The Antitrust Division this afternoon announced it will settle a suit filed in 2005 against the National Association of Realtors that challenged the trade group’s practice of limiting discount Internet brokers' access to its listings, averting a bench trial scheduled for July.
Justice Department officials say consumers should benefit from increased competition, more choices and lower commission rates as a result of the 10-year agreement, which will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly of Chicago.
“The National Association of Realtors will enact a new policy that has been vetted by the Department of Justice that guarantees that Internet-based brokers will not be discriminated” when they compete with traditional brick-and-mortar real estate brokers, said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Deborah Garza of the Antitrust Division. “What we’ve done is achieve a very lasting and important change in the conduct of NAR and its affiliated Multiple Listing Service members and affiliates.”
According to Garza, the realtors trade group had enacted anti-competitive rules in 2003 and 2005 so that 1.2 million members could “opt out” from sharing their listings with non-traditional, web-based realty services. Another policy in question prevented a broker from educating home buyers through their websites and making ferrals to other brokers for a fee. The group will agree to repeal such rules and require that their affiliates do the same.
“This is clearly a win-win for the real estate industry and the consumers we serve,” said NAR President Richard F. Gaylord in a prepared statement. Gaylord said the "DOJ's settlement compromise" does not mean his group admits liability or wrongdoing.
The Antitrust Division will hold a 60-day public comment period before Kennelly considers a final judgment. The agreement was reached by veteran trial attorney Craig Conrath of the division’s Litigation III section and Jack Bierig, a Sidley Austin partner in Chicago.