National Association of Realtors officials lashed out in an online commentary this week against a “Competition and Real Estate” Web site launched earlier this month by the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
It is the latest clash for the trade group and the federal agency — two years ago the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Realtor group, charging that it approved overly restrictive policies for the online display and sharing of property information. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The Justice Department Web site promotes the benefits of competition in the real estate industry and highlights potential barriers to competition. Last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission — another agency that targets anticompetitive practices — launched its own Web site focused on competition in the real estate marketplace.
The Realtor trade group charges in its online commentary that there are “few facts” and “much fiction” at the Justice Department’s real estate competition Web site.
“The DOJ arguments at the Web site display a flagrant disregard for the free competition the agency is supposed to champion. It uses the Web site as a promotion for unbundled and discount services,” according to the Realtor group’s commentary. “It doesn’t present persuasive argument to show that one model has certain advantages over another. Instead, it dictates what it believes is the ultimate wisdom about real estate brokerage.”
Justice Department officials have said the site is intended to educate consumers and policymakers about competitive issues. The site highlights state measures that mandate a list of brokerage services — sometimes referred to as minimum-service laws — that consumers must receive whether or not they need all of the services, and state restrictions on real estate rebates to consumers as examples of barriers to competition.
Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission officials have sent letters to state officials and advocated against the passage of Realtor-backed statewide real estate measures that they deem to be anticompetitive, though the federal agencies have limited authority to engage in antitrust enforcement actions against states.
NAR charges in its commentary that the DOJ “is wasting taxpayers’ money to press an antitrust lawsuit against NAR”; “is using taxpayer dollars to try on the Internet a case it is already trying in court”; and “uses federal dollars to lobby state legislatures against passage of minimum service rules in real estate, in an attempt to dictate to state legislatures that it knows what’s best for consumers.”
The Realtor group also states in its online commentary that “real estate commissions are always negotiable;” that “NAR encourages innovation and fair competition in real estate brokerage and favors no business model;” and that about one in eight Realtors works for a business model other than a full-service brokerage firm.
According to a recent study conducted by the trade group, about two-thirds of consumers participating in the study said they “were very satisfied with the services they received” in a real estate transaction.
A status hearing in the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against the Realtor group is set for Oct. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.