The website, competition.realtor, debuted last week, just before NAR’s annual conference, the Realtors Conference & Expo. NAR’s legal team popped into governance sessions throughout the week exhorting attendees to use the new site to roll out education campaigns to communicate the value of Realtors.
NAR is currently defending itself from multiple antitrust lawsuits from homesellers and a homebuyer backed by prominent law firms that seek to have homebuyers pay their broker directly, rather than have listing brokers pay buyer brokers from what the seller pays the listing broker — a move that could upend the U.S. real estate industry by effectively forcing changes in how buyer’s agents are traditionally compensated.
The trade group is also contending with antitrust lawsuits brought by discount brokerage REX Real Estate and private listing groups Top Agent Network and ThePLS.com. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation of NAR’s multiple listing service rules, including policies on buyer broker commissions and pocket listings, and NAR has sued the agency to stop the probe.
NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson, who presented the new site at several governance meetings during the conference, told attendees that the trade group will “keep everyone updated” on NAR’s lawsuit against the DOJ through the site and other NAR communication channels.
“A lot of people misunderstand or don’t appreciate the American real estate system,” Johnson told attendees at the Risk Management Issues Committee on Friday.
“They have taken for granted the fact that broker cooperation has facilitated more than 5 million homes sales and transactions a year and that it has created liquidity and accessibility for buyers, especially first-time and low-income buyers that are able to purchase homes because of the system that we have today.
“We are going to fight that fight in the courts and we’re going to do our best to prevail in the litigation, but we need everyone’s help to prevail in the court of public opinion. We need those misunderstandings and that lack of appreciation to change. We need consumers, politicians, policymakers, media, certainly homebuyers and sellers, everyone to know how this system works, what value Realtors bring, how they get compensated, why local broker marketplaces serve the best interests of buyers and sellers.
“So we’ve been asking everywhere, for members, associations, MLSs, any stakeholder to start an education campaign, a communication campaign, to post stuff on social media that accomplishes all that or any of that and so we also created this website to help you.”
The new website offers information on what MLSs are and what they do, how real estate commissions work, the process of buying a home and maximizing the value of real estate agents. The site also includes answers to “key questions” such as: “Is there a ‘set commission’ real estate agents charge consumers?” and “Why not require buyers to pay commissions directly to their broker instead of the historic practice of listing brokers paying the buyer broker?” Other answers address the lawsuits NAR is currently involved in.
Johnson suggested that members post the site’s provided infographics on social media or in their listing presentations or their buyer representation presentations. She took that opportunity to urge members to “Use buyer representation agreements. Use buyer representation agreements. Use buyer representation agreements,” prompting some chuckles from the audience.
“There are a number of articles, op-eds and others people can share or people can use to write their own,” she said. “Very much feel free to pull from anything you see on this website.”
Charlie Lee, NAR’s senior counsel and director of legal affairs, offered a similar message at the event’s MLS Executives Session last Thursday.
“We have battles in the legal courts, but now we also have to battle in the court of public opinion,” he said.
The new site is a “one stop shop” where MLSs can download materials to share with their members, he added. “This is a living document, so to speak. So we will continue to add to it.”
Antitrust hung over the conference somewhat, due to controversial DOJ-inspired MLS policies under consideration and also due to an antitrust compliance statement that, for the first time, was repeatedly read out or posted at the beginning of governance meetings.
At one point, during a debate about displaying buyer broker commissions, during which some MLS committee members expressed trepidation regarding different business models, Lee jumped in to remind committee members of that statement.
The statement said NAR was committed to conducting its events “in a professionals [sic], ethical, and lawful manner, including adherence to all antitrust laws” and “Any discussion inconsistent with this policy will not be tolerated.”