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Is This Normal? (What Seattle Real Estate Agents Earn)

We’ve spent plenty of time trying to figure out what’s fair to pay Redfin agents. As part of that exercise, we analyzed the gross commissions for all Seattle-area (King County, to be precise) agents who closed at least one transaction over the past year (May 12, 2009 to May 11, 2010). The data surprised us, so much so that we thought we’d ask this community if we’re making any obvious mistakes.

We sorted the agents by gross commission, assigning percentiles to each. When we didn’t know the commission on a deal, we assumed it was high: 3% for each side.

Agents at the 50th percentile of pay earned $29,820 in gross commissions. Agents at the 75th percentile earned $75,018. You don’t hit $100K in commissions until the 82nd percentile. Then we graphed the data, showing the gross commissions on the vertical axis, and the percentile of the agent earning those gross commissions on the horizontal axis. The result was a hockey stick:

But then we reasoned that a lot of part-timers are closing one or two deals on the side while working another job; so we excluded all the folks who earned less than $25K in gross commissions. This shifted the graph to the right a bit, but otherwise we still saw a very small number of agents earning a huge proportion of the total commissions in a market:

Then we asked ourselves how much money a good agent — say, someone earning $100,000 in gross commissions — has to shell out in costs each year:

Type of Expense Traditional Agent, Annual Costs
Brokerage fee $10,000
Health insurance $10,500
Marketing $10,000
Social Security, Medicare Taxes $6,500
Transportation $3,600
Cell service $1,200
Equipment $1,000
Dues, education $783
IT $1,000
Total $44,583

All told, the data left us scratching our heads. In a fairly wealthy market where sales volume has been increasing, a good agent — someone among the top 15% of his peers — is probably netting less than $60,000 per year.¬†Does that sound right?

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