New Lawsuit Challenges Real Estate Industry Practices in Georgia – Off Plan Property Exchange

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A recent class-action lawsuit filed by home sellers in northern Georgia has brought allegations of collusion and antitrust practices against various players in the real estate industry. Plaintiffs Janet Phillips, Joseph Hunt, Edith Anne Hunt, Penny Scheetz, Benjamin Aune, and Parkwood Living, LLC claim that these industry players have conspired to inflate real estate agent commissions artificially. The defendants list includes well-known names such as the National Association of Realtors, HomeServices of America, Keller Williams, RE/MAX, Christie’s International Real Estate, Anywhere, Engel & Völkers, and HomeSmart.

What sets this lawsuit apart is the inclusion of local real estate firms in the defendant list. Local companies like Harry Norman Realtors, Ansley Atlanta Real Estate, Atlanta Fine Homes, Solid Source Realty, Palmerhouse Properties, Higher Tech Realty, and Hamilton Dorsey Altson Company are also facing accusations. Subsidiaries of RE/MAX and HomeServices, such as RE/MAX Metro Atlanta and HomeServices Georgia Properties, are named defendants as well.

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The heart of the complaint revolves around the National Association of Realtors’ Clear Cooperation policy, which demands that listing brokers offer compensation to buyer brokers as a blanket requirement for listing a property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The plaintiffs argue that this policy results in an anticompetitive market where sellers are forced to subsidize the buyer’s costs, leading to non-negotiable buyer agent commissions being included in the sale price of homes. They claim that this practice illegally distorts the real estate market.

The lawsuit also raises concerns about the alleged inability of buyers to negotiate their agent’s commission. The rules outlined by the defendants supposedly prohibit negotiations related to the buyer broker’s compensation and hinder a buyer broker from presenting offers to sellers that include reduced commission rates.

Alongside the allegations, the complaint refers to the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the National Association of Realtors and the Sitzer/Burnett suit, both of which suggest evidence of a larger conspiracy.

Like previous copycat lawsuits, the Phillips suit seeks class-action status, aiming to include all individuals who listed properties in Georgia’s multiple listing services and paid a buyer broker commission between November 22, 2019, and the present. The plaintiffs’ demands include a permanent injunction against the requirement for sellers to pay buyer brokers, as well as damages and a jury trial.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Clear Cooperation policy?

The Clear Cooperation policy is enforced by the National Association of Realtors and requires listing brokers to offer compensation to buyer brokers as a prerequisite for listing a property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

What are the plaintiffs alleging in this lawsuit?

The plaintiffs claim that various real estate industry players, including the National Association of Realtors, have colluded to artificially inflate real estate agent commissions, leading to an anticompetitive market and higher costs for sellers.

What are the potential implications of this lawsuit?

If successful, the lawsuit could result in changes to industry practices, such as negotiations over buyer broker commissions and the requirement for sellers to pay these commissions.

Are there any ongoing investigations related to these allegations?

Yes, the Department of Justice is currently conducting an investigation into the National Association of Realtors, which is mentioned in the lawsuit as evidence of a larger conspiracy.

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