Industry participants reacted Thursday to news of the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors, which came on the heels of the announcement of a new NAR online listings policy.
The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors Thursday, challenging its policy for online property listings display. Shortly before the DOJ announcement, NAR made public its new policy for Internet listings display.
The Justice Department’s complaint accuses NAR of mandating a policy that obstructs real estate brokers who use innovative Web-based systems to offer lower costs to consumers.
Geoff Lewis, senior vice president and chief legal officer of real estate franchise giant RE/MAX, on Thursday said he was “quite surprised” when he saw the complaint.
“The complaint is attacking NAR’s previous VOW policy, which has now been discarded. The complaint specifically attacks the selective opt-out element of the VOW policy, which has been replaced by the blanket opt-out provision of NAR’s new (Internet Listings Display) policy.”
According to the chief legal officer, “if the DOJ wants to proceed, it will have to amend its complaint.” He speculated that the release of NAR’s new policy might have been done in anticipation of the lawsuit.
Lewis said NAR’s new policy is “lawful and reasonable and a step in the direction of promoting widespread display of listings on all brokers’ Web sites.”
According to Lewis, NAR’s new policy has preserved the brokers’ right to control the listings but the policy is set up so that it encourages all brokers to participate in sharing their listings.
NAR’s previous policy had a provision that enabled brokers to withhold home listings from specific Web sites they didn’t approve of. This provision has been replaced in the new policy.
“Now, there’s a blanket opt-out provision,” Lewis said. “This provision gives the consumer the power and makes it extremely impractical for brokers to exercise the blanket opt-out provision.”
With the new blanket opt-out provision, if brokers want to withhold Internet listings of properties, they must withhold them from all other brokers, not just the ones they don’t approve of, Lewis said.
Additionally, if they go this route, the brokers may not display other brokerages’ listings on their own Web sites. They must also explain what they are doing to the client whose home is being sold in the disclosure form and get that client’s written signature, Lewis said.
“And finally, the broker’s disclosure statement informs the consumer that they can choose to have their listings displayed on other brokers’ sites, even if their broker has elected the blanket opt-out provision,” Lewis said.
The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division launched an investigation of the old policy nearly two years ago. The Justice Department disagreed with the provision that enabled brokers to withhold home listings from other Web sites, but NAR had insisted that brokers should retain control of where listings are displayed.
Homestore, the real estate media company that also operates the National Association of Realtors official home listings Web site Realtor.com, reacted positively to the new policy.
“We support NAR’s total dedication to ensuring that all Realtors continue to have an equal opportunity to fully serve consumers,” Homestore said in a statement. “
“We are pleased that the new policy allows Realtor.com to continue its important mission of providing all consumers free and unencumbered access to home listings throughout America.”
RE/MAX co-founder and chairman of the board, Dave Liniger, announced his support for NAR’s new online listings policy Thursday. “We applaud NAR for adopting a policy that will allow all Realtors equal access to property listings for display on their Web sites,” Liniger said.
RE/MAX recently announced a new initiative for its Web site, www.remax.com, whereby it will provide home buyers and sellers the ability to search virtually all residential property listings, including those of its competitors, by creating a national collection of Internet listings display broker Web sites.
“NAR’s new (Internet Listings Display) policy and the upcoming RE/MAX Web site are designed to give the consumer what they want: easy access to all property listings via the Internet. RE/MAX strongly encourages its brokers to continue to allow all of their listings to be displayed on the ILD sites of competing brokers and expects that competing brokers will also continue to share their listings. When this happens, everybody wins,” Liniger said.
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