The state of Kentucky’s recent withdrawal of regulations prohibiting real estate commission rebates may mark the turning point in efforts to restrict consumer choice in real estate services. State officials wisely decided to withdraw the anticompetitive, anti-consumer restrictions under threat of legal action by Federal antitrust regulators. The proposed “opt-out” regulations of the National Association of Realtors are now in limbo and under pressure from the federal antitrust enforcers as well.
While well-funded and coordinated special interest efforts to restrict consumer choice through mandated minimum level of service legislation passed in several states this year, most of the remaining state legislatures have now adjourned for 2005. Plans to pass similar legislation in many other states will have to wait until next year. That gives time for pro-consumer real estate professionals, consumer advocacy organizations, and federal and state legislators and regulators to work together to develop a proactive agenda to roll back some of the bad laws that have been passed and prevent new ones from being enacted.
The stage has already been set for some of the actions that can achieve those objectives. The General Accountability Office will soon release its study of competition in the real estate sector. It was ordered by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley, who has previously expressed his concerns over practices that may explain in part why American homeowners still pay higher real estate transaction fees than homeowners in other developed nations.
Chairman Oxley is expected to hold hearings on the results of the GAO study this fall. These hearings will give pro-consumer real estate professionals and consumer advocacy organizations the opportunity to testify and/or submit their views on the subject. Calls for fewer restrictions on competition may well find willing ears among the free market republicans controlling Congress, as they already have in President Bush’s antitrust regulatory agencies.
The Congressional hearings will support the separate efforts of the U.S. Antitrust Commission, created by Congress several years ago to develop recommendations to Congress for reforms of U.S. antitrust laws. The American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance (AHGA), a consumer advocacy organization serving the nation’s 75 million homeowners, has already made recommendations to the Commission on ways to increase competition in real estate services.
The biggest barrier to more competition in real estate services is apathy – apathy among the many new and innovative real estate services professionals who are giving home buyers and sellers new choices, and apathy among homeowners, most of whom are as yet unaware that their future choices are being limited.
Another barrier is lack of coordination. Many innovative real estate services professionals are individually giving the same message to policymakers as consumer advocacy organizations like AHGA. What’s been missing is coordination between the two. If both work together, the combined voice may be sufficient to overcome the misinformation and lobbying clout of opponents to competition in real estate services.
AHGA believes that the time for innovative real estate services professionals and consumer advocacy organizations to begin to work together is now. We encourage any real estate services professional who is opposed to limiting consumer choice in real estate services and willing to work with AHGA to achieve that objective to contact AHGA’s government affairs department.
Working together, we can win!
Bruce Hahn, CAE, is the president of the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance. The group’s government affairs department can be reached at (703) 536-7776 or AHGA@AmericanHomeowners.org.
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