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‘Don’t piss off the DOJ’: Veteran Las Vegas agents react to renewed push against Realtors

Updated April 24, 2024 - 7:26 pm

Multiple veteran Las Vegas real estate agents say they are largely on board with the upheaval currently going on in their industry.

It’s time for change and more transparency in their governing bodies, they say.

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the U.S. Justice Department could restart its investigation into the policies of the National Association of Realtors — which has approximately 1.5 million agents nationwide. The ruling comes more than three years after the powerful trade association first settled antitrust claims and the DOJ closed its investigation.

Multiple real estate agents have told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in recent months that DOJ officials were in Las Vegas on numerous occasions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic issuing subpoenas and interviewing brokers and agents about commissions charged by brokerages.

Las Vegas real estate agent Steve Hawks said it’s clear the DOJ and settlement lawyers are not targeting real estate agents but are looking to change the system and bring structural and foundational change to the industry and how it handles commission rates.

The average commission rate in the U.S. is somewhere around 5.4 percent, which is much higher than most developed nations. Nevada charges some of the highest rates in the country, according to a recent study.

“Don’t piss off the DOJ,” Hawks said. “Microsoft, AT&T — this is the same. (NAR) is making the exact same mistakes that those guys did, and do you think the result is going to be any different? They had the opportunity to settle with the DOJ in 2020 and they agreed to put all commissions on all of the websites, and they kind of tricked the DOJ. So now, the DOJ is like, ‘OK, you want to play games, let’s play games.’”

NAR settlement

The appeals court ruling is just the latest in a flurry of legal challenges for the NAR, which last month agreed to a $418 million agreement that settles lawsuits filed across the country, including two in Nevada, that alleged the trade association conspired to keep agents’ commissions high.

The settlement is expected to change the existing commissions model. Under the new settlement, agents won’t be allowed to include commissions for buyers agents in the Multiple Listing Service and buyers will have to have written agreements with their agents.

NAR said in a statement that it “does not set commissions” and that “the rule that has been the subject of litigation requires only that listing brokers communicate an offer of compensation. That offer can be any amount, including zero.” The Las Vegas Realtors, the largest industry association in the valley, have repeatedly referred to NAR for comment.

Settlement loopholes

Agents say there are loopholes in the NAR settlement that could allow real estate agents to make offers of compensation to buyers’ agents outside of the listing, Hawks said. He said many agents will simply avoid the settlement’s stipulations, and many coaches and brokers are already publicly teaching the loopholes.

Hawks said some real estate agents are even confusing the NAR settlement with the ongoing DOJ investigation, showing a lack of education within the industry. He said he thinks NAR may try to drag out the DOJ investigation until after the November presidential election, hoping the trade group could find favor if Republican Donald Trump is elected.

Jim Dague, a corporate broker at Love Las Vegas Realty, said the biggest change outlined in the NAR settlement is a requirement that a potential homebuyer signs a buyer’s agreement before that real estate agent can show them homes. He said this was used sparingly in the past, but could now become the norm moving forward.

“And even if you sign that agreement for one day, you are still going to be expected to sign. There’s this thing called ‘duty of disclosure’ and you have to get that signed,” he said.

Dague said it’s important to note that the issues between the DOJ and the NAR are longstanding and any political motivations pinned to the Biden administration are unfounded.

“Don’t forget this started under the Trump administration, this started under the last administration. … The Department of Justice is justifying their existence and their paychecks, and we’re an easy target for them because it’s been this way for a long time. We’re the slowest lumbering dinosaur. We’re a big organization and we’re not that quick to make changes.”

Contact Patrick Blennerhassett at pblennerhassett@reviewjournal.com.

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