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N.H. listing service in enforcement action.

The New Hampshire-based Northern New England Real Estate Network is one of real estate broker groups in the country that have settled with the Federal Trade Commission over providing online access to discount brokers.

The NNEREN and groups in Colorado, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin agreed to a deal with the FTC. But two real estate groups in Michigan declined to settle, and the FTC said it will pursue claims against them before an administrative law judge.

At issue is whether homes for sale listed by discount online firms show up on Web sites operated by local multiple listing services, whose members typically are full-service firms that charge commissions of 6 percent or higher. In the enforcement actions, the MLS allowed discounters to list homes online in databases viewable by brokers, but refused to allow the listings to be published on Web sites available to the public.

The enforcement actions accuse the listing services of illegally restraining competition by denying home sellers who use discount brokerage services access to regional real estate listings controlled by major real estate companies.

The FTC said that while the agency was announcing actions targeted at regional brokerage practices, it wants the national real estate industry to alter anti-competitive practices regarding the listing services.

The settlement calls for the agencies to allow full online access to their multiple listing services. By previously limiting access they "drove up costs and reduced choice for consumers, and they violated federal law," said FTC Competition Director Jeffrey Schmidt.

In September the Northern New England Real Estate Network announced that it had reached an agreement with the FTC to keep its "exclusive agency" listings on the consumer-viewed pages of its Web site.

For several months in 2005, NNEREN--a for-profit real-estate firm owned by 19 Realtor boards in New Hampshire and Vermont--had kept those listings out of public view, and also kept them off the National Association of Realtors' Web site and other Internet portals. They had made up about 13 percent of NNEREN's total listings.

In a statement, Andrew Werry, NNEREN executive director, said NNEREN "voluntarily rescinded (its) policy in November 2005 and has agreed with the FTC to permanently discontinue the former policy."

Schmidt said the enforcement actions should send "a clear signal to real estate groups that they may need to make changes." The FTC is working with the NAR on how their members can comply with antitrust rules, he said.

The FTC declined to comment on the case at the time because the case was not public. Spokesman Frank Dorman said the FTC expected the case to be made public in about a month.
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Title Annotation:REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION * in brief; New Hampshire
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Oct 27, 2006
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