Read the Senate letter requesting probe into real estate competition

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Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed it will hold a joint workshop on real estate competition in the spring with the Federal Trade Commission. A DOJ official told Inman the workshop will be held in response to a letter the DOJ received on Sep. 21, 2017, from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.

Now, Inman has obtained copies of that letter and the DOJ’s Dec. 20, 2017, response to the office of the Senate subcommittee’s chair, Republican Mike Lee of Utah. In the September letter, Lee and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, ask the DOJ and FTC to update their 2007 joint report on real estate competition “given the Internet-driven changes in the real estate brokerage market since.”

Read the letters below.

“We ask that you review the availability of listing information to the public and to independent real estate agents, small real estate brokers, and limited service brokers,” the senators wrote.

Lee and Klobuchar also asked the DOJ and FTC to look into the impact of consent decrees (legal settlements) on anticompetitive conduct the federal agencies entered into from 2006 to 2009, noting the consent decrees had either expired or are about to expire. One of these is a 2008 settlement agreement between the DOJ and the National Association of Realtors that expires in November. 

In the December response, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd agreed “the time is right” to re-examine “competition dynamics” in the real estate brokerage industry.

“To this end, we are collaborating with our colleagues at the FTC to co-host a workshop to examine these and other issues regarding the industry. This workshop will convene experts and shareholders to develop a factual record and clarify our understanding of competition issues,” Boyd wrote.

Inman asked Lee’s office what prompted the request for the DOJ and FTC to revisit real estate competition and whether anyone in the real estate industry, such as Zillow, or the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation had reached out to him with concerns. Lee’s office did not respond.

ITIF, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, in November called for federal regulators to investigate MLSs restricting listing data from third-party websites for antitrust and urged state lawmakers to require brokers to provide open access to real estate listings.

Since these letters were sent, the two top members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law have sent a similar letter to the DOJ and FTC. That letter, dated Jan. 5, also asked for an update to the agencies’ 2007 report on real estate competition.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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