Why realtor commissions don’t need to change

Want to get rich quick? Don’t bother becoming a real estate agent



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Realtor commissions don't need to change (Getty Images / Image Source)

(Getty Images / Image Source)

In June 2015, Toronto’s housing prices made headlines when the average price of a detached home passed the $1-million mark. This new standard fuelled discussions about affordability and housing bubbles and prompted more than a few remarks about how much realtors earn in commissions.

It’s a discussion I’ve heard before—often with comments about how little work a realtor actually does or the outrageous fees a realtor is paid. But before I buy a ticket on this bandwagon, I wanted to examine the numbers.

Realtor commission splits

There is no data on real estate commission rates in Canada. In Ontario, the general rule is 5% of the sale price, which is split between two realtors (at 2.5% each). In B.C. and a few other provinces there is a sliding scale with realtors earning as much as 3% on the first few hundred thousand of the sale price, and as little as 1% on the remaining portion of the sale price.

For that Toronto realtor who sold a detached home in June 2015 at the average price of $1,051,912, this means a commission of just under $26,300. Not bad, eh?

But wait, there’s more.

According to Toronto Real Estate Board statistics, only 68% of the homes listed for sale in June actually sold (2,191 homes were listed for sale and only 1,488 sold). That means, 32% of the realtors that listed a home for sale didn’t see a paycheque. Of those that did sell, the homes were on the market for an average of 16 days before a buyer was found. In purely mathematical terms, then, that same realtor would’ve earned $13,150 for a week’s worth of work.

But wait, there’s more.

What a realtor really earns

On a $26,300 commission cheque, a realtor would also get an additional $2,570 of HST money that’s paid directly to the government and will owe another $7,890 in taxes (assuming a 30% tax bracket). That drops the take-home pay to just over $18,410.

Then there’s the office split. Some agents pay higher monthly fees to their brokerage so they don’t have to split their commission, but some agents pay as much as 20% of their commission to their brokerage. In our case, let’s assume our realtor has an 80/20 split—further reducing their earnings by $5,260 (it’s 20% of the gross commission, not the net commission).

So, when the dust settles, our realtor with the outrageous commission from the $1-million+ house sale actually takes home $13,150.

Since most realtors work a 40-hour work week and the standard number of sales in a year is six, this translates into an annual paycheque of $78,900—and we still haven’t taken into account the cost of doing business, such as gas, marketing costs, cell and internet costs, educational fees, professional fees, insurance or office expenses.

It’s easy to point fingers at realtors and say they earn too much…but higher transactional fees are a reflection of higher home prices and that also means more money in the pocket of a home seller.

Oh, and full disclosure: I’m a licensed realtor. But I’m not trying to line my pockets with big-fat commissions (actually, my pockets get lined from my salaried job at MoneySense). To fully appreciate how important it is to hold realtors accountable, read Tricks Realtors Use to Sell Homes.  For those that don’t read that article, please note: My sole aim is to provide a bit of insight into real estate commissions. It’s easy to grab headlines with big numbers, it’s harder to provide some context to those numbers.

A reader aptly pointed out that tax is charged on income earned after expenses are deducted. Since part of my explanation was to provide some insight into the expenses realtors pay, I worked out the earnings to reflect income tax after deductions (but, obviously, had to include more detail in the deductions):  

*Earned commission of $26,300
*Office split, which reduces the commission by 20%, to $20,680
*Insurance and professional fees reduces these fees another $3,000 per year (on the average 6 transactions that works out to a $500 deduction), reducing the in-pocket earnings to $20,180
*Professional fees (educational courses, accountant/bookkeeper, cell phone, gas) at an estimated $12,000 (divided by 6 transactions, another $2,000 deduction), reducing the in-pocket earnings to $18,180
*Per transaction marketing fees (photography, staging, flyers, etc.) is another $3,o00 cost, further reducing the commission to $15,180
*Assuming all six transactions were for homes selling for $1-million, the realtor’s before-tax income would be $91,080
*After tax (assuming the realtor worked in Ontario) annual earnings would be $68,827

To put these earnings in perspective, I sought out the average earnings by profession in Canada. According to a Workopolis report, the average Canadian wage by industry sector is as follows**:

