What is a Referral Fee? A Complete Guide


Referrals play a big role in today’s business world, and real estate is no exception. Even though the real estate industry has grown a lot recently, it doesn’t mean it’s super easy for real estate agents to find clients and keep their income flowing.

In reality, finding clients to buy or sell homes can be tricky. It’s not like they just show up at your office. Many times, clients come from other agents, individuals, or even past clients. Sometimes, websites connect you with potential clients. When a deal is closed, it’s common to pay a legal fee, often called a referral fee, to the person or source that brought in the client.

This guide breaks down what referral fees are, why they happen in real estate, and how the agreements work. We will also tackle some common questions about real estate referral fees and give you a chance to ask your own.

What is a Referral Fee?

Referral Fee

A referral fee is a payment made to an individual or entity that directs a potential client or customer to a business, resulting in a successful transaction. In the context of real estate, when a licensed real estate agent or source refers a buyer or seller to another agent and the property is successfully bought or sold, a referral fee is typically paid to the referring party as compensation for connecting the client.

This real estate referral fee is a way to acknowledge and reward those who contribute to bringing in new business or customers. The specific amount or percentage of the referral fee is often agreed upon in advance through a referral fee agreement.

Common Reasons Why Real Estate Referrals Occur

Real estate referrals are rooted in a complex web of professional relationships, expertise, and ethical considerations. Real estate referrals happen for various reasons, and some common ones include:

1. Expertise Exchange:

Real estate agents often recognize the value of specialization. When an agent encounters a client seeking specialized knowledge or a unique property type that falls outside their expertise, they may choose to refer the client to a colleague with a deeper understanding of that specific niche. This reflects a commitment to ensuring clients receive the most informed and tailored guidance.

2. Geographical Expertise:

The geographic landscape plays a pivotal role in real estate transactions. A real estate agent may refer clients to colleagues who possess an intimate understanding of particular neighborhoods, cities, or regions. This not only serves the client’s need for localized expertise but also fosters a collaborative environment where agents leverage each other’s geographical knowledge for the benefit of the client.

3. Client-Centric Approach:

Real estate referrals often stem from a client-centric approach. Referral agents, driven by a commitment to providing the best service possible, may refer clients to other professionals whom they believe can more effectively meet the unique needs and preferences of those clients. This approach prioritizes the client’s satisfaction over individual interests.

4. Industry Connections:

Beyond individual expertise, real estate professionals cultivate extensive networks within related industries. Referrals may occur when contacts, such as mortgage brokers or home inspectors, recommend an agent to their clients. This interconnected web of professionals highlights the collaborative nature of the real estate ecosystem.

5. Overwhelming Workload:

The ebb and flow of the real estate market can lead to periods of overwhelming demand for agents’ services. In times of high workload, agents may refer clients to trusted colleagues to ensure that each client receives the attention and quality service they deserve. This reflects a commitment to maintaining service standards even during peak operational periods.

6. Specific Property-Type:

Agents specializing in particular property types, such as commercial real estate or luxury homes, may refer clients seeking these specialized properties to colleagues with a demonstrated track record in those segments. This strategy ensures that clients receive guidance from professionals with a specialized understanding of their unique requirements.

7. Retirement or Relocation:

Real estate professionals experience transitions in their careers, such as retirement, relocation, or sabbaticals. In such instances, agents may refer their clients to ensure a seamless transition and continued quality service. This not only safeguards the interests of clients but also reflects a sense of responsibility among professionals within the industry.

8. Ethical Considerations:

Real estate agents adhere to a stringent code of ethics. Referrals may occur when an agent faces a conflict of interest or encounters a situation where compliance with ethical standards requires involving another professional. This commitment to ethical conduct contributes to the overall trustworthiness of the real estate profession.

In essence, real estate referrals go beyond simple business transactions; they embody a commitment to collaboration, client satisfaction, and the ethical principles that underpin the real estate industry.

How Do Real Estate Referral Fees Work?

Real estate referral fees operate on a structured and mutually agreed-upon system. Here’s a breakdown of how they typically work:

1. Referral Agreement:

Before any transactions take place, the referring and receiving agents enter into a formal referral agreement. This document outlines the terms of the referral, including the amount or percentage of the referral fee, payment timelines, and any other relevant conditions. Having a clear and documented agreement helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures transparency.

