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Landmark Jury Verdict Awards $1.8 Billion in Damages Against National Association of Realtors and Real Estate Companies

In a significant legal battle, a U.S. jury has delivered a verdict against the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and several real estate companies, including subsidiaries of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

The jury found these entities guilty of conspiring to artificially inflate commissions paid by home sellers to buyers’ brokers. This landmark case, which took place in Kansas City, Missouri, has attracted widespread attention for challenging long-standing practices in the real estate industry. The verdict, which ordered $1.8 billion in damages, is set to have far-reaching consequences within the industry.

The Jury’s Decision:

The jury, after a two-week trial, ruled that the NAR and several real estate companies must pay $1.78 billion in damages for their role in artificially inflating commissions. The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michael Ketchmark, has stated that this award will be automatically tripled under U.S. antitrust law, bringing the total damages to more than $5.3 billion. He emphasized that this decision represents a day of accountability for the defendants.

The plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit included home sellers from Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois who sold over 260,000 homes between 2015 and 2022. The defendants, apart from the NAR, included Berkshire Hathaway-owned HomeServices of America and two of its subsidiaries, as well as Keller Williams.

Reactions and Plans for Appeal:

Unsurprisingly, the defendants have expressed their disappointment and intentions to appeal the verdict. HomeServices, for instance, stated that it was unhappy with the outcome and plans to pursue an appeal. Keller Williams, while considering all available options, including appeals, has described this verdict as potentially creating additional obstacles for buyers and sellers in an already challenging real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors has also voiced its intention to appeal and has plans to request a reduction in the damages amount. The defendants have consistently denied any wrongdoing throughout the legal proceedings.

The Allegations:

The heart of this case revolved around allegations that the NAR and corporate defendants colluded to raise the commission paid by home sellers to brokers representing buyers, often exceeding 6%. The plaintiffs argued that this commission structure was anticompetitive and had market-distorting effects.

In response, the NAR claimed that there was no evidence supporting the allegations that agents were required to make compensation offers or that these offers were made with the intent to stabilize, fix, or raise commissions. Despite their denial of wrongdoing, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs.

Additional Legal Challenges:

This case is not the only legal challenge the NAR faces. The U.S. Justice Department is currently fighting in a U.S. appeals court in Washington to revive a probe into the trade group’s industry rules. This suggests that the NAR’s legal troubles are far from over, and they may face additional scrutiny in the future.

Conclusion:

The $1.8 billion verdict against the National Association of Realtors and various real estate companies marks a significant turning point in the real estate industry. The jury’s decision is expected to have a profound impact on industry practices, potentially leading to policy changes. The legal battle underscores the increasing scrutiny faced by major players in the real estate market and highlights the significance of adhering to antitrust regulations. As this case unfolds and the appeal process continues, it will undoubtedly shape the future of real estate practices in the United States.¬

sources:

https://www.reuters.com/legal/missouri-jury-hits-nar-real-estate-companies-with-18-bln-damages-2023-10-31/

https://therealdeal.com/national/2023/10/31/jury-finds-nar-brokerages-guilty-in-sitzer-commissions-suit/

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