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction – $109,844   ($79,445)
Utilities – $96,279  ($71,769)
Construction – $64,240  ($51,233)
Manufacturing – $54,256  ($44,359)
Retail – $28,136  ($24,692)
Transportation and warehousing – $55,305  ($45,081)
Information and cultural industries – $61,373  ($49,259)
Finance and insurance – $60,011  ($48,322)
Real estate and rental and leasing – $50,226  ($41,612)
Professional, scientific and technical services – $70,310  ($55,412)
Educational services – $51,305  ($42,327)
Health care and social assistance – $44,863  ($37,892)
Arts, entertainment and recreation – $30,186  ($26,331)
Accommodation and food services – $19,656  ($17,912)

**Because a few of the comments posted were from people angry that I had compared a realtor’s gross earnings to the annual (assumed) after-tax earnings of other professions,  I just wanted to clarify: The wages listed above are based on StatsCan survey of hourly and salary employees and reflect gross pay, not net pay. To allow you to compare apples to apples, I’ve added the after-tax annual income in brackets (assuming the earnings were in Ontario).

Read more from Romana King at Home Owner on Facebook »

42 comments on “Why realtor commissions don’t need to change

  1. Just pointing out that you are comparing a take home income of $66,558 to the workopolis before tax incomes. $66,558 before taxes is roughly $100,000.


    • Hi Chris,
      Actually $66,558 is not a realtor’s take home pay. Insurance and professional fees range from $1,500 to $3,000 depending on where they do business in Canada. Then there’s cellphone and transportation costs (which come with higher use and higher bills, as they depend on these tools far more extensively for their work). Then there’s marketing (and that now includes digital, print and direct), as well as additional services to stay competitive. Based on my informal survey, realtors will spend between $10,000 and $20,000 just operating a business their business—giving them a take-home of $46,558 to $56,558.


      • Hi Romana King,

        Why didn’t look at it from Seller’s perspective?

        $40, 000 for few days of work, is it fair?

        All they do is list the property on MLS then buyer’s agent does the showing.

        Realtors do open house to get clients, there is a less chance to get a house sold through open house.


        • Not sure how you’ve come to this conclusion Raj as that is not the case, especially if you are working with a top professional realtor. There is a lot of hard work before, during and after a sale that you are not privy to. Please feel free to sell your own home but don’t disparage the hard work of an entire profession.


          • The realtor doesn’t sell the house. The house sells itself. They overcharge on commission for hardly doing anything. What do they really do? Show a home, fill out papers. Big whoop. The homeowner does all the work, painting repairs, cleaning etc. The home will sell itself. If someone wants to buy it they will. You cannot force people to buy something they don’t want or need. Realtors also play the seller and the buyer against each other. Trying to get a high price for the seller but a low price for the buyer. How is that even possible. I sold a house once. It sold in two days because there was an emotional buyer. I got charged 7% and he would not lower it even though he did nothing at all. No sign on lawn, one showing to someone who was going to buy it regardless.

      • I have to agree with Chris, you’re not making an honest comparison. The expenses you mentioned are presumably before tax. Based on the numbers in your article, the realtor’s gross income before expenses would be $110,820. That means they would still be making at least $90,000 before tax. That is the number you should be comparing to the Workopolis report.


        • I just included income calculations with expenses deducted before income tax. It does work out to a bit more in the realtor’s pocket (after tax) but only if we assume that all six transactions were for million dollar homes.


      • Romano, you’re math is flawed. Even in your response to another commenter. All the expenses are pre-tax expenses and the 33% income tax would be applied to profit.


      • Hi Romana,

        I don’t think that’s the point Chris is trying to make. If you want to compare salary apples to apples, it just make sense to start the comparison with pre-taxed income taxed income and then make the case for business expenses eating into that salary.
        Questions: How much of the business expenses are written off and how much do they impact taxes paid? Also, do realtors have to contribute to CPP and EI?


  2. This seems like really sloppy reporting.

    “Most realtors work a 40 hour week” from some national association of realtors survey? What is “most”? 50.1%? On a self-reported survey from a biased source? Really compelling.

    I am not getting where you are seeing that the “standard number of deals is six” from the data that you’ve linked to.

