Tuesday afternoon, an 8-person Missouri jury found the National Association of Realtors (alongside co-defendants Keller Williams and HomeServices of America) guilty of conspiring to inflate buyer-broker commissions, assessing $1.8 billion in penalties.
The highly watched Sitzer/Burnett trial took 11 days and numerous witnesses, and industry reactions to the results are as diverse as the Realtor population. Because previously named in the suit RE/MAX and Anywhere Real Estate settled earlier this month (for a combined $138.5 million and an agreement to allow franchisees to opt in or out of NAR membership), many were not surprised at this legal outcome.
Per court filings, the awarded penalty could potentially be tripled if the judge decides to apply anti-trust rules.
NAR VP of Communications, Mantill Williams tells The Real Daily:
“NAR rules prioritize consumers, support market-driven pricing and promote business competition. This matter is not close to being final as we will appeal the jury’s verdict. In the interim, we will ask the court to reduce the damages awarded by the jury. We stand by the fact that NAR’s guidance for local MLS broker marketplaces ensures consumers get comprehensive, equitable, transparent and reliable home information and that brokerages of any size, service or pricing model get a fair shot at competing. We will continue to focus on our mission to advocate for homeownership and always put consumer interests first. It will likely be several years before this case is finally resolved.“
“…years before this case is finally resolved.”
Williams pointed out a critical fact that is often missed – this is a complex legal battle that both sides were earmarking appeals for along the way. The first appeal volley lands on NAR.
What we are often asked by brokers and practitioners is what they can do, and the answer is simple – keep calm as this is but one battle in a broader war that will take a painfully long time, and stay informed.
NAR has set up an online war room of sorts at competition.realtor that arms members for a long-term defense.
We’ve published a very in-depth takedown of the original allegations which is often referenced in the industry and is worth diving into. Consumers appear to remain apathetic about the lawsuit and still understand that they can choose their representation and can use a discount or full price broker, ergo they naturally understand that commissions are negotiable.
Yet here we all are because (to oversimplify), a homeowner signed a legally binding agreement that they’d pay specific commissions for specific services, received those services and say they’re satisfied with them, but now believe they shouldn’t have had to pay those commissions.
That’s really why we’re all here today.
BUT there is something you don’t know yet…
As mentioned previously, this is but a battle in a war and you already know that copycat lawsuits are popping up, and the appeals process on NAR’s end has begun. Regardless of any outcome, the way commissions function could change over time with or without any judicial decisions.
But readers, what you don’t know yet is that there were potential shenanigans going on behind the scenes. We’re following the money and we believe that it is quite possible yesterday’s decision could very well end up being vacated.
Whether you love or hate NAR, brokerages, or the commission structure options currently in play, this is nowhere near over. Stay tuned.