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Do Bankers, Bubble, Discounters, & Justice Department Cloud Real Estate Industry?


Once relegated to the classified advertising section of the local paper, real estate has jumped to front-page headlines and covers of national magazines. Leaders in the real estate industry are weary from interview requests for their perspectives on market conditions, the ongoing battle with the banking industry looking for entry into residential real estate brokerage, online brokerage commission discounters and investigations into their business practices from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The headlines threaten a correction in real estate prices, protectionist real estate trade associations, traditional versus Internet brokerage business models and a consumers right to a competitive marketplace for real estate services. Be aware of the issues and determine if they relate to your real estate investment goals.

Banking.

Two of the strongest industry trade associations, banking and real estate, have been waging a battle over the right of banks to offer real estate brokerage to consumers in addition to other financial instruments such as mortgages, securities and insurance which they currently market to customers. The National Association of Realtors testified at hearings with the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services that allowing banks into real estate will cost consumers more through increased real estate service fees.

Bubble talk.

It's a fact that talk of a real estate bubble has the attention of consumers. Hitwire an online monitoring service reported that searches for "real estate bubble" and "housing bubble" peaked at their highest level in the last twelve months for the week ending May 28, 2005. The expanded coverage and dialogue of real estate market practices and markets is an overdue educational resource for individual real estate investors.

Discount commissions and the Internet.

Discounted commissions offered by limited-service brokerages which often feature a strong Internet presence, helped this real estate business model to flourish. At issue is a discount broker using the listing information originated by a competing broker on their website. The broker who originates the listing information feels that they own the information and can "opt-out" of sharing it with competitors. Meanwhile the discount broker complains that being denied the information doesn't serve the consumer and feels it's anti-competitive. The discount brokers came into being by recognizing that some real estate consumers want alternatives to paying full-service commissions. Discount brokers offer limited services in exchange for lower commissions. State laws in some locales have been updated to implement minimum service requirements for consumers by discount brokerages at the request of state real estate trade associations.

The U.S. Department of Justice.

The adoption and possible consumer implications of limited-service requirements for discount brokerages in some states triggered an investigation by the Department of Justice. At issue is the claim by some discount brokers that these new limited service laws or policies are anti-competitive and thus violate federal anti-trust laws. The discount brokers allege these adopted or proposed policies at the national and state levels aim to restrict Internet competition for real estate consumers.

Ultimately real estate consumers and public opinion will decide if these issues cloud their perceptions of the residential real estate industry. In addition lawmakers and government officials will weigh in with their opinions of the future of real estate.

Mark Nash is a residential real estate author and broker in Chicago. He has contributed his real estate insight to CBS The Early Show, Bloomberg TV, Dow Jones Marketwatch, and Universal Press Syndicate. Mr. Nash specializes in helping consumers succeed in real estate. His latest book "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home" is available in bookstores nationwide or at Amazon.com


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