Canada

Canadian Real Estate Agents and Brokers See Record Revenues And Record Profits

Canada’s booming real estate market is making it rain for the industry. Statistics Canada (Stat Can) data shows agents and brokers collected record revenue in 2020. Despite a slow second quarter, elevated demand in the second half more than made up for the hiccup. Strong demand (and price growth) helped to drive the largest profit margins ever. The national statistics agency expects the following year’s numbers will be even larger.

Canadian Real Estate Agents and Brokers See Highest Revenue Growth Since 2016

Canadian real estate agents and brokers pulled in record operating revenues. Revenues topped $17.3 billion in 2020, up 11.4% from the previous year. Even with the drop-off in sales for the second quarter, revenues saw the fastest growth since 2016. The remainder of the year more than made up for the brief slowdown.

Canadian Real Estate Brokerage Revenues

The annual revenue of real estate agents and brokers in Canadian dollars.

Source: Statistics Canada; Better Dwelling.

In Canada, it’s common for real estate agents and brokers to be compensated as a percentage of price. Surging prices and volumes predictably lead to higher compensation. Starting in 2020, both sales and prices began to take off, which is why the rise in revenue should be no surprise.

Nonetheless, the revenues are huge. Operating revenues are bigger than the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation segment of GDP. Even pre-2020, before arts and recreation slowed. This isn’t all real estate either, but just the revenue agents and brokers collected.

Operating Profits Reached A Record 32.5% In 2020

Operating profits have never been higher for real estate agents and brokers. The average profit margin jumped to 32.5% in 2020, up from 30.2% the previous year. Out of the $17.3 billion in gross revenue pulled in, $5.6 billion turned into operating profits. The industry has never seen such large margins, but once again this is somewhat expected.

Canadian Real Estate Sales Profit Margin

The profit margin for Canadian real estate agents and brokers, as a percent.

Source: Statistics Canada; Better Dwelling.

High demand, low inventory, and a central bank helicopter-ing debt were a big help. If buyers are circling the MLS for any new listings to bid on, it’s a lot cheaper to market properties. This isn’t always the case, but it most likely was the case in 2021 as well. 

Compensation Grew At The Fastest Rate Since 2017

Real estate brokers and agent compensation, separate from profits, also hit a record. Agents, brokers, and admin were paid $1.77 billion in 2020, up 7.14% from the previous year. It was the largest jump since 2017, but not quite keeping up with the industry’s growth. To say Canada has a lot of real estate agents downplays it.

The compensation works out to just $12,142 per agent. Sales are also concentrated in a small share of top performers, leaving a lot earning close to nothing. Big numbers, but not considering how much of Canada’s economy is dependent on home sales.

The recent scorching hot market didn’t really take off until the year after. “It is expected that the real estate agents and brokers industry will reach new heights in 2021,” wrote the agency. Higher prices and increased dollar volumes are their reasoning for seeing records shattered in the next update.

Profitable and high-growth industries that persistently outperform lead to large misallocations of capital. This can be seen in a few areas, like the strong reliance on real estate prices as a share of Canada’s economy. Non-financial misallocation also occurs, such as a concentration of real estate sales people per capita. This makes it even more difficult for an efficient market to occur. However, the longer it persists, the stronger the misallocation becomes — making things worse.

13 Comments

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  • Whiskey Foxtrot 4 months ago

    There’s a certain cartel-ization of the industry when compensation is generally expected from the board. Other countries like the UK have begun to see flat-rate sales take off with salaried salespeople instead of all-commission.

    Real estate agents basically got a 30% increase in pay just selling the same volume.

  • Omar 4 months ago

    Operating revenues that scale with falling interest rates and will fall with rising interest rates. Well I’ll be damned. Sounds like the fun is just getting started.

  • GTA Landlord 4 months ago

    By industry estimates the revenue is forecast to drop by 10% in 2022 based on their sales volumes and average price increase, but agent-training programs are churning out a 10% increase in the number of Realtors. 🍿

  • Dennis_K 4 months ago

    I did some math awhile ago based on March 2021 sales numbers, to see how well the ‘sales industry’ was doing. Based on an estimated number of real estate agents in Canada of 130,000, the number of March 2021 residential sales reported by CREA of 67,000 at an average price of $716,828, I get an average per sale compensation of $12,900 to $18,500 for commission rates of 3.5% to 5%. That’s just for one month; multiply by 12 months for the year, and you get quite a handsome 6-figure income — but what level of value & accountability comes with this?

