21 May 2016

Real estate agency fined $1.25m for price fixing

9:13 am on 21 May 2016

A judge has ordered a Manawatu real estate agency to pay $1.25 million for price fixing over advertising.

The Commerce Commission says Unique Realty is the first of 13 national and regional agencies dealt with over accusations involving three separate price fixing and anti-competitive agreements.

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Photo: 123rf

Unique Realty admitted agreeing with another Manawatu agency and an individual that they would force property owners to pay for advertising on Trade Me.

A penalty hearing in the High Court in Auckland heard Unique asked vendors to pay the $159 fee for online listings, or risk reducing the chances of their properties being viewed.

Twelve other agencies are still to appear at the High Court in Auckland.

Unique admitted its conduct breached the prohibition on price fixing in the Commerce Act, in an agreement reached with the commission before court proceedings were filed.

Justice Venning set the penalty.

The commission said it had also agreed settlements with Bayleys, at the national level, and Hamilton-based Success Realty.

Accusations of price fixing are undermining peoples' confidence in the industry, the Real Estate Agents Authority said.

The authority's chief executive, Kevin Lampen-Smith, said such anti-competitive behaviour could make people lose trust in agencies.

"There are many real estate agents and it is a competitive market, so this sort of behaviour does undermine people's confidence in that competitive market.

"Really I'm keen that the industry do behave appropriately and people should have faith that they can go to different companies and negotiate and have different offerings put on the table."

He said it was concerning that some agencies might be trying to stamp out competition.