By Jennifer French, CPA

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), which represents over 1.5 million members across residential and commercial real estate sectors, has settled a major antitrust lawsuit for $418 million. The litigation involved a class of home sellers and several major brokerages, accusing them of artificially inflating sales commissions. This landmark settlement has the potential to drastically change the dynamics of buying and selling homes, possibly reducing costs for homeowners and significantly altering the operations of real estate professionals.

As part of the settlement, homeowners who sold properties within the last seven years may qualify for compensation from a collective class-action payout. The actual amount each claimant receives will depend on how many eligible homeowners submit claims by the May 9, 2025 deadline. This arrangement may affect tens of millions of Americans.

Background of the Lawsuit

The lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors (NAR) stemmed from allegations that its commission rules, specifically the cooperative compensation policies of its Multiple Listing Services (MLS), stifled price competition and led to inflated commissions. Instituted in the 1990s to ensure buyer representation, these longstanding rules mandated that listing brokers offer commissions to the buyer’s agents. Critics argued that this practice uniformly drove up fees across the industry, with sellers traditionally paying total commissions between five and six percent.

Details of the Settlement

The NAR has agreed to eliminate rules that mandated offers of compensation to the buyer’s agent via MLS. This change is aimed at encouraging open fee negotiation directly between buyers and agents, fostering a more competitive pricing environment. The settlement also requires MLS participants working with buyers to establish written agreements outlining their fees and services upfront, before viewing any properties, for greater transparency.

The implementation of these changes is scheduled to begin in late July 2024. Although the settlement still awaits final court approval, a motion for this approval is expected by the end of the year, with a final approval hearing set for November 26, 2024.

Impact on Stakeholders

  • Buyers and Sellers: Buyers may benefit from potentially lower transaction costs, though they may now have to negotiate and directly pay their agents’ commissions, adding complexity to the home-buying process. Sellers might save on commissions but face challenges attracting buyer agents without the incentive of guaranteed compensation.
  • Real Estate Developers: Developers may need to adjust their sales strategies, potentially facing higher marketing costs but benefiting from lower direct selling expenses.
  • Investors and Property Owners: The settlement may influence investment strategies, with a possible decrease in transaction costs offering a more attractive return on investment. High-end property owners looking to sell might find a more varied market in terms of agent services and commission structures.


Legal and Economic Analysts

  • Market Volatility: With Americans annually spending approximately $100 billion on real estate commissions, the settlement’s initial implementation is expected to introduce some volatility, not only to the real estate market but also to the broader U.S. economy. Additionally, the workforce of approximately 2 million real estate professionals will be impacted as they adjust to new regulatory norms. This transition period may lead to temporary instability as the industry aligns with the new standards.
  • Healthier Market Dynamics: Experts suggest that the settlement will lead to a healthier and more competitive real estate market. They contend that increased competition and transparency will address the issue of overinflated commission structures, potentially reducing the overall costs of real estate transactions. Moreover, these changes are expected to most benefit individuals who have a significant portion of their wealth invested in housing. This could enhance their financial flexibility and improve geographic mobility, making it easier for families to relocate for employment or other opportunities.

Real Estate Professionals

  • Support for Changes: Some professionals view the elimination of the cooperative compensation rule and the new requirements for transparency as necessary reforms that are long overdue. They believe these changes will create a more competitive market environment and increase transparency, which may ultimately benefit both consumers and agents by aligning real estate practices more closely with consumer expectations.
  • Concerns Over Impact: On the other hand, some agents and brokers express concerns that these changes might place a heavier burden on buyers, who will now have to negotiate and directly handle agent fees. There is also apprehension that the quality of services provided by agents may diminish as the competitive pressure to reduce fees could lead to a “race to the bottom” in service standards.

Consumer Advocacy Groups

  • Increased Transparency: These groups commend the settlement for enhancing transparency in real estate transactions, which ensures that buyers are better informed about the fees they are paying and the services they are receiving.
  • Consumer Protection: The settlement is also seen as a progressive step in protecting consumers from opaque pricing structures that have historically obscured the real costs of real estate transactions, helping to safeguard buyer and seller interests.

Looking Forward

The settlement is likely to spur a wave of innovation within the real estate sector, encouraging new business models and more tailored services that may improve market efficiency and responsiveness. This innovation is anticipated to be particularly pronounced in the high-end and commercial markets, where bespoke services and efficiencies are often most impactful.

As the industry adapts to these changes, stakeholders must remain vigilant and proactive. Monitoring these developments will be crucial for navigating the new landscape, capitalizing on opportunities, and mitigating potential risks. The unfolding implications of this settlement may set a precedent for future reforms, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and informed decision-making, especially in the current real estate market. For more detailed insights on how this settlement affects your specific situation, contact Jennifer French, Partner on PBMares’ Construction & Real Estate team.