Members of the state’s Real Estate Commission had delayed their consideration of the rule change, which would require all real estate brokers in the state to provide a specified level of services to consumers, after receiving a letter from the Justice Department in November.
The meeting will be held on Wednesday and Thursday this week in the Las Cruces, N.M., real estate brokerage office of David Steinborn, president of the Real Estate Commission — which is about 230 miles away from the commission’s office in Albuquerque, N.M. The meeting data and location were not publicized on the commission’s Web site as of Friday morning, but is now listed at the site.
The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have opposed laws and regulations in several states that have sought to heighten the level of services that real estate professionals must perform for clients. The federal agencies have charged that such measures can deny consumers the right to choose which services they want and do not want in a real estate transaction, and can potentially lead to higher costs for real estate services and a smaller field of real estate business models.
Proponents, including state lawmakers, real estate regulators and Realtor trade groups, have endorsed the laws as efforts to eliminate agents’ confusion in real estate transactions involving a brokerage company that offers limited representation, and to ensure that consumers will receive all of the services that they need.
Opponents, including real estate professionals who offer low-cost limited-service options for consumers, have said that they are just giving consumers what they want, and they question the motives of such industry-backed efforts.
Despite objections from federal officials, lawmakers in several states have passed so-called minimum-service legislation. The New Mexico proposal seeks a change in state real estate regulations and does not require action by the state Legislature.
The proposed rule changes in New Mexico would mandate that all real estate brokers in the state accept delivery of and present to the client or customer “all offers and counteroffers to buy, sell or lease the client’s or customer’s property or the property the client seeks to purchase or lease in a timely manner,” and to assist the client “in developing, communicating, negotiating and presenting offers, counteroffers and notices that relate to the offers and counteroffers until a lease or purchase agreement is signed and all contingencies are satisfied or waived.”
The commission will also consider a proposed amendment that would require brokers in the state to disclose in writing other brokerage relationship options available in New Mexico. This disclosure, under the proposal, would be provided to a prospective buyer, seller, landlord or tenant, “prior to the time the broker generates or presents any written document that has the potential to become an express written agreement.”
Lisa Hebenstreit, a New Mexico real estate broker who offers flat-fee, limited-service property listings and also represents home buyers, opposes the rule changes and said she plans to attend the meeting this week. “I just think the free-market system should be allowed to operate, and competition shouldn’t be stifled,” she said. Hebenstreit added that she has spoken with Justice Department officials and expects the agency to issue another letter to the commission.
“I’m just really concerned. I thought (the commission) can’t possibly do it. I’ve been trying to communicate with all of my customers past and present,” she said, adding that she has encouraged them to communicate their thoughts about the rule change to the commission.
Wayne Ciddio, executive secretary for the New Mexico Real Estate Commission, did not offer any comment about the upcoming meeting and the proposed rule changes.
Steinborn said he hasn’t heard any comment from the public about the proposed rule changes since the commission’s meeting in November.
The commission does not seek to be anticompetitive in considering the rule change, Steinborn said. “Our discussion centered around customer service — it wasn’t intended by the commission at all to deal with a restraint of trade issue,” he said. “This isn’t a sinister plot. This isn’t against anything. Our intention is as advertised: Try to find a balance between being a free enterprise business and protecting the public. And it’s a little complicated.”
The intent of the proposal, Steinborn said, is “to give the consumers enough notice so they understand what they’re getting so they can make an informed decision.”
David B. Zwiefelhofer, who is co-owner with Hebenstreit of FSBONM.com, a for-sale-by-owner and flat-fee MLS real estate site, said he is upset that the commission meeting is being held in the commission president’s Las Cruces office, which represents a long drive for some members of the public who might otherwise attend. “It just makes it very difficult for everybody who opposes (the rule change),” he said. Real estate disclosures are adequate in New Mexico to provide notifications for the real estate services that consumers receive, he added.
“There are a lot of sophisticated consumers out there these days, and I think most people can handle these real estate transactions on there own. There is no real reason to require that those who either have a real estate attorney or who feel comfortable handling transactions on their own be required to pay for a full-service listing,” he said.
Steinborn said he volunteered his brokerage office as a site for the upcoming meeting because it is a large new facility. While an official for the New Mexico Association of Realtors had earlier stated that the trade group may pursue legislation with similar language to the rule change, Steinborn said he was not aware of any such legislation.
The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Steinborn GMAC Real Estate, 141 N. Roadrunner Parkway, Suite 141, Las Cruces, N.M. The meeting will continue at 9 a.m. Feb. 23 at the same location.
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