    I’ve written about this before, but there is room (at least in Ontario, based on my experience) for the operating model of the real estate sales industry be (forcibly) changed. To this extent, we can enhance consumer protection regarding residential real estate, by changing the compensation structure for the real estate sales chain — the current split-commission system only serves to foment paranoia / euphoria in the minds of buyers, all to interest of agents, with no consequence. In my view, minimum policy changes should include:

    a) ensuring that buyers / sellers / landlords / tenants each pay each of their own agents / representatives directly for the value of services performed, on a fee-for-service basis; and

    b) forbidding any commission-based remuneration as a primary basis of payment. The current split-commission based compensation structure only incentives both agents / brokerages to push the price up as high as possible, with the fastest turnover rate, in order to make the best profits. I haven’t seen justification as to why agent / brokerage compensation should be proportionate to the selling price – where is the value & accountability?

    If one really wants to test who is principally responsible for instigating bidding wars, how about simply taking agents / brokerages out of the entire negotiation loop? After all, you don’t actually need them to buy or sell real estate – you can easily do it yourself in conjunction with a competent real estate lawyer (who you pay directly for their services, and therefore are obligated to work in your interest, and can be held to account for it). What buyer, who needs a home, actually wants to pay more than the asking price – none! But it IS in the interest of both buying and selling agents to see this happen.

    The current split-commission based compensation structure only incentivizes both agents / brokerages to push the price up as high as possible, with the fastest turnover rate, in order to make the largest profits. Having read the (Ontario) OREA Buyers and Sellers Agreements, I’m seeing little (if any) value provided for the fees charged, nor any accountability / liability for the services performed or the consequences of not fulfilling said services, and I have never seen how the services provided are justified as being proportionate to the selling price.

    We know that the ‘real estate profession’ has issues; see the on-line Globe and Mail article of May 4, 2021 entitled ‘How is this legal?: Real estate sales tactics under fire as Canadian home prices spiral out of control’, and the on-line Global News article of March 2, 2020 entitled ‘How do we follow the money? Canadian real estate gets ‘abysmal’ anti-money laundering grades’.

    Notwithstanding money laundering, accountability by real estate services can only be achieved when the buyer’s and seller’s agent are paid directly by each of their clients, for the value of services provided (in accordance with specified performance standards) on a fee-for-service basis. Otherwise, the realtor and brokerage shenanigans will continue — as evidenced by all the stories on the ‘net — because the current rules and laws are simply not working in the consumer’s interest; they’re working in the interests of the profession.

    • Patiently Waiting 4 months ago

      You make valid points here. I was able to list my own home on MLS using a mere listing. I “had to” offer 2.5% commission plus HST to the Buyers agent if I didn’t want to be boycotted by the industry. Even so, it took me 2 months to sell my own home using the same tools, why? When the deal closed, I paid the RE Agent $35,877 in fees and paid my lawyer, who went to school for what – 5 years – approximately $2500 for the paperwork. Realtors do not add any value for what they do. If anything, they are the ones manipulating the markets with the help of the government. In today’s day and age and with the use of the Internet, paying a REA 5%-6% of your investment or life savings is criminal. No, you do not need a REA to sell your home! Agreed!

      What I’d like to know is why is this still going on and what will it take to change it? Two telecom companies can’t come together without being subject to a monopoly review by the CRTC. Why do we not have a similar agency to regulate this industry? Probably because our government needs the HST generated by the sale of sale of real estate to continue the ruse that our economy is growing. Shameful!

      • Dennis_K 4 months ago

        Hi PW – actually, in Ontario, there is a ‘real estate regulator’ by the name of RECO – the Real Estate Council of Ontario. They are supposed to enforce the rules under the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act (REBBA), which is now changing to the Trust in Real Estate Services Act (TRESA). I wrote to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services advising them of necessary changes to how the real estate industry is regulated, and to their credit, I did hear back from the Minister’s office. But they just wrote back saying ‘thanks, but we got it handled’, indicating that they were protecting consumers very well with the proposed changes under TRESA. However none of the revisions actually changed the ‘modis operandi’ of the industry — the incentive structure is still the same, hence the shenanigans will continue. Funny thing is that most of the changes were promoted by OREA (the Ontario Real Estate Association) – the organization which represents (and profits from) agents and brokerages. So which changes do you think they DIDN’T want to see happen? And I wrote to RECO as well, asking about enforcement of the new ‘Code of Ethics’ under TRESA, and they wrote back saying ‘We don’t know; we’ll just enforce whatever the law says’, without stating how they’ll do it. They just washed their hands of any sense of social obligation, pushing me back to the Ministry.

        I empathize with your realtor experience; I’ve been disappointed more than once in both buying and renting housing. It’s just that most people don’t realize that you actually don’t need a realtor to buy or sell real estate – there are quite a few ‘do it yourself’ services that are quite good, and help you take control of the process.

