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A major settlement could spell an end to 6% real estate commissions

A "sale pending" sign is posted in front of a home for sale on November 30, 2023 in San Anselmo, Calif.  Realtors face lower commissions after a major settlement upended the way  Americans buy and sell homes.
Justin Sullivan
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A "sale pending" sign is posted in front of a home for sale on November 30, 2023 in San Anselmo, Calif. Realtors face lower commissions after a major settlement upended the way Americans buy and sell homes.

Updated March 15, 2024 at 2:25 PM ET

The National Association of Realtors has reached a nationwide settlement that could change the way real estate agents are compensated. Critics say the current system artificially inflates agents' commissions.

For years, sellers have effectively set the commission paid to buyers' agents as a condition of using a multiple listing service (MLS) — a regional roundup of homes for sale. The combined commission — shared by buyers' and sellers' agents — is typically 5% to 6%, which is higher than in most other countries.

There's also a potential conflict in having the home seller decide how much the buyer's agent is paid, since they have different objectives in negotiating a home sale.

Under the settlement, commissions will be subject to more negotiation, which could lower the cost of buying and selling a home. It could also drive some real estate agents out of business. Home sellers can still offer a commission to the buyer's agent, but that will no longer be a condition of using an MLS.

The National Association of Realtors lost a $1.8 billion jury verdictlast year and was facing other lawsuits over the commission structure. The penalty threatened to put the organization into bankruptcy.

As part of the settlement, the National Association of Realtors did not admit to any wrongdoing but agreed to pay $418 million over the next four years.

The settlement still needs approval from a federal judge. The changes to real estate commissions are set to take effect in July.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.