    The linked data is A) only regarding Toronto. B) Includes everyone with a real estate license, including those who may be working only part time, not working at all this year, or who are licensed but selling new properties (and thus don’t report “sales”).

    As for the workopolis numbers “real estate, rental, and leasing” is a very broad category.

    Besides which, you are conflating two different questions. It may be that there are more than enough real estate agents in Toronto to meet demand, and therefore some agents are not able to drum up enough business to make it a good choice of career. This doesn’t mean that the standard commission charged by those agents that are getting business isn’t too high. It’s not the consumer’s job to pay inflated prices because many more people want to be real estate agents than are needed to handle the number of sales made in a given year.

    I am certainly willing to believe that getting a Realtor’s license isn’t an easy road to riches for most. (More likely it’s an easy cash cow for the Realtor’s licensing board). But I remain thoroughly unconvinced that realtor fees aren’t too high.


  3. Just look at it per transaction basis, Commission for a $700, 000 (5% + 13% HST ) = $40, 000 which is a lot for few hours of work.

    Most people have to work full year to earn that.

    The point is Realtors are obsolete for most real estate transactions. Internet does the job of connecting buyers and sellers. Now days realtors do far less work than 20 years ago and property value was significantly lower, therefore 5% is way too much for a $700, 000 home.

    I don’t care if they make enough money or not.


    • Just look at it from seller’s perspective, this is not a charity.


    • No one is being forced to use the services of a realtor and it’s important to know that not all of them are created equal. If you feel they are obsolete and only spend a few hours to sell a home, you have been using the wrong realtor! $40,000 is what you may pay on a $700k home but as the article states, only a portion of that goes to the realtor. When you say “I don’t care if they make enough money or not” speaks volumes…


      • …and I further agree this isn’t a charity. Realtors work hard to earn their living and don’t expect handouts. Every profession is entitled to charge what they feel their services are worth just like you are entitled to command the salary you feel you are worth. No one is obligated to hire someone if they don’t like the fee/salary requested. A professional realtor is worth every penny.


  4. Most realtors work 40 hours a week and the yearly sales is only 6 homes….If this is a real data then we should be seeing plenty of realtors going bankrupt by doing real estate business…


    • Hari,
      According to stats, 50% of real estate agents drop out of the profession within their first year of licensing. By year five, another 50% leave the profession.


      • Sounds to me like many people think that getting a Realtor’s license is an easy way to make cash (probably while working part-time), but then find that getting clients is more difficult than they had anticipated.

        I fail to see how this shows that the current commission paid by sellers and buyers is reasonable.

        The failure rate for most people who get involved in MLM ventures is something like 99% isn’t it? Yet we don’t go around and say that it’s due to the unreasonably low prices of arbonne and tupperware products.


      • Candidates often choose this occupation as a second career. The proportion of workers under 40 is much smaller than in all occupations (scarcely 23% compared with 46%, according to 2006 census data)The high turnover in this occupation, because of people retiring or leaving the occupation for other industries, is reflected in the data of theOrganisme d’autoréglementation du courtage immobilier du Québec. Depending on the year, from 15% to 20% of the real estate agents leave the occupation. (service canada website http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/qc/job_futures/statistics/6232.shtml). The 50% drop out stat is right, but this explain the reason. A lot of people want to make quick money in part time, but fail. But who stick to this profession, who has a flare of sale and knowledge, makes money. Now that we get data from the net, details and pictures from the net, what value addition realtors are giving to public for this 5-6%??


    • There are plenty of realtors that do not make it past year 2 in real estate and I’ve heard some some who have spent more on their business and not made enough. When people get into the business, they have no idea how much work it is. It looks easy, therefore it is. Nothing could be further from the truth. The general public opinion is that realtors make a lot of money, when that is not the case at all. Take a 10,000 commission cheque and divide it by 4 – because $2,500 is closer to what the seller’s agent gets from listing a property. The other $2,500 is generally taken by the listing real estate office depending ono the split. then take of the expenses of having a listing, because there are costs – photography, feature sheet, advertising the home for sale through the neighbour (just listed cards). What you pay for essentially is knowledge and expertise. Experienced realtors know how to put a deal together, and work in the best interests of their clients, be it a buyer or seller. You assume realtors do little for their clients. My suggestion to you is to spend a few days as a realtor to find out exactly what it’s like before you assume you know what the job is. They are work every penny and more.


