Earn Hundreds of Thousands of Miles for Real Estate

Miles for real estate transactions used to be a pretty big thing. When I bought a condo in 2006 I earned six figures in United miles for being referred to a realtor. Basically they were rebating a bit more than half their commission in the form of United miles.

People usually think that meant I had to work with whatever real estate agent was assigned to me. That’s not the case at all. Instead, I simply needed to work with the brokerage firm I was referred to. I didn’t think much of the first agent I got, so I had the brokerage manager re-assign me to someone far sharper.

The real estate agent commission is vexing, the notion that 6% of a transaction has been able to be maintained more or less (though there are discount brokerages and do-it-yourself brokerage houses) and sometimes commissions get bumped to 7% (4% for the buyer’s agent to entice them to show the property) is genuinely surprising to me. Although if you aren’t getting a rebate of the commission you can often get the agent to kick in part of their commission to bridge the gap between buyer and seller to reach a final deal. They want some commission that comes from making a sale rather than no commission when a deal falls apart. (No matter what your broker tells you they aren’t working for you, they are working for a sale.)

This is usually best accomplished at the last minute when a deal is really close. Even if you’ve reached a price you’d be happy with, why not hold out to do 1% better asking your agent to make up the difference from their commission?

You could also get miles for mortgages. Chase used to do that, including refinances, and people used to refinance their homes (and pay off the mortgages in nearly real time) just for the miles.

There were many players in the miles for mortgages game, like Cendant and Lending Tree and even Wells Fargo though perhaps the most ubiquitous was Awards for Real Estate and Mortgages. Many of the old operators are gone, and mileage offers are gone but a few opportunities still exist.

American Home Miles will give you American AAdvantage miles for the real estate transaction, miles for working with them on your mortgage, and miles for using the moving company they refer you to. In each case they’re rebating a portion of commission.

Miles from Home will give you American AAdvantage miles for real estate transactions and mover referrals. They don’t do miles for mortgages.

Hungry for Points highlights an opportunity to earn 1 Alaska mile per dollar spent on real estate through FlyHomes.

Remember that:

  • You may be able to get a cash rebate (or kick-in towards the deal) instead of miles from your realtor, these things can be negotiated individually.

  • If you aren’t super self-sufficient, and actually rely on a real estate agent, it can be costly to work with a bad one. Getting one assigned randomly may not be worth the miles. Though you should be able to request re-assignment.

  • You may not get the best mortgage deal through this process, although don’t think you’re paying more because of the miles — the miles are marketing expense, one way to acquire customers, something that mortgage originators occur in one form or another regardless.

If you’re in the market for real estate it’s worth exploring what kinds of rebates you can get, and being aware of mileage offers is one important form of rebate that you should be sure you’re not simply leaving on the table.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Chase Palladium card holders have the same benefit. They can get their private banker to up the purchase price. I know someone that bought a 250k Bentley with the card.

  2. Hi Gary,

    I have followed you for a long time and have appreciated most of the advice received from reading your blog. I realize this post is intended to help buyers and sellers receive miles on real estate transactions. However, your view regarding the value of a Real Estate professional is outdated. In many areas of the country, housing inventory is very low and the services of a good (your point about a bad agent is well-taken…..but who wants a bad representative in any profession?) Real Estate Broker is not only necessary to secure the deal, it will also save the buyer or seller a ton of time, energy and money. After 15 years in the industry (you knew that was coming, right??) I have a wealth of knowledge and experience that most clients do not have. In the last year alone, 7 clients closed transactions on homes that were never listed on the market, transactions that would never have occurred without a professional involved.

    Commissions are seen by the general public as exorbitant because they don’t understand the process and the license and law requirements. Realtors split their commission 50/50 with their franchise owners until they reach a “Cap” In my case, that is $40,000 per year paid out and that is just a fraction of the costs and fees involved. With that comes a retainer of attorneys, errors and omissions insurance, training and more. I am in the Seattle area, so this may vary depending on where you are.

    “If you aren’t super self-sufficient, and actually rely on a real estate agent….” is like saying you should do your own dentistry if you have a toothache. 😉

    Keep up the good work and maybe rethink your opinion of Realtors. We promise to not hold it against you and it’s very very likely, we could change your mind.

    Cheers,
    CJ

  3. 95% of the time RE agents are just glorified Admin assistants and do nothing more than shuffle a bit of paper – the most ridiculous thing is the commission based upon the price of a house – even if you could justify the work a RE agent does there is no way you can justify that it’s twice as much “work” for a $300,000 house than a $150,000 house…also in this day/age with the Internet and a hot market the houses sell themselves in most cases.