        Unless you and I and many, many others start screaming at the appropriate provincial agencies and elected leadership on the need for changes, and which ones would be beneficial, it won’t happen. I can’t speak to government’s interests, but I can say that there are many special interests with deep pockets are well vested in keeping things just they way they are (if not worse for the end consumer). It’s too bad that no elected leader sees this issue as a prime opportunity to become a Canadian Icon (not just hero), by doing right for the working majority. Could you imagine being credited for safeguarding housing affordability for ~40 million Canadians, for the next several decades into the future (particularly when the OECD says our economic outlook is nearly dead last of all the countries they look at for the next 40 years)? Hmmm ….. maybe I should run for office.

        • Patiently Waiting 4 months ago

          Hi Dennis. Thanks for taking the time to response and provide this extra information. I recently watched “Boom and Bust” with the guess being Tim Hudak (former PC Leader) who is now the CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association. You would think by listening to him speak, they ( the governments, OREA, TREB, etc.) are doing everything they can to promote housing affordability. They’re working with local, provincial and federal governments to find solutions. The truth might be – for this to have taken off over 2 decades ago and only gotten worse, just lip service. Yes, we do need to push back and start writing to our PM’s, MPP and RECO etc.. Make suggestions until they hear the same thing enough times to know it’s what people want.
          I was born and raised in Toronto. My parents were immigrants. I have two kids in their early 20’s. My fear is they may never experience the joy of homeownership if this issue isn’t resolved. I have nieces and nephews in their 30’s and 40’s in same boat. Homes need to be deemed as shelter, not an investment. Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to purchase single family homes. Trudeau needs to be made accountable for his election promises and ban foreign ownership. Not just for a 2 year period but until this “lack of supply” is remedied. Also, if all REA’s work for the Seller, how can a Buyer stand a chance at paying a fair price for a home? Split this service and watch the commission rates get a lot more reasonable really quickly! Where’s my popcorn maker?!

  • Scott 4 months ago

    It all makes sense now. One in 60 people in the GTA are real estate agents. By using QE, the Liberals just bought a whole lot of votes for an economic policy that will break the country apart.

  • Joseph Talbot 4 months ago

    There is some reality to this article but it is not fully reflective of the actual industry. The 80/20 rule definitely applies here. It only stands to reason that if there is an extreme lack of inventory ( which there definitely is) for sale and the prices are really high, ( forcing out first-time buyers and lower income buyers) then there would be fewer sales to divide up amongst Realtors. I think if you were to do a survey of all current Realtors in Canada you would find a lot have second income streams out of necessity. Articles like this are informative if the reader actually reads the full article and not just the headline. I think it would make good sense to write another article that covers the other 80 percent of the reality.

    • Jamie Price 4 months ago

      Article reiterates the official statistics.

      ThErE iS sOmE rEaLiTy.

      Tell me you’re a real estate agent without telling me you’re a real estate agent.

      • Joseph Talbot 4 months ago

        It would be challenging at best to break down the stats. We can not take to the full number and divide it by the number of Realtors to get an average income. The article refers to the financials of the real estate business as a whole. I think they would find that the majority of Realtors make far less than what is perceived by the general public. Most folks think that Realtors are ALL just rolling in the money. While some are, there are others that have lost a huge amount of their income because of lack of inventory and for those who worked with mostly first-time buyers and lower-income families. Do not get me wrong this is a good article.

        • Dennis_K 4 months ago

          Mr. Talbot,

          While I agree that there may be some separation of agents into ‘higher performing’ and ‘lower performing’ segments, this reflects an INTERNAL problem with the industry, which has existed for several decades given how long the split-commission structure has been in place. And if it’s such a problem, why has the number of registered agents been increasing over the past two decades in proportion to selling prices? Why are new people getting into this field if the chances of them making a decent living are only 1 in 5, as you imply?

          Your own observations lend credence to the need for change in the compensatory structure of the industry – if there’s so many agents / brokerages ‘struggling’ as you suggest, then would it not be better for agents to charge for their services on an hourly basis, reflecting the amount of work done providing value towards their clients’ interests, along with a commensurate degree of accountability (i.e. liability and culpability)? This of course would mean that each client would pay each of their own agents directly, for the value of services provided, which in turn must be demonstrably justified for each hour worked. In this manner, agents/brokers are paid for each hour they work; they no longer depend on a sale in order to ‘eat’.

          I’m also puzzled at your assertion of ‘extreme lack of inventory’, and its relation to the record revenues and profits reported in the article. It is the total sales volume that lends to revenues and profits (as the article has clearly shown), not the amount of inventory relative to demand (the latter of which has been highly influenced by the presence of non-essential buyers in the marketplace anyway).

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