Zillow stock sinks after realtor settlement paves way for lower commissions

Shares of Zillow (Z) sank as much as 15% Friday alongside other real estate names after the National Association of Realtors reached a legal settlement that paves the way for homebuyers and sellers to pay lower commissions.

The NAR reached a nationwide settlement of claims that the industry conspired to boost agents’ commissions, the organization said on Friday. If approved by a federal court, the settlement will likely usher changes to the way consumers buy and sell homes. The NAR said it will pay $418 million over the next four years to end litigation.

Real estate names slid on the heels of the NAR’s groundbreaking settlement, with investors expecting these rules to impact spending and competition for lead generation. Alongside Zillow’s decline, shares of Anywhere Real Estate (HOUS), Compass (COMP), and Redfin (RDFN) fell as much as 15%, 11%, and 5%, respectively.

In its 10-K filed last month, Zillow noted, “If agent commissions are meaningfully impacted, it could reduce the marketing budgets of real estate partners or reduce the number of real estate partners participating in the industry, which could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.”

As part of the settlement, the NAR said it would “put in place a new MLS rule prohibiting offers of broker compensation on the MLS,” ending rules that had effectively required sellers to compensate a buyer’s agent.

The NAR’s MLS, or Multiple Listing Service, is a database where 88% of sellers listed their homes last year. Brokers who list their clients’ properties in the database previously had to agree to share their commissions with other MLS participants, with commissions typically standing at 6%.

Beginning in July, agents will also have to enter into written agreements with homebuyers they represent.

“It has always been our goal to preserve consumer choice and protect our members to the greatest extent possible,” Nykia Wright, interim CEO, said in a statement.

A “sale pending” sign is posted in front of a home for sale on Nov. 30, 2023, in Larkspur, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)

And at least one Wall Street analyst thinks these new rules will lead to “commissions falling 25% to 50%.”

In a note to clients on Friday, Jaret Seiberg, housing policy analyst for TD Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote that in addition to this drop in commissions, this ruling “should benefit online and discount real estate brokerages. They should be able to access the Multiple Listing Service without having to meet the commission requirements that previously were in place.”

Seiberg added: “That means they can offer lower commission rates in order to attract more business. In addition, the settlement bans the inclusion of buyer agent compensation in the listing.”

In Seiberg’s view, existing homeowners — who will now pay out a smaller fee upon the sale of their home — are set to benefit most, while first-time and less-wealthy buyers may see negative impacts, as smaller commissions and no prearranged fee structure could hamper agent motivation to work with these clients.

The settlement also heightens the financial and administrative woes the NAR has been facing in recent months. Former CEO Bob Goldberg resigned last year just days after the $1.8 billion verdict against the organization over commissions. And former president Tracy Kasper resigned in January after a blackmail threat regarding a past personal matter.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @daniromerotv.

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