NAR, HomeServices of America and Keller Williams Found Guilty of Antitrust Violations in Commission Lawsuit
On November 19th, a Kansas City jury found NAR, HomeServices of America and Keller Williams guilty of colluding to inflate or maintain high commission rates through NAR’s Clear Cooperation Rule, in the Sitzer/Burnett buyer broker commission lawsuit. The defendants have been ordered to pay damages of $1.78 billion, which could result in the NAR and brokerages paying roughly $5.36 billion should treble damages be awarded. Additionally, the verdict opens the door to potential copycat lawsuits being filed in other states.
Violation of Antitrust Rules and Regulations
Despite having antitrust rules and regulations in place, the home seller plaintiffs and their lead attorney argued that the trade group and corporate brokerages knowingly violated their own rules in order to maintain high commission rates. During the trial, evidence was presented which demonstrated that the defendants engaged in anticompetitive behavior that caused harm to competition in the real estate market.
Verdict Implications and Potential Injunctive Relief
Judge Stephen Bough, who is overseeing the case, still needs to issue his final judgement before the verdict is final. While he has wide latitude in issuing injunctive relief, the worst case scenario for the defendants would be a national ban on the cooperative compensation rule on the multiple listing services. This would prevent listing agents and home sellers from predetermining buyer agent commission rates, prohibit listing agents from sharing commissions with buyer agents, and would not publish buyer agent commission rates in the MLS. Alternatively, Bough could keep elements of the rule in place and require an offer of at least one cent in “cooperative compensation” MLS field.
Appeals and Settlements
Mantill Williams, a spokesperson for NAR, has stated that the trade group will be appealing the jury’s verdict and will also ask the court to reduce damages. Darryl Frost, a spokesperson for Keller Williams, has also alluded to an appeal being filed. The case is expected to take several years before it is finally resolved. RE/MAX and Anywhere were also defendants in the lawsuit, but reached settlements in September of this year.
Impacts on the Real Estate Market
The verdict could make it difficult for buyers and sellers to navigate the real estate market due to the potential for increased obstacles and the harder time realizing the value of their homes. Some experts speculate that it could force homebuyers to forgo professional help during what is likely the most complex and consequential financial transaction they’ll make in their lifetime.
The Value of Real Estate Professionals
Many real estate professionals believe that this verdict devalues the importance of their role in helping people navigate the real estate market. While the cooperative compensation rule may have caused controversy recently, it has been a common practice for over 100 years and has helped millions of people realize the American dream of homeownership with the help of real estate professionals.
While this is a significant and historical verdict, it is important to note that it still has several legal steps to undergo before it is finalized. However, it serves as a reminder for the importance of adhering to antitrust rules and regulations in order to ensure fair competition in any given market.
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