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Real Estate Industry Backing Down

David Utter
Expert Author
Published: 2005-05-13

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The National Association of Realtors, facing possible antitrust action, retreated from an online listings rule.

A prospective bylaw of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) would allow brokers to prevent having some listings displayed by rival discount brokers online.

The Justice Department has been displeased with this bylaw for some time, and has been trying to work out this concern with the NAR. Lawyers for both sides met on Wednesday to try and come to an agreement about the rule.

Antitrust regulators see the bylaw as damaging to online competitors. They also believe potential commission discounts could be suppressed by the rule.

After the meeting, a NAR spokesman said to Reuters that the NAR would try to find a way to allow agents and clients to opt out of online listings without specifying certain competitors cannot carry the listing.

"We are in ongoing discussions now with the DOJ to develop a single unified policy on the display of MLS (multiple listings service) data on the Web site," NAR spokesman Steve Cook said.

Discussions have continued for the past two years. The NAR manages databases of regional home information. Its rule would bar discounters from accessing that information in a complete manner. That barring prompted the Justice Department to become involved.

Another issue for brokers comes from the referral fees they have to pay to online sites. Full service realtors traditionally earn 6% commissions on home sales, and fees paid to firms like LendingTree's RealEstate.com cut down on what they earn.

"You see new business models emerging that respond to that consumer demand. The result of that is very good for consumers - they can choose just the services they want and pay less to their broker," said Thomas Barnett, deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's antitrust division, to the Dallas Morning News.

"At the same time, that puts pressure on the traditional real estate broker. It's not surprising you would see some resistance to that," he said.

But the realtor industry sees itself as adding value for its clients, citing their local in-person availability and responsiveness to customers.

A similar battle took place with the car sales industry. While consumers hoped for an end to dealing with middlemen and friendlier pricing by purchasing direct from manufacturers, powerful industry lobbyists quickly prodded legislators to kill those prospects.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

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