The Federal Trade Commission today announced a “real estate competition sweep” that includes seven law enforcement actions.
Jeff Schmidt, director of the FTC’s Competition Bureau, will discuss the actions during a Thursday press conference, according to an announcement at the agency’s Web site. The event will be held at the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
The announcement does not specify what types of actions the FTC is taking. Over the past few months, several multiple listing services have announced FTC investigations over MLS restrictions on some types of property listings. And earlier this year the National Association of Realtors announced 14 separate investigations focusing on MLS rules that prevent some property listings from reaching some Web sites.
Several MLSs have changed those policies and announced resolution with the FTC while one MLS, RealComp II Ltd. in Michigan, has announced it is prepared to fight the FTC to keep its policies in place. Also, the FTC — sometimes acting independently and sometimes with the support of the U.S. Department of Justice — has opposed some Realtor-backed state measures that seek to set minimum service requirements for real estate licensees.
The Justice Department is engaged in antitrust litigation against the National Association of Realtors over the trade group’s policies for the online sharing and display of property listings information, and that agency has also taken action against states that impose restrictions on the ability of real estate companies to offer rebates to consumers.
Schmidt will discuss the series of FTC law enforcement actions and “put them in the context of previous real estate-related enforcement actions,” according to the agency’s announcement.
Steve Cook, a spokesman for NAR, today said, “We were not aware of the news conference and plan none of our own.”
Most MLSs across the country are affiliated with local Realtor associations that are, in turn, affiliated with the national trade group, which has about 1.3 million members.
Inman News has reported on four MLSs that have changed their policies relating to a specific type of property listing. The New Jersey MLS, the Realtors Association of Northeast Wisconsin MLS, the Northern New England Real Estate Network and the Austin Board of Realtors have lifted restrictions on the display of “exclusive agency listings” at public property-search sites such as Realtor.com and MLS member Web sites that use a data exchange standard to display other members’ property listings information.
In an exclusive agency agreement between a home seller and an agent, sellers retain the right to sell their property themselves without paying a commission if the agent is not involved in the sale. The more common listing agreement called “exclusive right to sell” provides that the listing broker is guaranteed a commission.
Realcomp II Ltd., the largest MLS in Michigan, with about 15,000 members, announced that it will fight to keep its MLS policies in place, even if it results in litigation with the FTC. Realcomp’s CEO, Karen Kage, told Inman News that exclusive agency listings can facilitate the sale of a home without a Realtor and can therefore fall “outside the scope of what an MLS is.”
She said the MLS is designed to “help the public but through the Realtors. An MLS’s job is just to service the Realtors. That is our core function.”
The Austin Board of Realtors signed an agreement with the FTC to resolve charges over its MLS policies, and the Northern New England Real Estate Network also announced that it had reached an agreement with the FTC.