Unhappy with the commission your real estate agent is charging to sell your house, which has tripled in value since you bought it 10 years ago?
That traditional 6 percent bite might have seemed small when your house was worth, say, $250,000. But now that it lists for $750,000, your house sale would yield a $45,000 commission. That's a tidy sum for the many houses selling quickly in this hot market.
Some agents in the Washington region say they feel your pain.
Mary Conover, an associate broker of Re/Max Renaissance in Leesburg, recently began advertising reduced commissions for clients who want to do some of the legwork. Her options include paying $1,000 for a "marketing plan," then buying additional services, if needed, at $150 an hour. Under this plan, the homeowner finds the buyer.
Conover, who has been selling property in Northern Virginia since 1989, is part of a growing movement in the real estate industry in which agents are offering their services a la carte.
Willing to host your own open house? You'll pay less than you would for an agent's full menu of services. Willing to buy your own newspaper ads? You'll pay even less.
"I'm seeing quite a few agents in my office doing that, and it seems to be working fine for them," said Rick Cockrill, principal broker of Re/Max's Leesburg office.
This fee-for-service approach was spurred by a downward pressure on percentage-of-sale commissions, driven by soaring home prices in many areas and by a flood of new agents getting their real estate licenses, according to industry professionals.
"As the home prices are going up, agents are getting a pay raise because the commission is based on the total sales price," Cockrill said. "And a lot of people are saying: 'You don't deserve that. The commission ought to be lower.' "
Home sellers typically pay the sales commissions, and real estate agents generally split them between the agent for the seller and the agent for the buyer. If the homeowner chooses the a la carte route, the agent who brings the buyer usually is guaranteed a commission -- typically, 3 percent.
Over the past two years, the Dulles Area Real Estate Association says, its membership has grown about 36 percent, from fewer than 800 agents to more than 1,250 agents. With more agents, there is more competition and, in some cases, an eagerness to cut commissions.
"New agents are hungry to get a deal, so they will mark down their prices to get something going and to gain the experience," Cockrill said.
Independent agents who advertise cut-rate prices in newspaper real estate sections also have driven commissions down, people in the industry say. One recent ad, offering commissions that range from 3.9 percent to 4.5 percent, was headed: "Selling Your Home? Don't Throw Thousands Out the Window!"
Some traditional full-service agents, such as Gwen Pangle of Long & Foster's Leesburg office, say the industry has a place for agents who unbundle their services.
"This is pretty new, but there has always been an undertone about this," she said. "You know, agents didn't really come out and say it. They just sort of alluded to the fact that there is a possibility that for 1 percent you could get this, for 2 percent you could get that. What we are seeing now is more people standing up and saying: Okay, we're coming out with it."
Pangle, who is president of the Dulles Area Association of Realtors, said she charges 6 percent, perhaps a bit less for repeat customers. And she has no plans to back away from what she calls her all-inclusive "Happy Meal" approach.
"A lot of companies like a Long & Foster, who I work for, don't have any interest in being sort of the Kmart of real estate," she said. "We tend to think of ourselves as more the full-service Lord & Taylor-style real estate."
Re/Max agent Conover warns that some home sellers might not be comfortable with a la carte service.
"Sometimes people don't have a clue with regards to real estate, and they will need me to handle 100 percent of everything, which I will do," she said. "However, there are people who want to be more involved and who are concerned about the money they are spending on commissions. They want to keep as much in their pockets as they can. When that's the case, I have a list of different services that I offer at different prices."
For a $1,000 retainer fee plus 3 percent commission, for example, Conover will list a property on two national real estate Web sites as well as in the multiple listing service database. She also promises to supply a "For Sale" sign and to "schedule all inspections, and coordinate with you regarding the necessary paperwork, taking the transaction to settlement," according to her commission schedule.
Conover has 4 percent and 5 percent deals, as well as a traditional, full-service, 6 percent package that includes hosting open houses and placing regionwide ads.
The movement toward fee-for-service has spawned a trade group, the National Association of Real Estate Consultants. For agents who undergo specialized training, the group offers a certification known as C-CREC, for Consumer-Certified Real Estate Consultant.
"We've grown from about 800 members last year to 1,300 today," said Susan E. Burr, the association's executive vice president. Burr said she doesn't know how many members sell real estate in the Washington region. "But we just had a course in Dulles, Va., in June, and we had 25 people who took the course and became new members," she said.
In Leesburg, Re/Max broker Cockrill said he's watching this trend with interest. "There's no doubt that fee-for- service is becoming more and more popular," he said. "But I think the old saying is still true: You get what you pay for."