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Agencies accused of price fixing

Thirteen real estate agencies are facing charges of alleged price fixing and anti-competitive behaviour. The Commerce Commission has filed proceedings in the Auckland High Court against the agencies and Property Page NZ, a company which that owns 50 percent of realestate.co.nz.

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The commission said the proceedings relate to alleged conduct in 2013 and 2014 by the head offices of five major real estate companies and separately by agencies in Hamilton and Manawatu.

Firms facing charges are Barfoot and Thompson, Harcourts Group, LJ Hooker New Zealand, Ray White (Real Estate) and Bayley Corporation. The allegations stem from the companies’ response to Trade Me’s change from a monthly subscription fee to a per-listing fee for properties advertised on its website.

The commission claims the defendants breached the Commerce Act by agreeing a response to the change in pricing. It’s alleged the companies agreed vendors would have to pay the listing fee to have their property advertised on the site and that the agencies wouldn’t commit to any preferential or discounted listing fees with Trade Me.

The commission also alleges Property Page (NZ) aided and abetted the agencies in establishing and implementing the agreement. Property Page is owned by Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White, Barfoot & Thompson and Bayleys.

The commission said it had agreed a settlement in principle with Bayleys to resolve the proceeding against it. The settlement involves Bayleys making admissions that its conduct breached the Act and paying a court-imposed penalty.

Proceedings have also been filed against real estate agencies and individuals in Hamilton and Manawatu.

The commission alleges Monarch Real Estate Limited (trading under the Harcourts banner), Lodge Real Estate (Hamilton) Limited, Lugton’s Limited, Online Realty Limited (trading under the Ray White banner), Success Realty Limited (trading under the Bayleys banner) and two individuals breached the Commerce Act by agreeing a regional response to Trade Me’s changed pricing. The individuals work for Monarch and Lodge.

The commission alleges the parties agreed that all listings would be removed from Trade Me’s website and vendors would have to pay the listing fee to have their property advertised on Trade Me.

Proceedings have also been filed against Property Brokers Limited, Manawatu 1994 Limited (trading under the LJ Hooker banner), Unique Realty Limited and one individual, alleging they breached the Commerce Act by agreeing with each other and other agencies in Manawatu a regional response to Trade Me’s pricing. The individual concerned works for Property Brokers.

The commission alleges the parties agreed vendors would have to pay the listing fee to have their property advertised on Trade Me.

The commission said it had agreed a settlement in principle with Unique Realty. The settlement involves Unique making admissions its conduct breached the Act, and paying a court-imposed penalty.

Warnings have also been issued to eight other Manawatu agencies which the commission considers are likely to have breached the Commerce Act. The companies are:

  • Coast to Coast Limited (trading under the Bayleys banner)
  • Alrose Limited (trading as RE/MAX Palmerston North)
  • Rural and Lifestyle Sales.com Limited
  • Real Estate House Manawatu Limited (trading under the Ray White banner)
  • Harcourts Team Manawatu Realty Limited (trading under the Harcourts banner)
  • Watson Real Estate Limited
  • PGG Wrightson Real Estate Limited
  • Monty’s Real Estate Limited
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