2. Referral Source:

The real estate referral process begins when an agent or source refers a potential client to another agent. This could be due to various reasons, such as specialization, geographical expertise, or client-specific needs.

3. Successful Transaction:

For a referral fee to be applicable, there must be a successful real estate transaction involving the referred client. This could be the purchase or sale of a property, and the transaction’s completion is a prerequisite for the referral fee to be triggered.

5. Referral Fee Amount:

The typical referral fee amount is determined in the referral agreement. It is commonly a percentage of the commission earned by the receiving agent from the successful transaction. This percentage can vary but is typically in the range of 20% to 35% of the total commission.

6. Payment Timing:

The timing of the referral fee payment is specified in the referral agreement. It could be due upon the successful closing of the transaction or in installments, depending on the terms agreed upon by the referring and receiving agents.

7. Brokerage Involvement:

In many cases, the referral fee is shared between the agents and their respective brokerages. The brokerages may have their own policies and procedures regarding referral fees, and the agents must comply with these guidelines.

8. Legal and Regulatory Compliance:

Real estate professionals must adhere to legal and regulatory requirements regarding referral fees. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and agents should be aware of and comply with the rules and regulations governing referral fees in their specific location.

9. Documentation and Record-Keeping:

Both the referring and receiving agents, as well as their respective brokerages, maintain documentation related to the referral agreement and subsequent transactions. This includes records of communication, the referral agreement itself, and any other relevant paperwork. Clear record-keeping is essential for transparency and potential legal considerations.

In summary, real estate referral fees involve a structured process with a formal agreement, predetermined fee amounts, and compliance with legal and regulatory standards. This system ensures fairness, transparency, and a professional approach to compensating agents for their collaborative efforts in connecting clients and facilitating successful transactions.

How much is a Referral Fee in Real Estate?

The amount of a referral fee in real estate is not fixed and can vary depending on various factors. Typically, referral fees are calculated as a percentage of the commission earned by the receiving real estate agent from a successful transaction. The specific percentage can range from 20% to 35%, although it’s not uncommon for it to fall outside this range.

The referral fee percentage is usually agreed upon in advance and documented in a formal referral agreement between the referring agent and the receiving agent. The agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the referral, including the amount or percentage of the referral fee, when it is due, and any other relevant considerations.

It’s important to note that the actual percentage may be influenced by factors such as local market practices, the nature of the referral (buyer or seller), the complexity of the transaction, and individual negotiations between the agents involved. Additionally, some brokerages may have specific policies regarding referral fees, and agents must comply with these guidelines.

Real estate agents should be aware of the prevailing practices in their local market, communicate clearly with the referring and receiving real estate referral agents, and ensure that all agreements are documented to avoid misunderstandings and disputes.

How To Structure a Real Estate Referral Agreement

Structuring a real estate referral agreement involves detailing the terms and conditions under which the referral agent will refer clients to the receiving agent, including the specifics of the referral fee. Here’s a guide on how to structure a real estate referral contract:

1. Introduction

Set a professional tone by clearly stating that the document is a formal referral agreement. Use formal language to identify the involved parties, emphasizing the significance of the agreement in fostering collaboration.

2. Recitals

Provide a narrative that contextualizes the referral relationship. Detail the background, reasons, and considerations that led to the referral. This section serves as a preamble, offering a comprehensive understanding of the referral dynamics.

3. Referral Scope

Define the scope with precision, specifying the nature of the referral, whether it pertains to buyers, sellers, or both. Include any relevant details, such as property types or geographical areas, to avoid ambiguity in the types of transactions covered.

4. Referral Fee Percentage

Clearly articulate the agreed-upon percentage that constitutes the referral fee. Offer transparency by explaining how the commission will be calculated, providing a comprehensive understanding of the financial arrangement between the parties.

5. Payment Terms

Establish a structured timeline to pay referral fees, whether it’s contingent upon a successful closing or if installment payments are preferred. Specify any conditions that must be met for the referral fee to become payable, ensuring clarity on when compensation is earned.

6. Duration of Agreement

Define the temporal boundaries of the agreement. Clearly state the period for which the referral agreement is valid, and include provisions for renewal or termination. This provides a framework for the longevity and flexibility of the referral partnership.

