DOJ sues real estate group for Web listing policy

The DOJ files an antitrust lawsuit against a real estate broker trade group for its Web policies.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against a real estate broker trade group, saying the organisation's policies block competition among brokers using a Web-based property listing service.

The DOJ's civil antitrust lawsuit was filed Thursday against the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in US District Court in Chicago. The DOJ accuses the NAR of allowing brokers to pull their real estate listings from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a joint venture among competing brokers. NAB brokers have traditionally shared listings with each other, and customers could access those listings by mail, fax or at real estate broker offices, the DOJ said.

But an NAR policy allows brokers to opt out of sharing their listings with brokers offering Web-based property search services, "effectively inhibiting the new technology," the DOJ said.

"Delivering listings over the Internet gives web-savvy consumers more control over their search for a home, allowing them to educate themselves about their options at their own pace and on their own time," the DOJ said in a press release. "This allows brokers to reduce the time that their agents spend searching the MLS database or showing homes the customer dislikes."

The NAR, in a statement, said it has adopted a new policy that addresses the DOJ concerns. "The policy will bring consumers more points of access to real estate information from multiple listing services than they have ever had before," NAR said. "For consumers, whether they are home buyers or sellers, this new policy is a win-win. Buyers will be able to find all the listings available for public display on the Web site of the broker of their choice and sellers will be able to work with the listing broker of their choice."

But the DOJ said Thursday that the NAR's new policy continues to discriminate against "innovative" brokers and does not resolve the agency's concerns.

"The purchase of a home is one of the most significant financial decisions a family can make, and NAR's policy stifles competition," giving an advantage to some NAR members "at the expense of home buyers and sellers," said J. Bruce McDonald, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ's Antitrust Division, in a statement. Consumers benefit when real estate brokers are competitive, he said.

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