How much are you worth to your brokerage, as an agent? As a broker, how much are your agents worth to you?
Beyond the very important, but less quantifiable aspects of this calculation—culture, branding and networking—there are the hard numbers behind compensation. How much money goes back into your pocket (as an agent), and how much production an agent brings to your team (as a broker or leader) will often be the primary factor deciding the success of an agent-broker partnership.
In RISMedia’s 2022 Contract and Commission Study, one important discovery was that agents and brokers are simply not discussing this vital aspect of their relationship. While commission splits were identified as the most important factor in an agent’s career, a vast majority of agents (72%) say they have only negotiated it one or two times ever, and a staggering 38% have never negotiated at all.
The first question, of course, is why aren’t agents negotiating when doing so can potentially advance such a vital and tangible part of their careers? But beyond that, what other pain points can be traced back to a dearth of contract negotiations? What can brokers do proactively to make sure agents don’t duck out as soon as they are offered a (potentially) more lucrative contract?
Lila McCann is an agent with MW Real Estate, a smaller, boutique brokerage in Nashville, Tennessee. She says she initially left MW in 2020, unhappy with her bottom line as she sought to support a growing family.
“COVID hit, and I was still a new agent, and my volume wasn’t incredibly high. And so that commission split was hurting my income just because things were slower,” she says. “Rather than…having the conversation of, ‘Hey, can we work together on this so it’s more beneficial for me as an agent,’ I didn’t. I moved.”
Less than a year later, however, McCann’s former broker reached back out to ask if she wanted to come back—a call she was happy to take, having loved the culture of MW during her time there. That was when they finally had the conversation about what the company could do to ensure she was happy and successful.
“At that point, I was like, well, If I come back, I need to negotiate,” she said. “I think the biggest takeaway is you’re never going to get anything different than what you’re offered unless you ask for it.”
Who wants it
McCann does not say explicitly whether the terms of her contract at MW were different when she returned, only that there was a “little bit of leeway” in the negotiation. She now has a new title—director of agent development—and is thriving, she says.
“For me it came from a totally different place, it wasn’t really so much about negotiating my money,” McCann explains. “I knew based on my volume, the numbers worked regardless—but also, just advocating for myself. And I think that’s something agents are afraid to do.”
In that case, either McCann or her broker at MW could likely have saved both parties some time, stress and potentially money by starting that conversation sooner. Even when the numbers don’t work out, it can’t hurt to ask, McCann argues.
For Angelo Acierno, a high-volume agent for Keller Williams in rural eastern New York, the numbers are always a big factor. Deliberately grinding until he was a top agent with a maxed-out 90/10 split, Acierno says he eventually started looking for a new team where he could grow even more.
“ bumped me down to 80/20,” he says. “And I tried to fight for 85 or 90 and they didn’t give it to me.”
Acierno says he still ended up joining the team, but now, a few years later, he is on the move again—jetting off to Miami, Florida, to potentially start his own team, where he has already negotiated a higher starting split and is hoping (and expecting) that his all-in attitude and work ethic will be more appreciated and better positioned to produce.
“You could put me anywhere,” Acierno says. “You could put me in a box, and I’ll try to cut a hole in it and say, ‘Hey do you wanna see what’s inside the box for 25 cents?’ Not everybody thinks like that.”
In the end, this seems to have worked out for Acierno, who says he is excited to move down south where he has been promised more leads and will be able to explore investment opportunities. At the same time, though, his previous teams lost a driven and productive agent, and he says there were no real attempts by anyone to reach out to him about compensation or really anything else.
Brooke Sines, a team leader for RE/MAX in Grand Rapids, Michigan says that there are ways for brokers or team leads to start a dialogue. Transparency, communication and incentives can frame conversations around compensation, she argues, which can keep agents happy and help brokers hold on to their bigger producers.
“Once you actually advise and show them the numbers that you’re spending on a monthly basis, all of the sudden their eyes are wide open,” Sines says. “So I can say, if you’re on my team, before you even make one home sale I’m spending $7,000 a month on you alone as an agent. And to me, that changes perspectives.”
Focusing on just the top-line number in a contract can often mislead agents, Sines claims. They may be lured by a higher split and jump ship to another brokerage, only to find out they are spending a significant portion of their income (or time) on new fees, lead generation, transaction coordination, tech or other services.
“Some agents are just fixated on that split,” she says.
Rudy Kusuma, CEO and owner of Your Home Sold Guaranteed Real Estate in the Los Angeles, California region, offers an unusual split for essentially all agents in his company: 50/50, straight up.
But he has successfully recruited agents who were either working for or were offered much higher splits—almost entirely due to how his company brings transactions to agents, he claims, investing heavily in “reverse prospecting” rather than chasing leads and setting up high-conversion face-to-face client appointments. Ostensibly, this means agents are able to close far more transactions than they would at other brokerages, and will make more money despite the lower split.
