Comcom charges real estate agencies after Trade Me row

Thursday 17 December 2015

Thirteen real estate agencies are being prosecuted by the Commerce Commission for price fixing and anti-competitive behaviour.

By Miriam Bell

After a lengthy investigation, the Commerce Commission today filed charges, in the Auckland High Court, against 13 real estate agencies around the country.

Those charged include the head offices of real estate giants Barfoot and Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White and Bayley Corporation Limited, as well as regional groups in Hamilton and Manawatu.

Charges were also filed against Property Page, which is owned by some of the agencies, and three individuals.

The charges relate to the alleged response of the agencies to Trade Me’s change from a monthly subscription fee to a per-listing fee for properties advertised for sale on its website.

The Commission alleges that, in 2013 and 2014, the agencies breached the Commerce Act by agreeing on a planned industry response to Trade Me’s changed pricing model.

This involved an agreement, among the agencies, that vendors would have to pay the listing fee to have their property advertised on Trade Me, and that the agencies would not commit to any preferential or discounted listing fees with Trade Me.

Property Page is alleged to have aided and abetted the agencies in establishing and implementing the agreement.

The Commission’s investigation, which began in February last year, was prompted by allegations that some real estate agencies were boycotting advertising properties on Trade Me in response to the changes to its pricing model. 

However, over the course of the investigation, the Commission expanded its scope.

On top of the charges, the Commission has issued a further eight Manawatu agencies with warnings for their role in the conduct.

The Commission has agreed to settlements with Bayleys and Unique Realty Limited in Manawatu.

The settlements involve an admission that their conduct breached the Act and payment of a Court-imposed penalty.

The Commission said it is not able to comment further on the cases.

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