I Don’t Work for Free

by CoyDavidson on June 30, 2010

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The Truth about Leasing Commissions

One of the discussions many commercial real estate agents don’t like to have with their prospective clients revolves around the subject of fees or commissions. I have often seen “tenant-rep” brokers in an attempt to secure representation agreements with tenants, that make the claim that their services are free. This is a play on words, what they should be saying is; “the Landlord makes the actual fee payment and you are not required to make a direct payment for my services”.

The Money Has to Come from Somewhere

If currency changes hands, it is not free! I believe that it is important that the scope of services to be provided by a brokerage firm and the fees associated with these services should be clearly defined with the prospective client. iStock_000020510192Small

In the office leasing arena, it is typical that the broker(s) both the Landlord’s and the Tenant’s representative are paid a fee after the lease is executed between the Landlord and the Tenant. The fact is most costs associated with the lease transaction including the leasing commissions are rolled into the final negotiated terms and paid back to the landlord in the form of rent over the term of the lease, including both the Tenant and Landlord agent’s commission. Building owners typically budget real estate commissions into their pro-forma and any commission that is not paid rarely finds it’s way back into the tenant’s pocket.

Leasing commissions are not set and are always negotiable, but generally speaking in the Houston office market, the tenant representative will request a four percent (4%) fee of the gross lease value paid by the Landlord the Tenant contracts with. Also, in most cases the Landlord’s agent will receive two percent (2%) of the gross lease value, paid also by the Landlord for leasing his property. Some cities have slightly different percentages or payment arrangements that are typical for that market, but for the most part, this is the general cost of the services provided.

I would argue that in theory, the tenant is not only paying for his broker’s services but also the Landlord’s agent’s services, which only reinforces the fact; that tenants should have professional representation. In most leasing arrangements brokers have with building owners, if the leasing agent completes a transaction directly with a tenant who does not have representation, they get a bigger fee (4%). So under this scenario, the net cost of the tenant representative is 2% of the gross lease value. A good tenant representative’s services will often save you five times this amount or more in occupancy cost over the term of your lease, if not much more.  So the next time, a commercial real estate agent tell you his services are “free” I suggest finding a new one to consider to represent your company.

“A commercial real estate professional will clearly outline not only his scope of services, but what their fee is, how they get paid and where the money comes from.”

Well… I sometimes “work for free.”

One last note, the title of this blog post is not entirely accurate. I do sometime work for free without intending to do so. There are many transactions or assignments we take on, sometime spending weeks or months of effort, that are never completed and a fee is not paid, because a transaction never takes place. However, that is a subject for another blog post someday.

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  • well said
    my friend Sam Smith just joined Colliers in Indy
    We have a tenant rep think tank group of 9 top tenant reps nationally
    perhaps you want to come to our next gathering
    Greg Schenk SIOR
    2010 NAR RCA Signature Series Speaker
    Our book Tenant Rep A to Z and CD can be purchased at our website as well

  • Coy – Very well put, and a conversation that I have often, though now I expect I will be able to articulate it better. My best!

  • Well said! And the opportunity to be up front with your client only strengthens your relationship. In those relationships, your clients wants and expects you to get paid the full amount.

  • Jpadron

    Excellent blog.

  • Timbudelman

    Very good!

  • Coy – You’ve hit the nail on the head.  Brokers who suggest they work for “free” define the value of their services at $0. When I first started in CRE, my compensation was a very difficult conversation to have with a prospective client.  Tenants that don’t acknowledge the value of your services have zero loyalty to you and tend not to make good long term clients…something you’ve alluded to in your last paragraph!

  • Nice piece Coy…well said in a small space.

  • Erica C. Odom

    Excellent article! Very well written and informative.

  • nice articles with full info

  • Brian Wilson

    When doing an evaluation of a new landlord client, there is a lot of data gathering that goes on. Do you see a practice of Brokers charging the landlord client for that data gathering information?

  • Robert Harvey

    what should tenant broker be paid on lease renewal when there is also landlord broker

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