“This is like real, legitimate, five-million-dollar deals,” Kusuma describes. “As far as company-generated deals go, either you take it or you just don’t take it, because we have to cover all of our hard costs.”
Kristi Ramirez-Knowles joined Your Home Sold Guaranteed despite having previously worked for a much higher split. One brokerage offered 100% commission but charged “exorbitant” fees, she explains, while another simply didn’t match her philosophy, offering limited support (even with a 90/10 split).
“It still wasn’t generating the business I wanted,” she says.
In this case, it wasn’t a higher split that moved Ramirez-Knowles, but instead, Kusuma’s commitment to supporting her personally as well as through all of Your Home Sold Guaranteed’s other services, which have significantly raised her bottom line (her GCI is approaching $350,000 already this year, she says).
Before joining Your Home Sold Guaranteed, Ramirez-Knowles says she did have a frank conversation with her previous broker, who she thought was probably expecting the news that she was leaving.
“We’re still good friends,” she says. “But he knew that I wanted to grow my business at a different speed in a different way. And yeah, GCI is important.”
So why do agents not talk about compensation or splits (or wait until they’re already on the way out), and why don’t brokers start conversations if they really want to retain agents?
As far as how brokers approach the issue, Acierno offers a frank assessment.
“If you’re making them money, then they want to keep you so they’ll give you a little bit ,” he says.
Sines provides a broadly different perspective, saying that in real estate it is the agent that holds the negotiating power from day one, and brokerages and companies are responsible for making an attractive offer.
“We’ve had a lot of agents in the past five years come into the industry,” she notes. “I think they come into this industry thinking that they’re being interviewed by the brokerage, to be hired. And in reality, it’s the opposite. They are actually interviewing that brokerage on whether or not they want to give them the money and be a part of their culture and their brokerage.”
Sines says she sends out a quarterly survey where members of her team can talk about what they’re happy with or not happy with, including broad questions on work-life balance as well as expenses and training. Happy hours and monthly one-on-ones are also opportunities to find out proactively how an agent is feeling about the team and the brokerage.
From the agent’s side, McCann says it isn’t always easy to broach the subject, but that an awareness of both the personal aspects of your relationship and a grasp of the numbers can help you advocate for yourself in a way that is most likely to be productive.
“I think that’s something that agents are afraid to do,” she said. “It’s a matter of just going for it—if you’re expecting a no, then it’s fine. If you can get something else out of it that benefits you as an agent or benefits your finances, it’s worth it.”
Donna Yu, a relatively new agent at Your Home Sold Guaranteed, started with a larger brokerage which she chose at least partly because of the good split. Unhappy with training and a lack of leads, she went to her broker and asked for more support. Yu says she got a mostly dismissive response, told that she shouldn’t expect more than one or two transactions a month.
At around the same time, though, Yu had reached out to Kusuma on social media, and she says his much more upbeat, encouraging response affirming her goals helped convince her to jump to his company.
“I’m very aggressive, if you give me something I’m going to take care of it in like one week. is just not giving me anything,” she explains. is just very up front, like, the sharing here is 50/50, we’re going to give you leads, we’re going to connect you with real buyers.”
Around 15 years ago, Kusuma says he had a group of agents come to him and try to negotiate a different split while still receiving the same support. He said no, and those agents ended up leaving the company, after which (Kusuma claims) they never achieved the same production.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. Though he remains adamant that the 50/50 split is fair when factoring in all the services he provides, Kusuma says he offers “entrepreneurial” agents the chance to spin off their own teams and keep a bigger split, though with a totally different model and no lead generation. That kind of flexibility is something that hopefully can preserve the relationship between him as a company owner and agents who have different mentalities or priorities.
“If wants to generate her own deals, we have a different model,” he says.
One of those flexible models includes incentives, where agents get to keep more commission based on the amount of money they make in a time period—similar to a cap, but with multiple tiers. Sines says she offers something similar, adding that baking in a structure that rewards higher-performing agents is a great way to let people push themselves and guide their own goals while remaining within a company or team. It also prevents resentment within the team or brokerage, for scenarios where different agents are receiving different splits.
“I think it’s all about setting expectations,” she says. “Making it fair across the board…expectations are set from day one.”
While the hard numbers clearly remain a singular, primary factor for many or even most agents, McCann argues that it is impossible to fully separate other, less quantifiable needs when looking at what motivates them to ask or look for something more. Seeing money not as a separate item but as integrated with everything you need or deserve is the best way to approach the decision to negotiate (or leave), she says, and even when splits are the primary item, agents need to consider every aspect of what their broker can do—or is doing—for them.
“I think it’s so dependent on what you need as a human and as an agent, and where the brokerage adds value. And those are all things you have to take into consideration,” McCann says.
The full RISMedia Contract and Commission Study, available only to RISMedia Premier members, can be accessed here.