Forget any notions about rich real estate agents because a survey shows many of them are nearer the breadline than the Bollinger.

Like television's Robyn Malcolm in Agent Anna, many are struggling to make a buck, even after house price increases.

Alistair Helm, ex-chief executive of, surveyed the sector and found last year's average agent income was just $35,000 which he said was below the living wage.

Although 74,000 residential property sales worth over $32 billion were made last year, agents were hardly making a killing, he said, using data from the Real Estate Institute and


"The real estate industry comprises over 9,400 active agents who managed over 132,000 new listings in the last year and billed in excess of $1 billion in commission fees.

"Income for active agents varied considerably across the country, with the highest-paid agents being found in Wellington earning on average $93,000 and the lowest-paid being on the West Coast earning an income of just under $20,000 each.

"In fact, seven of the 19 regions saw average income below the level of a living wage."

Barfoot & Thompson managing director Peter Thompson said many agents earned at least $50,000, although the top agents scored well above that. "The $35,000 surprises me very much. I would tend to think the agents here would certainly be on higher than that although some agents are part-time and are housewives or have other businesses.

"What they put in is what they get back. Some only working for a short time might be earning $35,000. Nationwide, that might be a fair comment but certainly Auckland is a lot higher," he said.

REINZ chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said some part-time agents or those in smaller area might be on low incomes. "But real estate agents are mobile and if they were not making enough to eat, I'm sure they would move," she said.

Mr Helm said he worked out commission fees by region by month, then applied a calculation to come up with a true earning for an agent based on the percentage split of commission which offices give to agents.

This varied through the year with some companies because agents earn more in the final three months of the year than at the start.

"This then gave me the value of the earning that each region paid to agents as independent contractors. I then divided this by the number of active agents to arrive at an average earning per agent."

Big deals
$33.5b residential sales
$6.1b lifestyle block sales

Source: REINZ, 2012 sales