Minnesota home seller, Christopher Moehrl, has filed an class action anti-trust lawsuit [in April], alleging a “conspiracy” to price fix broker compensation in the 2.5-3% range, naming the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Realogy, HomeServices of America, RE/MAX, and Keller Williams (with more to be named, inevitably).
The complaint intimates that by requiring brokers to offer buyer broker compensation when listing a property on the MLS, fees are “fixed” and inflated, violating anti-trust laws. In short, they believe buyer’s agents shouldn’t be paid because buyers can find their home online now.
The class action suit claims that because the seller has to pay the buyer’s agent, commissions are inflated. The truth is that although it is NAR’s rule to require compensation, it could be as little as one cent, and Associations support all compensation models (flat-fee, discount, rebates, traditional 3% per side, and even higher on luxury listings).
Let’s take a look at some of the court documents directly:
“8. Defendants’ conspiracy has kept buyer broker commissions in the 2.5 to 3.0 percent range for many years despite the diminishing role of buyer brokers.”
This point continues to outline how buyers agents are essentially useless in an era where homebuyers have direct access to listings and can find their own home online. That claim is similar to claims made by anti-Realtor bloggers in the early 2000s, and is wildly uninformed. All agents, no matter which side they represent have a fiduciary duty to their client, negotiate on their behalf, and walk them through (and oversee) a complex financial process.
Beyond that, buyer’s agents are often the person that has to inform a buyer that their dream home they found on Zillow (or other sites that use non-MLS data) actually sold several days ago, or was not real to begin with.
They’re the individuals that have to not only be educated on real estate law and contracts, lending options and processes, but be experts in a certain geographical area and be informed of architectural styles, smart home features, green home features, and so on.
The indication that a buyers agent’s sole value is to pair a homebuyer with a home is ludicrous and objectively false.
“17. In that sales transaction, Mr. Moehrl was represented by a RE/MAX franchisee, and the buyer was represented by a Keller Williams franchisee. As part of the sales transaction, Mr. Moehrl paid a total broker commission of six percent, and 2.7 percentage points of the six percentage points were paid to the buyer broker.”
It is important to note that it is not illegal to buy or sell a home without representation. It happens every day across this nation. If there was a legal requirement to hire a real estate professional, this lawsuit might have merit. But there is not.
Further, the fact that the buyer broker was only given 2.7 percent indicates that Moehrl negotiated against the supposed 3.0 percent standard the lawsuit is so aggressively fighting against.
Obviously this home seller knew he could negotiate commissions.
Not only did the Plaintiff not have to hire a Realtor, he didn’t have to allow any negotiation of the compensation, given that the buyer side earned 2.7 percent, and his own Realtor earned 3.3 percent.
“38. As required by the Buyer Broker Commission Rule, the seller broker makes a blanket, non-negotiable offer of a three percent commission to the buyer’s broker when it lists the home on the local MLS.”
The Plaintiff’s attorneys have clearly not done any homework. Compensation is required, that is factual, but there are no bylaws that dictate the amount. It can be as little as one cent. Or as high as 100%, it is all negotiable. All of it.
63. For years, buyer broker commissions have remained steady at two-and-a-half to three percent in the areas in which the Covered MLSs operate despite both an increase in home prices (increasing the dollar amount of the commission) and the diminishing role of buyer brokers described above.
NAR does not track or store broker commission data, and while brokerages individually do, they don’t uniformly or openly share that information with any competing brokers. There is no conspiracy regarding commissions.
The responsibilities of a buyer broker have actually increased over time, not diminished. Ask a broker in 1980 if they had to be well versed in modern marketing, social media strategies, analytics, paperless contract technologies, know the privacy laws regarding the collection and dissemination of information online, and so forth.
To repeatedly argue that anything other than market conditions have determined commission levels is dead wrong. In fact, some would argue that commissions on both sides of the transaction should be higher (and therefore, some brokerages offer services at higher commission levels than 3%).
The takeaway is that all commissions in real estate are negotiable, it’s not a legal requirement to hire a real estate professional when buying or selling a home, and that buyer agent responsibilities and values have actually increased over time.
Anyone in America who doesn’t like a Realtor’s services offered at a specific commission level can negotiate or hire a different Realtor – there is no conspiracy here. This lawsuit has a variety of factually inaccurate statements regarding commissions, and is laughable.
This story was first published in April of 2019.
Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?
The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.
While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.
When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).
In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.
However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.
Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.
RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy
(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.
It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.
Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.
The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.
Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.
In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.
Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.
Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?
2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold
(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.
Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.
Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”
Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.
It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.
Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.
The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”
Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
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