  4. @Sam – 95% of people who think they don’t need a realtor are renters or have not purchased or sold a house on their own. There’s a lot of paperwork, forms, legalities, and process steps involved that most will find useful to have an experienced person walk them through it. As to your comment on commission rates, you can use the same logic for many industries. Attorneys, construction companies and commissioned sales people area all paid based on percentage of earnings, job, sale. Furthermore, it provides a natural break-point in quality realtors – if I were selling a multi-million dollar house I wouldn’t hire someone who typically sells $150,00 homes. No, I’m not a realtor and yes I’ve bought a few homes.

  5. I am a Real Estate agent and while some folks think what they do is an art requiring special skills, it isn’t. Unless you live in a very small town where some broker dominates the town both professionally or politically and there are no other options, don’t fall for the rhetoric. Any saavy person who does a research (thank you google) can understand the process, pitfalls, and the “secret sauce”. Points or a rebate in commission are worth your time. Do your homework.

  6. I would liken using award travel booking services with using a real estate agent. Your expertise is invaluable when it comes to booking award travel. Even those of us with extensive knowledge of award earnings and redemptions are willing to pay for your services because we want the absolute best use of those miles. Similarly, if someone wants the extensive knowledge of a real estate expert, resulting in the best use of their money and equity, they should be willing to pay for it.

    Just as we reap the potential benefits of an award booking service by obtaining an award using less miles or receiving a much better inflight experience, using a knowledgable real estate agent will often result in achieving the best deal whether it is a well negotiated contract regarding price and terms, or perhaps a better house at a specific price point, or maybe even being kept from making a poor real estate decision.

    Yes, my husband is a broker/owner of a real estate company 😉 That is why I can tell you that he is worth every penny, although sometimes the “only” thing he accomplishes during his appointment with a customer is helping him with his finances or telling him not to sell/buy a house. He doesn’t earn any money from those appointments, but that’s all right with him because his real estate knowledge helped him give the best advice 🙂

  7. My understanding is the above “rewards” come with an 1/8% or even a 1/4% higher interest rate. It’s cheaper to buy the miles outright than to get committed to this promo.

    Also, for RE agent detractors, you can always use Redfin.

  8. Over the last 20+ years I have bought 3 houses without an agent. You MUST shop long enough to know values and that you are getting a good deal. As to the transaction details, the loan broker or lender and the escrow agent are the people who will handle them for you. Just stay in touch and give them everything they need promptly.

    If you don’t know how to fill out a purchase agreement form, buy a nice meal for a real estate agent and ask him or her to explain the form options to you. Buy blank forms from your local real estate board, so that your form will be familiar to the seller’s agent.

    If you come in off the street and talk to the listing agent and only to that agent, he or she has the ability and the incentive to rebate you up to half the full 5% or 6% commission. You don’t need any sort of real estate license. You just need some moxie and faith in the agent’s economic incentive to make a deal.

    All this works best in a slow or at least non-frantic market. There are worse investment strategies than waiting for such a market before buying.

  9. CJ, must be a tough exam and lots of costs considering the excessive number or realtors in the area. Not trying to discredit the profession, but please do not embellish the licensing requirement. There are plenty of jobs and designations that require years or studying and exams, while many states offer realtor licenses with a month or two of documented hours plus an exam.

    Sure realtors serve a specific purpose but for someone listing a 300k house in a sellers market, paying $18k is absurd. As sellers, we do not care that your housing firm takes half of the commission. People do not buy because of the name listed on the sign. If so, their agent clearly is not acting in the buyer’s best interest.

  10. As a career finance professional who had both mortgage broker licence and real estate broker (not just agent) license for several years, I think I can state with some credibility that real estate commissions are way out of line. Just as stock brokering commissions used to be until early 90s. Most residential real estate agents are (as someone said above) glorified overpriced paper pushers. Of course they are not 100% useless but their compensation is way out of line with effort and time they out in. Their qualification and education is no where near that of lawyer or CPA or even financial advisor. Their ethics is pretty bad. Most agents do not even understand legal aspects of their own business. I have bought and solld several properties over the years. I never pay more than 3.5% commission when I sell and I force agents to contribute 2% of commissions towards closing when I purchase. I am usually more knowledgable about property in question, development, township and school district than both of the agents involved anyway. Cant wait until these agents are reduced to same status as travel agents and stock brokers.

  11. You get what you pay for…. I will not be hiring Gary to book my travel since I DI myself. I enjoy the process. Others probably don’t. I do not want to sell my own house since I don’t want to interfere in people’s experience at my FSBO. If I didn’t have to sell or buy I might though, but I always sell or buy when needed. I wouldn’t advise seeking miles for a big purchase though. I just got 25,000 AA miles for getting the Direct Tv promo. They posted really quickly. I was going to get some form of cable so it was with a side of points. Realtors aren’t usually geniuses. But my dad has been one for 50+ years and he has doled out millions of dollars in free advice to people who ask. He knows his market.

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