  5. There are many flaws in this article and, as others pointed, sloppy reporting that starts with an underlying agenda by a realtor to justify realtor commissions.

    Let me point out another example of this sloppiness. You incorrectly stated that a realtor has to pay HST out of their commission. They do not. The seller pays HST on top of the realtor commissions. So, the “5%” you referred to is actually “5% + HST”. So, the HST absolutely does not eat into the realtor’s commissions. In fact, realtors usually benefit from it by keeping it in their pockets/bank accounts/lines of credit until they have to remit a portion (usually not all) of it to Revenue Canada.

    Another example of sloppiness was already correctly pointed out by Chris – you compare apples to oranges when you compare posted salaries to your after-tax (and flawed HST reduced) calculation of realtor pay.

    If you do the math correctly on the scenario you presented, your suggested average realtor (who only sells six houses a year in Toronto and pays 20% to their broker) will make a salary of $126,229.. That tops the entire list of jobs you referenced and is absolutely absurd for someone who just puts listings up on MLS and lockboxes on doors, and then waits for phone calls to come into their office and other realtors to show their clients the listed houses. Meanwhile, while all this happening without their intervention, they also act as buyer agents and take other clients to show them (and pressure them into buying) other houses. And that brings me to another flaw in your reporting. You conveniently overlooked the fact that the vast majority of realtors not only list houses, but they also act as buyer agents at the same time. So, if your so-called average realtor also helps their clients buy six houses a year, they’ve just doubled their salary to $252,458.

    And before you attempt to respond with how much cell phone and gas bills are for realtors, let me remind you that anybody can get an “unlimited” usage cell phone plan for $100 or so dollars nowadays. As for gas bills, many people commute an hour to work and back daily. Many employees have cell phone and gas bills, but they can’t write them off. Realtors can at least write all these off and save on their income taxes, resulting in a higher take-home.

    Try telling the patient who has just had successful life-benefiting or life-saving surgery that their skilled surgeon who devoted 10+ years of their life studying their craft is being paid the same salary as the average joe who just sold them a house after writing a basic realtor exam.

    The world is changing. The digital and social media age is toppling dictators and corporations. Realtors are next. The bubble is about to burst.


    • preach John M! and Im actually a realtor…this article was biased


  6. The article linked to on the Toronto Realty Blog in support of the assertion that “the standard number of sales in a year is six” does not actually say that. It indicates that agents are considered part-time if they make up to six sales a year, and full-time if sales numbers are 7 or more per year.

    So the annual after-tax paycheque of $66,558 actually represents the income of the most successful part-timers.

    Here’s the informative passage from that article on Toronto Realty Blog:

    “The middle group, particularly the agents that are selling 7 to 12 units per year represent the most significant category. They are the biggest group of full-time agents, nearly 5300 agents or 16% of TREB membership. They are working hard enough to get nearly a sale a month, but with an average sale of $500k, this group is making a yearly income of between $87,000 and $150,000 before office split and expenses.”

    If we were to use the $1M sale price this article uses rather than the $500K used above, that translates to an annual income of $174K to $300K (before office split and expenses) for the lowest producing realtors that would be considered full-time.


  7. Yes, but figure out how many actual hours were worked to sell that house to get that 5% commission, or $13000 +/_ commission split? Especially in a hot market with multiple offers. Maybe if they had to show it many times for the sale….oh ya, that is the buying agents job, so the listing agent does “very little”. And all of those cost of doing business like gas, marketing etc. come off the income “before taxes, not after. In perspective, the average “family income” is around $70000 for two incomes usually so $35,000 each +/- for 2000 hrs of work or 50 weeks of full time work or around $700 each week before taxes. So it would take an average income earner 18.5 weeks of full time, 8 hr/day work plus commute and gas expenses to earn what this Realtor made in less than a month, or likely about 8 hrs max of actual work on this house. How do you justify that? And actually the home owner has to pay for both sides Realtors, so the full $26000 which he would have to work 37 full time weeks to earn….OH YA, he can’t write off commissions so that would come off after tax income, so he would have to work around 72 full time weeks (1 yr and 5 months) to earn $52,000 Gross income so after income taxes he would have the required $26,000 (assuming 50% combined tax’s +/-) to pay both Realtors. Ya, not Lucrative at all!


