Florida Realtors VP Juana Watkins urged patience in a Thur. webinar, which is now available online. The decision might have an impact but the process will take years.
ORLANDO, Fla. – A jury in the Burnett v. NAR et al case found the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) liable under U.S. antitrust laws. In the case, NAR and four brokerages were defendants facing plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged commission rates are too high and buyer brokers paid too much.
The plaintiffs also alleged that NAR’s Code of Conduct and MLS Handbook, along with the corporate defendants’ practices, led to price fixing. And the monetary award, $1.78 billion, is automatically trebled in an antitrust case to $5.4 billion.
Two major themes emerged during webinar presentations from Florida Realtors® General Counsel Juana Watkins, along with the leadership team – President G. Mike McGraw, President Elect Gia Arvin, Vice President Tim Weisheyer – and Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant.
Watch the webinar video on Florida Realtors website (password required).
“Like all of you, we’re terribly disappointed about this outcome,” said McGraw. “But we’re also aware of your need for information for your businesses now and in the future. … (However), there is no change in the way we do business today.”
Two themes emerged: Time and patience
“It all deals with antitrust,” Watkins said, noting that there are other court cases underway, and that copycat court cases are expected. Even with Burnett, NAR plans an appeal; meanwhile, a similar case is underway in a different federal circuit.
There are still many unknowns, and Watkins says it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court may end up having the final word.
Watkins strongly urged patience.
The judge in the Burnett v. NAR et al case, for example, hasn’t even issued a final ruling yet, she said, so it’s unclear whether that decision will have only a local impact or if the judge will decide on a wider impact that encompasses other circuits, including the 11th District that includes Florida.
“Prepare for a long wait ahead,” Watkins told attendees. “The first thing I would urge is patience as we work through all the legal matters. What we do know is that NAR will aggressively pursue this issue.”
What Realtors can do today
Watkins spent time explaining U.S. antitrust laws, and she included examples of antitrust violations that some real estate agents might not be aware of. She praised the freedom of speech afforded to all Americans, but also said, going forward, “Avoid social media traps and other debate over these matters with competitors. Do not contribute to these discussions.
“The other thing I want you to do: Implement some pretty strong antitrust measures and educate your staff. Help them understand the importance of making sure they’re not, even in an informal way, talking to other folks about antitrust topics.” Casual conversations online or in person “often unintentionally devolve into antitrust type comments. You don’t want to contribute, even if it’s unintentional.”
Watkins final advice: “Take a very conservative approach and let this play out in the courts.”
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