What is a Retainer Fee in Real Estate – Get The Information.

If you have been involved in the real estate industry and financial planning for some time, you surely know how crucial it is to understand the meaning of the retainer fee. These terms must be thoroughly understood regardless of your previous expertise and experience in this dynamic industry.

First, the retainer fee represents a particular sum of money paid in advance for sealing professional services from lawyers, consultants, and many others. Mediators or third parties that have been employed to do a particular service in their name usually purchase this type of fee.

Retainer fees are normally paid in advance because having a certain warranty on the receiver is crucial, and they do not refer to the total sum of these services. On the contrary, it is just a part of it. But how can we understand these fees, ongoing services, the fee structure, and much more? To do so, let’s look at the retainer fee’s core basics, shall we?

What is the definition of a retainer fee in real estate?

retainer fee in real estate

A retainer fee, commonly known among professionals and newbies as the following a legal retainer, consulting fee, or retainer agreement, refers to an upfront payment. That payment is usually issued by consultants, lawyers, or freelancers as part of client agreements or service contracts. 

This fee serves as an advance payment before services are rendered. It can be seen as an initial deposit for future services. Note that the amount depends on the service, not the total cost. “Unearned retainer fees” and “earned retainer fees” are common terms for retainer agreements and diverse types of agreements.

Note the fee is something that a client pays for a selected professional services firm or individuals responsible for working for the client, giving proper financial advice, charging by the hour or some other form, and providing consulting services. 

What does the fee cover?

Irrespective of the profession, a retainer fee covers the initial costs of establishing a working relationship. As a result, these fees are typically distinct from the hourly wages of consultants, freelancers, or lawyers. 

This separation ensures that the funds are not utilized for personal purposes before the completion of services. Among various occupations, lawyers commonly request an upfront retainer fee from prospective clients.

The best example of a retainer fee

What does the fee cover?

If you have been thinking about recognizing a retainer fee, here is a good example explained by expert financial advisers. For example, a financial planner requires a retainer fee of $500 to initiate their work. 

This retainer fee covers the total services the retainer provides for up to five hours. If the financial planner spends additional hours working on your case, Mediators or third parties often buy this fee when hired to provide a specific service. Will bill you separately for those hours.

For instance, if the financial planner dedicates 10 hours to your financial matters, they will charge you an additional $500, bringing the total cost to $1,000 when combined with the retainer fee. However, the financial planner will refund the remaining retainer fee if your financial situation is resolved before reaching the five-hour limit.

Remember, setting your consulting terms and agreeing upon the retainer fee with the financial planner before commencing their services is essential. 

Clients need to deposit funds into a retainer account. 

Remember that when engaging in retainer-based services, clients are typically required to deposit funds into a retainer account to cover future expenses. This retainer account ensures that the retainer fee is readily available for the ongoing fee work on retained basis long term.

How to determine the Appropriate Retainer Fee and Calculate it?


Suppose you are about to set retainer fees. In that case, you need to know that the amount will vary depending on the industry and the compensation expectations of the professional you want to retain. 

In general, a reasonable approach would be to consider the professional’s consulting rates and multiply it by the projected number of hours they anticipate working. To successfully calculate a retainer fee, it is crucial to do the following:

  1. Estimate the hours required to complete or sustain the project for which the professional has been engaged. 
  2. Multiply this by their hourly rate. Alternatively, some professionals may charge a fixed amount for each expected service as part of their pricing model.

What is the main difference between earned and unearned retainer fees?

If lawyers, for instance, start working on a case, they’re entitled to earned retainer fees. That fee could be based on the hours they work or specific milestones they achieve. On the contrary, unearned retainer fees refer to the initial payments usually held until services are provided, and any unused portion can be refunded to the client.

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