Real estate agents look at home listings online
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Commission-sharing sites are cropping up — will they last? 

MLSs will no longer display offers of compensation, but some online startups say they have workarounds that comply with new rules. The DOJ may disagree.

June 3, 2024
5 minutes

Key points:

  • The founders of Nesthook and ListingSplit, which allow users to publish offers of compensation, said they want to ease agents' workload.
  • Both entrepreneurs noted that the rule changes apply only to NAR and its “subsidiaries, predecessors, and successors.”
  • Such sites could come under scrutiny from the DOJ, however, and may be "running a risk of further antitrust claims."

As MLSs work to scrub compensation fields from their platforms, some entrepreneurs are seeking to fill that gap. 

Two recently launched sites, ListingSplit and Nesthook, accomplish similar goals through different methods, but one thing they both do is provide a way to publish offers of buyer agent compensation online.

The rule changes coming out of the NAR settlement prohibit both MLSs and home search sites that use MLS data from publishing offers of compensation — and indeed, the CEOs of and CoStar have said they will not display offers of compensation on their sites.

But the founders of these two upstarts told Real Estate News that their models are fully compliant with the new rules — though further action from the Department of Justice could change the equation. 

A shortcut for busy agents?

ListingSplit founder Steve Hattan said one of the biggest issues with the new rule changes will be the extra workload for agents who may end up making or fielding many more calls related to compensation.

"My goal was to solve a problem and eliminate all of those phone calls. As a buyer's agent, I don't want to make 50 phone calls to go show properties and find out that the seller's not interested," Hattan explained. "Do you want 50 agents calling you asking what the commission is? Or just go look up the commission, and everything falls into place."

Once his site is fully launched in June, sellers can enter their addresses and how much they're willing to offer the buyer agent. That amount could be a percentage, a flat fee or nothing, Hattan noted. The "listing" will also include a link to view more details and photos of the home on Zillow; otherwise, buyers and agents can search the address to find more info elsewhere.

Hattan said that having this info come straight from the seller — not the listing agent — doesn't break the new NAR rules. Eventually, Hattan said there will be a small fee for sellers to add their information, but it will be free to create a listing at launch. He has also created a browser extension that will show compensation information when viewing properties on other home search sites.

Nesthook is another upstart that displays offers of compensation, but unlike ListingSplit, only licensed real estate professionals can create accounts and see property details, founder Ryan Kelley told Real Estate News. There's an annual or monthly rate to join the site, and while agents can view offers of compensation, they can't search listings by compensation amounts — something users can do on ListingSplit. 

Potential issues and legal challenges 

Both Hattan and Kelley — who are real estate sales professionals themselves — said they consulted with lawyers before launching their sites and claim they are fully compliant with the NAR settlement. Hattan and Kelley also both pointed to section H of the settlement agreement that covers rule changes, highlighting language that indicates the settlement applies to NAR and its "subsidiaries, predecessors, and successors." 

"Members are not subsidiaries of the National Association Realtors — they're just members,"  Kelley said. "Nesthook doesn't have to comply with the settlement agreement — Nesthook provides the platform for agents to communicate buyer's agent commission and be in compliance."

Hattan had a similar interpretation of the settlement, suggesting that section H doesn't say "a listing agent can't create, support or facilitate a third-party aggregator," but instead, the settlement forbids NAR and affiliated MLSs from doing so. Regardless, Hattan is "going to push the envelope" as far as he can. "I'm hoping that I get sued by NAR," he said.

Both entrepreneurs concede there could be challenges to their sites and models, should the Department of Justice prohibit agents from sharing offers of compensation entirely.  

"This is a settlement between two parties, and a settlement can't say this includes every other single person out there and every company that can ever be made," Kelley said. "But if the DOJ steps in and does get some sort of legislation, that changes everything."

Do commission-sharing sites benefit consumers?

Just because you can create a platform for sharing compensation details doesn't mean you should, noted Jack Miller, CEO of T3 Sixty. (Note: T3 Sixty and Real Estate News share a founder, Stefan Swanepoel.)

"People who are trying to work around the intention of the NAR settlement and the DOJ are really running a risk of further antitrust claims," Miller said. "And I would say it's unnecessary. What a seller and listing agent can do is they can say concessions are available to the buyer."

This early wave of sites providing compensation details don't provide any real value to consumers, Miller suggested.

"There's absolutely nothing creative about this," he said. "This is the industry and industry participants attempting to work around the settlement rules — and that is not a new business model that improves services for the consumer, that does not reduce costs, that doesn't make the transaction more efficient, and it doesn't create greater transparency and harmony."

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