  8. I would not pay myself salary if I can pay myself dividend.


  9. This is click-bait math only, and well below what I expect from Ms King in her writing.

    On a practical note, if you’re a Realtor and don’t think you make enough, quit and do something else or work harder. Maybe there’s another cartel that keeps their prices artificially high that you could work for.

    From a consumer’s point of view, why am I concerned with your wage? I’m looking for value from the service you provide – this is part of working in a capitalist economy. I don’t ask my car salesperson if their wage is sufficient for them to live a comfortable lifestyle; I just want a car at a reasonable competitive price.


    • Hi Craig
      Not sure about the bait-and-switch comment, but I absolutely agree with why you should be concerned with a realtor’s commission.
      It *is* a capitalist economy and industries and professions change all the time due to technology and competition. I am definitely an advocate for full-disclosure and for a transparent working relationship — and this should be an expectation whether you’re working with a realtor, a doctor, a financial planner or a renovation contractor. So, if competition is driving a realtor’s commission down that’s good. That’s what competition should do.
      The aim of this post what to generate discussion and it did. What I want to do is provide insight into the decision on whether or not to use a realtor for a real estate transaction and what you are agreeing to when you agree to pay a realtor a commission.


      • Ms. King – your reply “What I want to do is provide insight into the decision on whether or not to use a realtor for a real estate transaction and what you are agreeing to when you agree to pay a realtor a commission.”

        The central message around your article is showing all the splits that gets taken out of a Realtor’s commission. Nowhere do I see any mention of whether or not to use a Realtor.

        In fact, the title of this article “Realtor commissions don’t need to change” is the TITLE of your article, which seems to contradict your comment that “It *is* a capitalist economy and industries and professions change all the time due to technology and competition. “


  10. I love how the realtor’s salary is expressed after taxes and expenses but the others listed for comparison are before taxes. I also love how you say the Realtor pays HST on the realtor fees. No they don’t. As a seller who just sold a home, I can say that I paid the full 5% realtor commissions, PLUS 13% HST on those fees. The realtor doesn’t pay that. The seller does. As someone pointed out, this is incredibly sloppy reporting biased towards making realtors look better.


  11. Excellent article Romana! Finally, someone who writes a proper article about realtors instead of a sensationalized story full of untruths that make us all out to be greedy villains. Thank you!


  12. Bottom Line is, when it comes to judging whether realtor commissions are too high – it should be from the Consumer’s point of view, NOT the Realtor’s.

    As Consumers, we only really care about what comes out of our own pocket and NOT if the service provider makes enough.

    Let’s put this into perspective; In the shoes of the Consumer. Just because I have a $1,000,000 house to sell doesn’t mean I should fork out $50,000 of my hard earned AFTER TAX income for these vultures. On a 6 figure salary (following your example of the 40 hour work week grind) I would have to work 8 months to make that much. $50K would also get some nice renos done on the house so that I can sell it for even more! Or how about a nice vacation for my entire extended family (although some would say that may be as torturous as feeding the $ to these entitled vultures).

    Your #s also fail to mention that there are many TAX DEDUCTIBLE expenses – that’s why you see lots of Realtors driving fancy cars that takes in premium gas. Realtors who are doing half decent wouldn’t be paying 33% taxes. They would incorporate, pay ~15% in taxes and again write off many of the expenses. The other point about Realtors losing many cuts along the way – brokerage, board, insurance, professional fees.. these are all part of the problem. This multi layer cartel acting as an oligopoly caused this. The saddest part is that the biggest loser is still the Consumer.

    I can’t believe a reputable site like moneysense will allow such a biased and inaccurate article to be published.


    • agreed 100%


  13. Great article


  14. HST is on top of commission not included in commission; your estimate for gas etc seems rather generous; cost of staging normally passed on to vendor; agents and brokers assume virtually no responsibility-check standard OREA form; agents have little formal training-more than in the past but not much.
    In a “hot” market and in an overvalued market real estate commissions are obscene.


