Editor’s note: Inman News challenged readers to debate the outcome of the Justice Department lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors. We posed the question, “Who loses if DOJ wins?” and received an array of responses at the Inman News Blog. This article pulls from those comments.

The ongoing battle between the U.S. Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors continues to strike a nerve among industry participants.

Editor’s note: Inman News challenged readers to debate the outcome of the Justice Department lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors. We posed the question, “Who loses if DOJ wins?” and received an array of responses at the Inman News Blog. This article pulls from those comments.

The ongoing battle between the U.S. Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors continues to strike a nerve among industry participants. The DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit, filed in September 2005, accused the trade group of restraining competition in the industry by instilling overly restrictive policies for how MLS property listings are displayed on the Internet. (See latest update here.)

Neither side has given any indication of backing down, with the NAR saying it will rigorously defend the accusations.

Inman News asked readers to weigh in on possible outcomes of the lawsuit, posing the question, “If the DOJ wins and NAR is forced to retract policies, what is the likely chain of events to follow? Who wins and who loses?”

Greg Swann, a small independent broker with Bloodhound Realty (and guest contributor to the Inman News Blog), said, “If the DOJ tries to play pirate with the current system, the big brokerages may go all in-house, which they could easily do already. Then there will be no small brokerages.”

An anonymous commenter at the Inman News Blog disagreed:

“A DOJ win will only provide greater access to MLS listings. How greater access will cause any brokerage to leave or go out of business makes no sense.”

But another anonymous reader feels that the opposite will happen if the DOJ wins, in which case, the commenter said, the policy will simply go away. “No more listings feed to thousands of Web sites. No more HomeGain grabbing listings to capture leads and sell to agents. Brokers/agents will have to start entering their listings on Web sites themselves in order to promote them. In the end, the free flow of information consumers have been enjoying will go away. They won’t be able to go to just one Web site anymore to view homes; they will have to go to dozens.”

That possibility wouldn’t bother this commenter, who thinks the best solution now is to stop the free flow of real estate information in its tracks. “We, Realtors, made a big mistake when we decided not to be the gatekeepers of MLS information. The best cure at this point is to stop giving the public any online information. Screw the buyers. Make them come to the offices and meet with brokers if they are in the market to buy real estate.”

Another anonymous commenter said that if the DOJ wins the antitrust lawsuit, the winners will be consumers, small third-party Web site developers “who can mimic Realtor.com without the overhead,” and the “Stanford MBA graduating class of 2007, 2008, 2009.”

The losers, according to the same commenter, will be MLS executives, board members and Realtor.com.

Ronald Gombach wrote that the longer the lawsuit drags out, the less important the outcome will be to anyone. He described differences in Generation X and Y buyers, compared to aging baby boomers.

“They (Gen X and Y buyers) could care less about the baby boomer Realtors’ ideas of conventional real estate brokerage. They’re making their own rules. They see the civil war among the Realtors and they choose not to go hang around the front lines. They have no dog in the fight. When buying or selling, they choose the path of personal interest and individual need … and they will fan out along the long tail quite naturally and willingly.”

“The barn doors of conventional real estate brokerage are just about wide open,” Gombach wrote. “Because those doors were structural, what will rapidly follow is a leveling of the barn. What gets rebuilt on the barns’ foundations will surprise us all.”

To read the comments in full or to leave your opinion at the Inman News Blog, click on this link.

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