literally never received a single lead from either brokerage.
Given all the baggage with “leads”, I was thrilled to establish an Opcity partnership, the nation’s #1 buyer of online real estate leads (and as of 2018, part of the realtor[.]com family having been acquired). It’s pretty exclusive to be an Opcity brokerage, so not all brokerages are able to participate.
If you’re able to participate as an agent through your brokerage in Opcity’s lead passing program, it can be a game-changing part of your lead generation strategy because (1) leads are definitely passed to you, there are no false promises, and (2) there's no upfront cost for agents so it's easy to get started.
Opcity buys online leads, has a team of 350+ inside sales reps who call those leads on average in 4 seconds, qualify the lead, and then live transfer that lead over the phone to an agent. There’s no upfront cost to agents so it’s literally a turn-key lead generation solution that works immediately.
A Stuart St James agent secured a seat in the program, started accepting qualified leads within literally minutes, and within one week, had a transaction pipeline of more than $4,200,000 from Opcity leads. I’m really excited for Stuart St James agents that they have the exclusive privilege of participating in the Opcity program - I wrote a Massachusetts Opcity partnership announcement here if you’re curious and want more details.
Given the backend referral fees due after closing Opcity leads, their effective cost per lead is high, which further underscores the most important thing about real estate leads, diversifying your lead generation strategy - real estate agents must diversify their lead generation strategy to effectively and profitably scale. I gave my agents control and flexibility with lead generation by securing the Opcity partnership yet also make industry-first real estate agent tech stack packages available at exclusive prices through other real estate industry partnerships to diversify real estate agent lead generation.
The unique real estate brokerage name “Stuart St James” comes from the combination of two downtown Boston street names, Stuart Street and St James Avenue 😊
Real Estate Brokerage Brand Name Recognition & Stability
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.
If the 100% commission brokerage you’re considering hasn’t been around for 10 or more years, local real estate market dynamics aside, statistically speaking the odds are not good that brokerage will actually be around long enough for you to make the most money as a real estate agent with 100% commission.
Corporate stability over the long haul is the best indicator of future success.
Stuart St James was founded in 2010 and incorporated in January 2011.
Inman and others publish real estate brokerage brand name recognition studies, and it’s not surprising that decades-old brokerages like Coldwell Banker and Century 21 have fantastic brand name recognition.
Whether you’re willing to work for a 100% commission brokerage instead of a big-box name is something you probably already know in your gut. Consumers do not choose an agent to work with primarily based on the brokerage name with which the agent is affiliated.
However, if you’re paying brand and franchise fees on a monthly basis, which you absolutely are if you’re with a big-box brokerage, you’re signaling with your own money and perpetuating the idea that brokerage brand name, and not the brand you should be creating and building to serve your hyper-local market, is important.
If you’re going to join a 100% commission real estate brokerage, join a firm that has made the effort to establish a solid brand. Plenty of “boutique” brokerages are stacked with agents who are crushing it, and at the end of the day, buyers and sellers are going to do business with agents (not brokerages) that they know, like, and trust. Join a brokerage that has a reputation, yet be weary of the false narrative that the only way to be successful is to affiliate with a big-box brokerage.
Real Estate Agent Technology
So, you need a real estate website and some leads.
To reverse engineer how real estate agents truly grow a business, I spent countless hours with top producers and the best real estate marketing technology providers.
I discovered successful agents do 2 simple things others don't:
- Diversify lead generation
- Own and control their hyper-local niche website and brand
This is all done online, of course.
The "tech stuff" is fun, yet feel free to skip to the punchline in the short video 👇
Top producing agents get leads at no upfront cost from our Opcity partnership, some take advantage of our Lead Catcher program, and some buy leads on their own from big home search portals.
But make no mistake, top producing agents do not rely on a single paid channel, they diversify their strategy and generate their own leads organically - agents tell me leads they generate on their own are higher quality, more qualified, and have a far lower effective cost per lead.
Top producing agents are leveraging social media, many are active on Facebook, and some are even starting to dabble in video for real estate. You absolutely need to pick your spots and exploit the massive distribution capabilities of social media platforms, yet if you're savvy, you know you don't own or control major social media platforms and your audience can be taken away from you in an instant.
That’s why, alongside social media channels, top-producing agents have their own website they own and control aligned to their niche and use it to gather leads and build an email list so they can always connect with their audience.
After all the work with agents and real estate marketing tech providers, I released the Stuart St James real estate tech stack to help agents own and control their brand and generate leads. The stack is optionally available to Stuart St James agents at exclusive prices you can't get on your own.
Leaning into this real estate agent tech stack stuff is not necessarily for everyone, yet if you want to "run a business like a business", it's worth a look.
The reality is, the posture of your brokerage towards technology and automation not only influences your efficiency but your overall experience too - learning what modern tools a brokerage uses and/or provides signals whether the brokerage is committed to helping agents grow and scale their businesses.
It was more than 15 years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I had just closed my first real estate deal.
I hustled by doing an open house on a Coldwell Banker colleague’s listing. During the open house, I met a buyer who I represented in the eventual purchase of the condo, and I picked up the listing of the buyer’s existing condo too!
I then "double-ended" the listing, crazy, but I’ll save that story for another time.
