A surge in home purchases by first-time buyers is doing little to help real estate agents and brokers who close the deals.

Commissions in 2009 fell to the lowest level in seven years, driven down by sales of low-priced homes to first-time buyers using the federal tax credit.

Commissions through November dropped 6.2% from a year earlier, to $40.6 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the average commission rates from Real Trends Inc. and on home-price and sales data from the National Association of Realtors.

The tax credit strengthened only the low end of the market and reduced agents' pay, according to Steve Murray, the president of Real Trends, a property research company based in Castle Rock, Colo.

The tax benefit and foreclosure sales may lower the national median home price by a record 13% this year, to $172,700, according to the Realtors group.

Last month nearly 75% of sales were for $250,000 or less, the group said.

"The impact of the tax credit has been huge," Murray said. "The average commission rate inched up this year and the number of real estate sales have gone up too, but the average price has dropped significantly because of the bulge of first-time buyers."

The dollar value of commissions fell to the lowest amount since 2002 even as the average rate per transaction rose to about 5.29% this year, the fourth consecutive annual gain.

The average commission rate was 5.26% in 2008, according to Real Trends.

Commissions earned by real estate agents typically are computed as a percentage of a property's sale price.

Agents negotiate with sellers to set the rate and are required to pay a portion of it to the brokerage they work for.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.