Real Estate

The Homeowners Who Beat the National Association of Realtors

When Rhonda Burnett went to sell a home in 2016, she knew she would have to pay acommission to her real estate agent.

The house was a second home — she and her husband, Scott Burnett, had purchased the three-bedroom house in Kansas City’s Hyde Park neighborhood as a place for their oldest son to live after he was accepted to law school in Kansas City in 2008.

Her real estate agent presented her with a form that detailed how much commission they would pay, with choices in four boxes: 6 percent, 7 percent, 8 percent or 9 percent.

Ms. Burnett was instructed to select one, and she picked 6 percent.

The rest of the form, which stipulated that the commission would be evenly split among the buyer and seller agents, was already filled out; Ms. Burnett asked if she could lower the commission paid to the buyer’s agent, but her agent told her doing so would discourage agents from showing her home. “I shop sales,” Ms. Burnett, 70, said with a laugh. She spent three decades as a stay-at-home mother while her husband, Scott Burnett, 72, worked for a waste management company and spent 20 years working as a local legislator. “I’m always looking for a break. But when I asked her if I could negotiate, she said, ‘No, you really can’t.’”

Three years later in 2019, Ms. Burnett became the lead plaintiff in a landmark legal case about home sale commissions against the National Association of Realtors that led to a settlement earlier this month that real estate experts say will rewrite the housing industry in the United States.

The settlement followed a federal jury verdict in October in favor of the Burnetts and four other plaintiffs, on behalf of 500,000 Missouri home sellers, that ordered N.A.R. to pay $1.8 billion in damages. Under the agreement, sellers’ agents will no longer be able to make offers of commission to buyers’ agents on most of the databases where homes are listed for sale, a shift that will, experts say, lower commissions across the board. For decades, most agents in the United States have charged an industry standard of between 5 and 6 percent, which is higher than in nearly any other developed country.

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