Shopping for real estate on the Web should soon get easier--and potentially cheaper--for home buyers.
The Justice Department on Tuesday said that it has reached a settlement with the National Association of Realtors that will require the trade association to provide Web-based brokers with equal access to home listings. Previously, online brokers were blocked from accessing more than 800 multiple listings services (MLS) nationwide that were linked to NAR, putting them at a natural disadvantage to traditional brokers.
Online brokers typically charge less commission on the sale of a new home than a traditional broker's average 6 percent. For that reason, traditional brokers have long fought the growing influence of the Internet on the home-shopping process.
As part of the new agreement, which still must be approved by the court, the NAR must enact policy among members that ensures fair and equal treatment of online brokers. Brokers participating in an NAR-affiliated listing service will not be allowed to withhold listings from brokers who serve customers online.
"When there is unfettered competition from brokers with innovative and efficient approaches to the residential real estate market, consumers are likely to receive better services and pay lower commission rates," Deborah Garza, deputy assistant attorney general of the antitrust division, said in a statement.
If approved, the 10-year settlement agreement will end a 3-year-old lawsuit filed by the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. The suit and the agreement were filed in a U.S. district court in Chicago, where the NAR is headquartered. The final settlement, which does not hold the NAR liable for any past action, will likely be approved by July after a 60-day comment period.