Anyway, my first deal had just wrapped and I was super excited about my commission.
Unfortunately, it was really difficult to actually get paid. I felt Coldwell Banker was not in my corner, at all.
Have you ever had the feeling someone is making something far harder and more complex than it needs to be?
I sure felt that way.
What that meant was my commission was transferred at a snail’s pace and I had no transparent visibility to what was happening. Not to mention Coldwell Banker kept more than 40% of my deal!
Yet, I’m super thankful for Coldwell Banker’s inefficient, bloated, and antiquated processes because they’ve driven my passion for technology and efficiency through automation and modern tools at Stuart St James, which has led to a better agent experience. We even have a super-efficient deal-closing platform that’s entirely online.
There is massive untapped potential for modern virtual real estate brokers to lean into innovative real estate industry vertical partnerships that create win-win-win scenarios for real estate agents, brokerages, and real estate industry service providers. Is your brokerage out in front here?
I didn’t have the foresight as a new real estate agent to think far enough down the road about these things, yet clearly, they’re important. At the very least, if technology is important to you, which it should be, assess a brokerage’s posture toward technology, innovation, and automation. It should be fairly obvious whether a real estate brokerage is a forerunner in helping you to become a modern hyper-local data-driven real estate agent, or if the brokerage is a Luddite, or laggard at best, and is comfortable with the status quo and using lame tools and technology that often do more for the brokerage’s brand than your own as an agent.
Real Estate Agent Work from Home (WFH) Office Flexibility
We’re all most productive in different environments. Some agents feel the need to be in an office while others believe it’s a waste of their time (and an erroneous overhead expense they’re paying for in some fee).
The reality is…
- Agents no longer meet clients at an office
- Agents can run their entire business from a mobile device
- Agents can achieve internal training and collaboration remotely
While not every 100% commission company is a virtual real estate brokerage, the majority are operating entirely online. See #1, #2, and #3 above!
One dirty little secret or expectation traditional real estate brokerages have of their agents, any brokerage that has a business model based on taking a commission split, agents are going to be constantly micro-managed and expected to be seen in the office.
If you’re self-aware and know you need to be in a traditional office setting to be successful and happy, coupled with the reality that nearly all 100% commission companies are operating as online real estate brokers, this may be the most obvious indicator for you to know whether a 100% commission brokerage is a match for you.
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Real Estate Brokerage Support & Training
As a real estate agent, it’s important for you to assess the amount and quality of support, training, and accessibility you can expect to receive from your brokerage, and whether that aligns with your character and how you best learn and grow.
However, before you assess a brokerage, you must assess yourself, you have to become self-aware.
How do you start to become a more self-aware real estate agent? Take the 16 Personalities Test (it’s free and takes about 12 minutes), the insights it will give you about yourself will probably blow you away.
Knowing your personality type will bring you tremendous clarity and an understanding of the “why” behind what and how you work, make it simple for you to determine whether what a real estate brokerage offers you is a fit for you at a core level, and it will unlock serious personal growth.
You probably think you need real estate “training”.
Let’s be clear, if you’ve never closed a real estate deal on your own, you must learn, but the training you’ve heard about is not what you need.
👉 Watch the video to see what I’m talking about.
Going back to being self-aware, do you need to sit in a physical classroom setting in an office environment to learn new things, or is self-paced on-demand video training content better for you?
Community, mentoring, and networking mean different things to different agents. 100% commission brokerages, which are largely online virtual real estate companies as discussed earlier, do this online.
Stuart St James uses Slack to facilitate community and an open environment as well as a company email distribution list for agents to get quick questions out to the entire team or share upcoming training sessions.
Also, optional at Stuart St James, yet because of the brokerage size, something agents have found very helpful and supportive are the direct connects setup with other agents aligned to their niche during onboarding, which has effectively turned into a mentoring program into which agents self-select.
Agents should have expectations of traditional brokerages that a managing broker is at their beck and call because they’re paying for it in fees. With 100% commission real estate brokerages, you’re not paying for that and so agents should assess whether the tools, systems, programs, and the way in which the online real estate broker communicates with agents is a fit - you can reasonably test this with a simple dialogue with the broker of a 100% commission brokerage, reach out, are they accessible, are they responsive?
What Do Real Estate Agents & Brokers Get at Stuart St James?
Here’s a look at what we offer real estate agents at the fastest-growing 100% commission real estate brokerage in Massachusetts.
100 percent real estate agent commission, forever
No hidden or random fees
Real estate leads with no upfront cost (optional)
Real estate marketing technology support
Corporate email account
Practice full-time or part-time, really
Real estate training
Fast and efficient deal closing technology
Professionally designed real estate marketing flyer templates
Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance included
Promulgated Massachusetts real estate forms
Stuart St James is a HUD Certified Principal Broker
Slack for real estate agent team collaboration (free)
Rise of the Next-Generation 100% Commission Real Estate Brokerage
There is an acceleration in the breaking down of the current traditional real estate brokerage status quo.
... there's still a LOT of progress that needs to be made toward transparency around real estate agent commission, splits, fees, and respecting the time of agents.
Yet clearly, agents need more flexibility like a 100% commission model delivers, without giving up massive amounts of their commission, more than ever before.