The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is being sued by the Justice Department for anti-competitive practices. In a claim filed Sept. 8, Justice Dept. attorneys claim that the NAR has adopted rules governing how properties are listed on other brokers’ Web sites that could cripple online competition and stifle innovation (which hurts consumers’ ability to get a better deal online).
The NAR says its rules don’t discriminate against any particular brokerage model, but simply allow real estate agents to market properties as they see fit — for example, by declining to have a listing included on any other brokers’ Web sites (which they admit brokers rarely do).
The NAR, which has been in discussions with the Justice Dept. for the past four months, formally changed its rules the day the suit was filed (under prior rules, brokers could restrict specific competitors from displaying their listings online). But the switch was apparently too little too late to please the Feds.
“The reason this is an important issue for consumers and that the Dept. of Justice got involved is the Multiple Listings Service is the largest repository for real estate listings and the NAR wants to control who gets access to it and where listings show up on the Internet,” says Colby Sambrotto, chief operating officer of ForSaleByOwner.com. “The Internet has become the biggest avenue for marketing real estate. It is definitely not in the interest of a seller, who is paying a realtor an enormous fee, to have them try to restrict the property from being marketed on the Internet.”
The details of this legal battle over listings battle get pretty nitty-gritty. But if you want to learn more, plenty of information is available online from both sides:
- here's a link to the Justice Department complaint and press release.
- here's a link to the NAR's list of press releases, including one titled "Justice Sues Over Wrong Policy."
- and this is a news story on the battle from News.com.
BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.