Lawsuits could transform home buying and selling

Lawsuits Could Transform Home Buying and Selling

Legal actions have the potential to reshape the process of purchasing and selling homes.

A pair of legal actions are contesting conventional commission structures and Multiple Listing Service (MLS) procedures, potentially leading to a significant industry transformation, with billions of dollars in broker commissions in the balance.

The age-old conventional approach to home sales, which has been in practice for decades, may witness a substantial overhaul if the plaintiffs in two ongoing legal cases secure victory. Such an outcome could have widespread repercussions, potentially resulting in the dissolution of the multiple listing service (MLS) and the eradication of billions of dollars in broker commissions.

The defendants in these legal proceedings are the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and residential brokerages including HomeServices of America, RE/MAX, Keller Williams Realty, and Anywhere Real Estate.

These legal actions allege that the existing process, which entails listing properties on the MLS and adhering to preset commission structures, is anticompetitive and artificially inflates home prices. The plaintiffs argue that the current system is overly rigid and doesn’t allow agents to adjust their compensation based on the complexity of a transaction or other relevant factors.

While two of the defendants in these lawsuits have recently made initial settlements to address the claims, the issue is far from being resolved.

Here’s what you should understand:

Comprehending Lawsuit Details

When you engage the services of a real estate agent for purchasing a home, their fees are typically not at the forefront of your thoughts, a preference shared by these agents. The system is structured to make agent commissions as inconspicuous as possible, with no initial expenses for the buyer, as the seller handles the costs for both agents.

As per the National Association of Realtors (NAR), this setup is the most efficient. It spares buyers from front-end agent fees and allows sellers to swiftly close transactions without negotiating agent payments. Nevertheless, critics, including the litigants in these legal actions, argue that this structure compels sellers to pay excessively high commissions to buyer’s agents to attract potential buyers to view their properties.

The MLS (Multiple Listing Service) is an intricate network comprising approximately 600 distinct, specialized databases dispersed throughout the nation. According to court records, nearly 97% of these MLS systems are owned or overseen by local Realtor associations and adhere to NAR guidelines. NAR data shows that roughly 86% of property sellers in the preceding year listed their homes on these databases, underscoring the MLS’s undeniable influence. In return for this access, NAR mandates that sellers who choose to list on an MLS adhere to the “cooperative compensation rule,” which necessitates compensating the buyer’s agent with a commission.

As per the complaints, the central issue revolves around Multiple Listing Services (MLS), which are localized, web-based repositories where real estate agents interact by sharing information and property images for homes on sale. MLSs play a pivotal role in the U.S. real estate landscape and are among the most crucial resources available to registered agents. They often serve as a compelling reason to engage an agent early in the property sale process.

To gain access to an MLS, listing agents must navigate a complex set of financial arrangements. However, the lawsuits in question pose a potential threat to the entire system. The plaintiffs allege that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and several major brokerages have utilized MLS regulations to impose unreasonable fees, artificially inflating agent earnings.

Since agents representing buyers have visibility into the suggested commissions for each home listed on the MLS, they can potentially dissuade their clients from considering properties with less attractive compensation offers. The NAR has not established a mandatory minimum commission that listing brokers must offer to their counterparts representing buyers, which could theoretically be as low as $1. Nevertheless, the customary practice falls within the range of 2.5% to 3% of the total sale price. Consequently, any offer below this range may render the seller’s home less enticing and less likely to attract attention.

In a related but distinct case, the Justice Department (DOJ) initiated an inquiry aimed at ascertaining whether the lack of transparency surrounding the 5% to 6% commission rates for real estate agents resulted in artificially inflated transaction costs. This investigation persisted despite disruptive elements such as online property listings and venture-backed startups. Typically, in U.S. residential real estate transactions, the home seller, rather than the buyer directly, covers the payment to buyers’ agents. In November 2020, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), wherein NAR committed to increasing transparency regarding commissions for buyers and prohibiting agents from promoting their services as free to buyers.

In June, the DOJ sought approval from a federal appeals court to revisit its antitrust investigation into the National Association of Realtors. This request followed a ruling by a trial judge, who determined that a prior settlement between the influential industry association and U.S. investigators precluded a fresh examination.

The outcome remains uncertain, but the consequences of this legal battle will extend far beyond the courtroom. The result of these legal disputes has the potential to redefine the landscape of real estate transactions, challenging established commission norms and MLS practices.

What Impact These Lawsuits Could Have on Commissions

The impending lawsuits could bring about significant changes in real estate commissions, depending on one’s perspective. After lingering in the background for several years, these legal actions are approaching a crucial juncture, and their success could result in a complete revamp of how real estate agents are compensated. In this new framework, sellers might no longer bear the responsibility of covering both agents’ commissions after a sale; instead, buyers would directly pay their agents.

Advocates argue that these modifications could foster increased competition among agents, leading to substantial reductions in commission fees. This, in turn, might translate into annual savings for consumers, estimated to be between $20 billion and $30 billion. On the other hand, the defendants, led by the NAR, maintain that the current structure ultimately benefits consumers by providing them with widespread access to the real estate market.

The considerable damages sought by the plaintiffs would undoubtedly disrupt the operations of the industry’s major players. However, for individual agents, there would also be repercussions. If buyers are mandated to cover their agent’s expenses directly, a significant number may choose not to hire an agent or opt for hourly compensation for their services.

Agents may face increased competition for clients and the possibility of reduced commissions. The current surplus of agents could become even more evident, potentially leading to a mass exodus from the industry.

These lawsuits could pave the way for significant changes in commission structures, enabling consumers to negotiate alternative compensation models like hourly rates or flat fees. Instead of relying on the seller to cover both commissions during the closing process, buyers might take on the responsibility of directly paying their brokers.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) argues that such a shift could present a substantial obstacle for first-time and low-income buyers who may lack the upfront funds to compensate an agent, potentially denying them access to valuable expertise.

These legal cases have the potential to profoundly reshape the landscape of the real estate industry, representing its most significant existential challenge to date.

Potential Impact of Commission Changes on the Global Mobility Industry

The global mobility industry finds itself at a critical juncture due to two significant lawsuits that have the potential to revolutionize the process of buying and selling homes. These legal disputes challenge the conventional reliance on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and pre-established commissions, accusing them of engaging in anti-competitive practices that drive up home prices. While some defendants have chosen to settle, the ultimate outcome remains uncertain.

At the heart of the matter are the MLS regulations, which have long been a cornerstone of the real estate landscape, with nearly 97% of them owned or overseen by local Realtor associations. These databases have played a pivotal role, but the lawsuits argue that they’ve been leveraged to impose excessive fees and artificially inflate agent commissions. The potential ramifications are significant, as changes in commission structures could open the door for consumers to negotiate a variety of compensation arrangements. However, this shift may present challenges for first-time and low-income homebuyers. The resolution of these lawsuits holds the potential to transform the industry by introducing competition, reducing costs, and expanding choices for customers. This makes it one of the most pressing issues currently confronting the real estate sector.

Get A Free Moving Quote

"*" indicates required fields