A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into possible anti-competitive tactics against discount real estate brokers in Tulsa, Okla., has closed, according to the town’s Realtor association.
In April, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division contacted the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors with a civil investigative demand, Al Unser, the association’s executive director, confirmed.
The Antitrust Division was investigating possible anticompetitive conduct in the provision of real estate services in the Tulsa area, according to Unser and J.D. Smith, a former discount real estate agent also contacted in the probe in April.
The investigation is now closed, Unser said.
“Apparently they didn’t find anything, because they (the Justice Department) said it was closed,” Unser said.
In the Tulsa investigation, the Justice Department was looking into charges that full-commission agents in the area allegedly refused to show home-buying clients properties listed on the local MLS by discount brokers, a tactic known as boycotting.
The Justice Department also interviewed a local discount brokerage, J.D. Smith & Associates, in April.
“The Department of Justice wanted to know about our program and how we were being treated by the traditional Realtors in the area,” said J.D. Smith, broker of J.D. Smith & Associates in Tulsa. At the time, Smith’s brokerage used a discount model. The brokerage has since changed to a traditional model.
“I’m glad the investigation is over and it’s all over and done with,” Smith said.
Officials at the Justice Department did not return phone calls asking for confirmation of the probe’s closure. In April, a department spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the investigation but declined to provide additional details, Money Magazine reported.
The Justice Department’s antitrust division has recently been pursuing a number of actions related to alleged anticompetitive behavior in the real estate industry.
Thomas O. Barnett, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said that thanks to the action, South Dakota consumers “can expect to benefit from increased competition through broker-offered rebates, incentives and discounts. We are pleased that the commission took quick action to address the competition issues raised during the division’s investigation.”
In March, the Justice Department sued the Kentucky Real Estate Commission over a state law that prohibits real estate brokers from offering commission rebates to consumers. To settle the lawsuit, the Commission tossed out former restrictions on real estate rebates.
The federal agency had charged that the state’s rebate ban could result in higher prices for real estate services and could limit competition among real estate brokers.
Boycotting the listings of discounters is generally considered an antitrust violation. The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission also have investigated other possible anticompetitive real estate practices across the country, sending letters to lawmakers, governors and regulators in a handful of states that were considering new laws restricting some forms of limited-service real estate practices.
In several states, lawmakers have gone against the federal agencies’ urging and passed the laws.
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