Why Your Realtor Probably Isn't Rich

If house prices double, then agents make twice as much. Sell a house for $500,000 and keep $15,000; sell the same house for $1 million and keep $30,000. The agents are Levi Strauss without the copper rivets.

There is just one problem with this—a principle that economists term the "zero-profit condition." In a business with free entry, new participants will keep entering until no money remains. And becoming a real-estate agent is almost free....

With all these new agents swarming onto the scene, the price they charge may remain constant, but the number of houses each sells will not. The zero-profit condition predicts that, in locales where housing prices rise, the number of agents will also rise, and acquiring new clients will become that much more difficult. The occasional star agent will always make a bundle. But the theory suggests that the average agent won't make much more in places where house prices have risen than in places where they haven't.

For a very cool economics lesson, go here.

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