The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a think tank that has been funded in the past by Zillow, will hold a public forum for experts in real estate to discuss ways to make the industry more competitive.

The think tank that called for federal regulators to investigate multiple listing services for antitrust last fall will hold a live-streamed public forum this Thursday to debate how to use technology to make the real estate industry more competitive and reduce costs for consumers.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that has been funded in the past by Zillow, will hold the forum on April 5 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern at its K Street office in Washington D.C. The forum comes ahead of a joint workshop on real estate competition set to be held by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission sometime this spring at the request of members of Congress. (No specific date for the federal forum has yet been set.)

Both of these gatherings are taking place at a particularly significant time for U.S. real estate regulations: On November 18, 2018, a longstanding consent decree between the Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will expire. This consent decree knocked down restrictions from MLSs on so-called “virtual office websites” (VOWs), enabling the online real estate shopping experience we’re familiar with today on tech-savvy brokerages like Redfin and Compass to flourish. NAR has said it has no plans to alter its current VOW policy after the expiration.

In a summary of the event on its website, ITIF emphasized that the discussion would focus on ways to increase competition in the real estate industry through tech innovation and how policymakers can use technology to make homeownership more affordable.

“Technological innovation has made it cheaper, easier, and faster to buy and sell most products. However, the real estate industry has firmly resisted disruption, successfully lobbying for state laws banning commission rebates, preventing the public disclosure of residential sales prices, and requiring consumers to purchase real estate services that they may not want, as well as blocking third parties from accessing listing data,” ITIF wrote.

“These practices have allowed the industry to preserve the long-standing fixed commissions for brokers even as home prices have climbed much faster than inflation.”

ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro told Inman the forum would discuss many of the issues he raised in an article he penned for the magazine Government Technology, which focused on how government can use tech to make it cheaper to buy and sell homes.

Castro will moderate the forum, which will feature five other speakers:

  • Ben Clark, real estate broker
  • Jessica Drake, FTC attorney
  • Ralph Holmen, associate general counsel for the National Association of Realtors
  • David Kully, partner at Holland & Knight and former attorney at the DOJ’s antitrust division
  • Brian Larson, senior business consultant and attorney at Larson Skinner PLLC

“We wanted panelists with different backgrounds and areas of focus. We have experts on many issues including, the DOJ’s settlement with NAR (from both sides), the challenges faced by startups in the real estate sector, and anti-competitive actions among brokers and MLSs,” Castro said via email.

Daniel Castro

Castro anticipates that the DOJ and FTC will pay attention to the discussion at the event. The FTC declined to comment for this story and the DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

“I hope participants will find areas where they can work together to set common goals for increasing technology-enabled competition and innovation in home buying and selling,” he said.

“I also hope that there is increased awareness of the ways in which policy can support technological transformation in different industries and find more voices in the real estate industry who can pursue these efforts.

“Finally, I hope that there is a new DOJ or FTC investigation of brokers and MLSs who block third-party access to basic listing data.”

The forum will be free and open to the public. Those who watch online can submit questions to the panel via Twitter using the hashtag #ITIFrealestate.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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