7. Exclusivity and Non-Circumvention

Clearly outline the exclusivity arrangements between the referring and receiving agents. If the referring agent expects exclusivity, it should be explicitly stated. Include a non-circumvention clause to prevent the receiving agent from engaging with the referred clients outside the agreed-upon arrangement.

8. Brokerage Involvement

Clearly define how the referral fee will be shared between the agents and their respective brokerages. Include any brokerage policies that may impact the distribution of the referral fee. This ensures compliance with internal regulations and provides a transparent understanding of financial arrangements.

9. Confidentiality

Emphasize the importance of confidentiality in handling client information. Detail the obligations of both parties to protect sensitive information shared during the referral process, fostering trust and professionalism.

10. Responsibilities of the Parties

Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of both the referring and receiving agents. Define expectations regarding communication, updates, and collaboration throughout the referral process. This ensures a coordinated effort and a seamless experience for the referred clients.

11. Termination Clause

Establish conditions under which either party can terminate the agreement. Clearly define the consequences of termination, including any pending referrals or ongoing transactions. This section serves as a safeguard, outlining the process for disengagement if necessary.

12. Governing Law

Clearly specify the jurisdiction and legal framework that will govern the agreement. This provides clarity on the legal context in which the agreement operates and helps resolve potential disputes in a defined manner.

13. Signatures

Allocate sufficient space for the signatures of all parties involved. Signatures indicate formal agreement and acceptance of the terms outlined in the document. Ensure that each party retains a signed copy for their records to prevent disputes and misunderstandings.

In summary, a well-structured real estate referral agreement not only addresses the practical aspects of the referral process but also establishes a foundation for clear communication, mutual understanding, and collaborative success between the referring and receiving agents within or outside real estate referral companies. Seeking legal advice before finalizing the agreement is advisable to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations.

Real Estate Referral Tools

Real estate referral tools are essential for agents looking to manage and streamline the referral process efficiently. Here are some tools that can aid real estate professionals in handling referrals effectively:

1. ReferralExchange


ReferralExchange connects real estate agents with top-performing agents in different locations, facilitating a nationwide referral network. It provides a centralized platform for managing, tracking, and communicating about referrals. This tool enables agents to expand their reach and connect with qualified agents in various markets. The platform streamlines the referral process and enhances communication between referring and receiving agents.

2. Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a versatile customer relationship management tool that can be adapted for real estate needs. It offers lead management, communication tools, and workflow automation. Agents can customize it to include referral-tracking features. Zoho CRM provides a comprehensive solution for managing client relationships, leads, and referrals. Its flexibility makes it suitable for customization based on the specific requirements of real estate professionals.

3. LionDesk


LionDesk is a real estate CRM platform that includes tools for lead management, communication, and transaction tracking. It can be customized to incorporate referral-tracking features. LionDesk offers an integrated solution for managing various aspects of real estate business, including referrals. It streamlines communication and helps agents stay organized throughout the referral process.

4. ReferralHero


ReferralHero is a referral marketing platform that allows real estate agents to create and manage referral campaigns. It includes tools for designing programs, tracking referrals, and rewarding participants. This tool is particularly useful for agents looking to implement and manage referral marketing campaigns. It provides features for creating engaging referral programs to boost client referrals.

5. RealScout


RealScout provides collaborative home search and client engagement tools. While not solely focused on referrals, it facilitates communication and collaboration between agents, enhancing the overall client experience. RealScout enables agents to share property insights, collaborate with clients, and potentially generate referrals through a more engaging home search experience.

When choosing a real estate referral tool, it’s essential to consider the specific needs of the agent or brokerage, the level of customization required, and the scalability of the solution. Additionally, integration capabilities with existing systems and ease of use are crucial factors to ensure seamless adoption and efficient utilization of the chosen tool.


In conclusion, referral fees in real estate serve as a vital mechanism for fostering collaboration and expanding market reach. These fees acknowledge the value of networking, specialization, and the trust established among professionals within the industry.

Facilitating a seamless exchange of clients and expertise, referral fees not only reward agents for successful connections but also contribute to the overall growth and efficiency of the real estate ecosystem. Through fair compensation and transparent agreements, referral fees reinforce a cooperative spirit, creating a win-win scenario for agents, clients, and the industry at large.

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