  15. Not sure how you are coming to these conclusions.
    A realtor does not work on a listing full time. So adjusting a commission based on a 16 day selling cycle does not make any sense.
    To pay a real estate agent a whopping $50k to sell your house in 16 days is ridiculous. The fee paid needs to be based on service received.
    A listing fee, fee for open house, advertising etc.
    There seems to be a misconception that agents find buyers, in reality the buyers find the home they want to buy and use an agent to buy it.


  16. Commissions are upside down. They are set to protect the income of the realtor. I will be happy to pay a low commission on the first $100K (2%) and 10% between $500k and $600K. Realtors don’t want that incentivized scale. Simple.


  17. Thats great, except some realtors are doing 6 houses per month. At least in vancouver they are!


  18. I don’t understand why Ms. King is using the amount a realtor earns to defend commissions. It’s not the consumer’s responsibility to protect real estate agent wages. This is especially true when the listing service could easily be replaced by an online form. What does the listing agent do besides list on realator.ca and maybe help with some forms? These services simply aren’t worth the money asked.


    • Heather,
      Good points. Any potential seller that doesn’t see the benefits of using a realtor, I strongly recommend the use of a FSBO service (there are some excellent services now in the Canadian market). However, to assume that the job of a realtor is to simply fill out an MLS form shows an ignorance of the realtor’s role and responsibility in the real estate transaction.
      While many home transactions may go off without a hitch—and, trust me, many transactions end up with more than a few hiccups before closing—that still doesn’t mean a realtor isn’t working. I personally know realtors that will actively call every potential buyer and buyer’s realtor to drum up increased interest and create more demand in a property that’s for sale. As you can imagine, this translates to a higher sale price.
      Not necessary, you say. Then settle on using FSBO and stop debating about whether or not you should pay a realtor their suggested commission rate. The truth is: You don’t have to. The marketplace offers you alternatives…take them.


  19. You’ve deducted these expenses (“Professional fees (educational courses, accountant/bookkeeper, cell phone, gas) at an estimated $12,000”) from the realtor’s salary…I don’t believe they would have been deducted already from the Stats Can figures of other professions you’ve listed. Many of us in other careers also pay cell phone fees these days and gas and courses!


  20. The funny thing is people spend time shopping around and tryiong to say $50 or $100 because they think it is so much money to pay a home inspector $400. In Ontario the insurance for a home inspector is about $3,000 a year, another $400 usd in nachi association fees, equipment, education ect. We also have cell phones, offices and other expenses. If anything is wrong later they will blame the home inspector even though they did not make the recommend alterations that they were told to; like stop draining all the water from your downspout next to your foundation wall. Yes I am a home inspector. I actually care about the clients’ best interest and have no motive as to what the clients purchasing decision is. Yet there is no problem in paying out 30 or $40000 in commissions to real estate agents, who I will add, about 1/4 really don’t give a hang about the buyer they just want us to say its all good so that they can get there commission. This is going off topic a little but you can see my point. What the general public does not see is this. List your home with a large broker in today’s market and you could have showings that week. List your home privately and you might get a few responses a month. Why, because agents boycott as much as possible any listing that is not paying out the 5% commission.
    Twenty years ago agents had cell phone bills that were higher, they had to drive more people around to look at houses as that was the norm where as today most people do there own searching and driving. They also had to pay out a large amount to newspapers to feature homes as the public had to go to offices to see feature sheets. Today there are little to no newspaper expenses because people just go on line to find a home. So expenses for a real-estate agent compared to the past are actually lower to day then they were 20 or 30 years ago.

    Lots of agents struggle and some make a lot of money. The point though is when you look at average earnings by profession in Canada from the Workopolis report and compare it to the other professions I would say real-estate agent are doing well. Most of the professions listed in the report required more time and education then does a real estate agent, just to be fair. So is comparing a real-estate agent to these professions even a fair comparison to begin with?


  21. Why would someone pay 5% commission ( Listing + Buyer rep ) nowadays, when can hire a professional REALTOR for less? I mean as less as 0% listing commission (not included 2.5% or 2.25% Buyer rep commission). I personally haven’t come across 5% in years therefore wondering if 5% should even be used as a benchmark when comparing income.


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