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Real estate competition debate heats up in D.C.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A U.S. Justice Department official, speaking during a public workshop Tuesday, used an analogy from the fast-food industry to simplify the federal government's view of competitive issues in the nation's real estate markets: "(If) when I buy a hamburger, I'm told that I also have to buy French fries...I may not want French fries," said Thomas O. Barnett, acting assistant attorney general for antitrust at the Justice Department. "From that perspective, being able to choose from a menu of services -- being able to choose what we want to buy -- we generally view as a positive thing," he said. Questions over competition within the real estate industry have prompted Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission officials to take action on a range of matters this year, including suing the National Association of Realtors trade group over its policies for sharing and displaying property information on the Internet and investigating state laws that effectively ban real e...