A recently filed class-action antitrust suit against the National Association of Realtors, among other major real estate players, could spell a serious shake-up for the industry. If the claim’s plaintiffs win out? It may change the face of buying and selling real estate as we know it.
In Moerhl vs. National Association Realtors (NAR), home sellers from across the nation are claiming that NAR’s compensation policies—which require all member brokers demand blanket, non-negotiable buyer-side commission fees when listing a home on a Multiple Listing Service—is a violation of antitrust law. Realogy Holdings, HomeServices of America, RE/MAX and Keller Williams are also named in the suit.
Though Minnesota home seller Christopher Moehrl originated the claim, sellers who listed their properties on 21 different Multiple Listing Services across the country are also plaintiffs on the antitrust suit. These MLSs cover Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas and many of the nation’s largest housing markets.
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Where the Case is Heading
The chances of settlement are slim, according to experts, so this one is likely heading to court. The firms handling the plaintiff side—Hagens, Berman, Sobol & Shapiro and Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll—are known for their drawn-out legal proceedings and lucrative wins. Hagens Berman secured $1.6 billion in a case against Toyota in 2013 and another $206 billion from the tobacco industry in 1998. Cohen Milstein won an antitrust lawsuit against Apple just five years ago for $560 million.
As Swanson explained, “These are not the type of firms that put a suit in place to collect a few thousand dollars and go away.”
There’s also the nature of the suit to consider. According to Swanson, the plaintiffs are after more than just money on this one.
“This case is not likely about an angry Plaintiff who is unhappy that he paid a higher commission on a property sale,” he said. “There is a bigger goal behind this lawsuit and that is to open the competitive field an allow new players to get into the market.”
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