Real estate agencies accused of price fixing, anti-competitive behaviour

The Commerce Commission has accused 13 real estate agencies of price fixing and anti-competitive behaviour.

The commission has filed proceedings in the High Court at Auckland against 13 agencies, a company owned by some of the agencies, as well as three individuals. 

A further eight agencies have also been warned for their role in the alleged conduct between 2013 and 2014.

The commission says the accusations relate to responses by the head offices of five major companies, Barfoot and Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White and Bayleys, as well as agencies in Hamilton and Manawatu, to Trade Me [NZX: TME] changing its monthly subscription fees.

This is alleged to have occurred when Trade Me switched from a monthly subscription fee to a per-listing fee for property advertisements on its website.

The commission says the defendants breached the Commerce Act by agreeing to a “planned industry response” to Trade Me’s changes.

This allegedly involved the parties agreeing vendors would have to pay the listing fee while agencies would not commit to any preferential or discounted listing fees with the website.

It also alleges Property Page, a company owned by the five agencies, which in turn owns half of Trade Me competitor, aided and abetted the agencies in implementing its agreement.

A settlement has been agreed in principle with Bayleys, involving an admission and payment of a court-imposed penalty, but settlements have not been agreed with the others.

The commission has also filed proceedings against real estate agencies and individuals in Hamilton and Manawatu, for planning a “regional response” to Trade Me’s changes.

The Hamilton companies are Harcourts-associated Monarch Real Estate, Lodge Real Estate, Lugton’s, Ray White-associated Online Realty, Bayleys-associated Success Realty, and two individuals who work for Monarch and Lodge.

Property Brokers, LJ Hooker-associated Manawatu 1994, and Unique Realty are the Manawatu companies.

A settlement has been reached with Unique Realty, the commission says.

It will not comment further on the cases.

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