Realty rules effectively force home sellers to pay commission to a buyer’s agent

In a lucrative housing market, the cost of real estate commissions is rising — but a Canadian lawsuit suggests that price-fixing on commissions is also driving up costs. (Reuters)

Much of the discussion about Canada’s real estate market has been dominated by the meteoric rise in the cost of housing. 

But what’s often missing from that conversation is the parallel increase in what Canadians pay in real estate commissions nearly every time a home is bought or sold. 

For example, a brokerage representing a buyer in 2005 in the Greater Toronto Area would have earned a commission of about $8,795 on the average single-family home — while in December 2021, the buyer’s brokerage would earn about $36,230, or four times more on that same home, according to Dr. Panle Jia Barwick, a leading economist on the real estate industries commission structure. 

To put that jump in perspective, the median household income increased by just 14 per cent between 2005 and 2019, after adjusting for inflation. 

That discrepancy is just one of the points laid out in a recent lawsuit, alleging price-fixing and anticompetitive behaviour in Canada’s real estate market.

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