Tuesday, May 8, 2007

FTC/DOJ Competition Report

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have issued a joint report entitled "Competition in the Real Estate Brokerage Industry." The agencies stated objective in preparing the report is “to inform consumers and others involved in the industry about important competition issues involving residential real estate, including the impact of the Internet, the competitive structure of the real estate brokerage industry, and obstacles to a more competitive environment.”

The report advises that competition “has been hindered as a result of actions taken by some real estate brokers acting through multiple listing services and the National Association of Realtors, state legislatures, and state real estate commissions.” It also notes that consumers would likely benefit from additional knowledge about the range of options available in brokerage services and fees.

The report offers the following recommendations to encourage competition and protect real estate consumers:

The FTC and the Department should continue to monitor the cooperative conduct of private associations of real estate brokers and bring enforcement actions in appropriate circumstances. While cooperation among brokers through a multiple listing service can provide consumers with important efficiencies, cooperation used to adopt rules that hinder rivals can be anticompetitive and, as recent agency actions indicate, may violate the antitrust laws.

The FTC and the Department should continue to provide state legislators and industry regulators with information concerning the competitive consequences of state legislation and regulations that threaten to or already do restrict competition and consumer choice in the real estate brokerage industry, and take enforcement action in appropriate circumstances.

State legislators and industry regulators should consider repealing existing laws, rules and regulations, such as minimum-service and anti-rebate provisions, that limit choice and reduce the ability of new brokerage models (e.g., fee-for-service brokers, discount full-service brokers, virtual office Web site brokers, and broker referral networks) to compete and that do not appear to provide any consumer benefits that would justify such restrictions. They should also avoid enacting such laws, rules and regulations in the future.

The FTC, Department, and industry regulators should promote consumer understanding of marketplace options. Some consumers may not be aware of the range of alternatives available to them when hiring a real estate broker, including the types of business models available and the negotiability of fees, for both home buyers and sellers, or may not understand the duties owed by their broker. Competition in the real estate brokerage industry would likely be enhanced if consumers had better access to such information

The FTC, Department, and industry regulators should assess the feasibility of an empirical study of the real estate brokerage industry. Transaction-level data on commission rates and fees are not publicly available, but broad national aggregate data suggest that commission rates and fees move in tandem with housing prices. Just as a 1983 FTC study provided valuable information about how real estate brokers competed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a new study examining how transaction-level commission rates and fees vary based on such factors as market conditions, housing prices, and regulation would provide a better understanding of the current state of competition in the real estate brokerage industry.

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