The historic $1.78 billion National Association of Realtors verdict in Kansas City, Missouri, this week could trigger a major disruption in the housing market, but it’s unclear when millions of people will know how the decision will affect residential real estate costs.
The case hinged on the commissions, usually of 6%, that sellers pay their agents, who then split them with the buyers’ agents. It has been a cornerstone of how the NAR — a powerful trade group of 1.5 million members — does business. But after just hours of deliberation, a jury found that this standard industry practice amounts to collusion to inflate real estate fees.
When Jerod Breit, a police officer, was selling his Missouri home a few years ago, he said, it was understandable that he’d need to pay a commission to his broker. But the buyer’s broker, too?
“It’s one of the things the system doesn’t tell you to think about — that’s just how it is,” he said. “It wasn’t until after I sold my house in 2017 that it really made me think about that other 3% I was paying to someone that I had never met, I will never meet and did nothing for me.”
Breit joined the class-action lawsuit led by attorney Michael Ketchmark, who called the traditional commission-sharing between agents who should be competitors an “unconscionable” conspiracy.
“It’s the only system, the only industry, in the United States where two competitors get together, they set the compensation and they split it,” he said, adding, “They’re running it like a cartel.”
“I’m from Kansas City, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs — we love Chiefs football here,” Ketchmark said. “When the Denver Broncos come to town, I don’t pay the coach’s salary. Why should you pay?”
Ketchmark vowed more suits to come, and the NAR still faces other scrutiny from authorities. In June, the Justice Department asked a federal judge’s permission to resume an antitrust probe into the association.