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Can Free Entry Be Inefficient? Fixed Commissions and Social Waste in the Real Estate Industry

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  • Chang-Tai Hsieh
  • Enrico Moretti

Abstract

Real estate agents typically charge a 6 percent commission, regardless of the price of the house sold. As a consequence, the commission fee from selling a house will differ dramatically across cities depending on the average price of housing, although the effort necessary to match buyers and sellers may not be that different. We use a simple economic model to show that if barriers to entry are low, the entry of real estate agents in cities with high housing prices is socially inefficient. Consistent with our model, we find that when the average price of land in a city increases, (1) the fraction of real estate brokers in a city increases, (2) the productivity of an average real estate agent (houses sold per hour worked) falls, and (3) the real wage of a typical real estate agent remains unchanged. We cannot completely rule out the alternative explanation that these results reflect unmeasured differences in the quality of broker services. However, we present evidence that as the average price of housing in a city increases, there is only a small increase in the amount of time a buyer spends searching for a house, and the average time a house for sale stays on the market falls.

Suggested Citation

  • Chang-Tai Hsieh & Enrico Moretti, 2003. "Can Free Entry Be Inefficient? Fixed Commissions and Social Waste in the Real Estate Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1076-1122, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:111:y:2003:i:5:p:1076-1122
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Genesove & Christopher Mayer, 2001. "Loss Aversion and Seller Behavior: Evidence from the Housing Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1233-1260.
    2. Dixit, Avinash K & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1977. "Monopolistic Competition and Optimum Product Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 297-308, June.
    3. Steven T. Berry & Joel Waldfogel, 1999. "Free Entry and Social Inefficiency in Radio Broadcasting," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 30(3), pages 397-420, Autumn.
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    7. N. Gregory Mankiw & Michael D. Whinston, 1986. "Free Entry and Social Inefficiency," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 17(1), pages 48-58, Spring.
    8. Bresnahan, Timothy F & Reiss, Peter C, 1991. "Entry and Competition in Concentrated Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 977-1009, October.
    9. Sirmans, C. F. & Turnbull, Geoffrey K., 1997. "Brokerage Pricing under Competition," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 102-117, January.
    10. Spence, Michael, 1976. "Product Differentiation and Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 407-414, May.
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    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets

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