An independently owned Coldwell Banker brokerage company in Des Moines, Iowa, has accused a local competitor of anti-competitive practices in conjunction with a new incentive program used to attract exclusive home listing agreements. The Coldwell Banker company leveled the charge in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group Realtors alleged that Iowa Realty and First Realty, both units of Home Services of America, used their market dominance in Des Moines to eliminate competition by creating a category of for-sale listings that would be exclusive to Iowa Realty and First Realty agents.

The dispute erupted after Iowa Realty/First Realty this month announced a new program called “Passport Listing” that offers incentives to homeowners in exchange for an agreement to list exclusively with the brokerage, according to Carolyn Helmlinger, president of the Des Moines Coldwell Banker franchise. An exclusive listing restricts agents from outside brokerages from showing the home to interested buyers.

The concept of exclusive listings is not new, nor is it illegal. However, the Coldwell Banker company believes Iowa Realty’s and First Realty’s exclusive listings would severely limit competition because of their market dominance.

“They have market dominance, and we feel this is not good for the consumer,” Helmlinger said. “It eliminates competition because sellers will not have the ability for 100 percent of the market to view their homes.”

Mike Knapp, CEO of Iowa Realty/First Realty, wasn’t immediately available to comment on the lawsuit Friday afternoon. But in a local news report, Knapp said the companies have done nothing wrong.

The company started airing television commercials advertising the exclusive listing program this week, according to Helmlinger. Some of the incentives mentioned in the television ads include a free home warranty for sellers, a free appraisal for buyers and reduced mortgage origination fees, she said.

The Passport Listing program is not mentioned on Iowa Realty’s or First Realty’s Web site.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Southern Iowa. The complaint seeks to bar Iowa Realty and First Realty from initiating the program, which is scheduled to begin next week.

Iowa Realty and First Realty operate under parent company Home Services of America, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate. Iowa Realty has more than 65 offices and 1,000 agents and First Realty has more than 40 offices and 750 agents. The brokerages collectively have about 65 percent market share in Des Moines, according to Helmlinger.

Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group Realtors has a corporate office and four branch offices and about 20 percent market share, she said.

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