The Department of Justice today filed a civil lawsuit against the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) alleging that NAR established and enforced illegal restraints on the ways that REALTORS® compete.
The Antitrust Division simultaneously filed a proposed settlement that requires NAR to repeal and modify its rules to provide greater transparency to home buyers about the commissions of brokers representing home buyers (buyer brokers), cease misrepresenting that buyer broker services are free, eliminate rules that prohibit filtering multiple listing services (MLS) listings based on the level of buyer broker commissions, and change its rules and policy which limit access to lockboxes to only NAR-affiliated real estate brokers. If approved, the settlement will enhance competition in the real estate market, resulting in more choice and better service for consumers.
“Buying a home is one of life’s biggest and most important financial decisions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Home buyers and sellers should be aware of all the broker fees they are paying. Today’s settlement prevents traditional brokers from impeding competition — including by internet-based methods of home buying and selling — by providing greater transparency to consumers about broker fees. This will increase price competition among brokers and lead to better quality of services for American home buyers and sellers.”
According to the complaint, NAR’s anticompetitive rules, policies, and practices include: (i) prohibiting MLSs that are affiliated with NAR from disclosing to prospective buyers the commission that the buyer broker will earn; (ii) allowing buyer brokers to misrepresent to buyers that a buyer broker’s services are free; (iii) enabling buyer brokers to filter MLS listings based on the level of buyer broker commissions offered; and (iv) limiting access to the lockboxes that provide licensed brokers with access to homes for sale to brokers who work for a NAR-affiliated MLS. These NAR rules, policies, practices have been widely adopted by NAR-affiliated MLSs resulting in decreased competition among real estate brokers.
NAR is a trade association of more than 1.4 million-member REALTORS® who are engaged in residential real estate brokerages across the United States. NAR has over 1,400 local associations (called “Member Boards”) organized as MLSs through which REALTORS® share information about homes for sale in their communities. Among other activities, NAR establishes and enforces rules, policies, and practices that are adopted by the Member Boards and their affiliated MLSs.
The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register as required by the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act. Any person may submit written comments regarding the proposed final judgment within 60 days of its publications to Chief, Office of Decree Enforcement and Compliance, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20530. At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the court may enter the proposed final judgment upon a finding that it serves the public interest.