The Justice Department gave a boost Tuesday to online real-estate brokers by forcing new industry policies that give Internet-based agents access to home listings they had been denied.
The tentative settlement, which still requires court approval, could save consumers thousands of dollars when buying a home.
Online real estate agents often charge discounted commission fees and let buyers review listings at their own pace.
For years, however, Web-based brokers have complained that the National Association of Realtors wanted to let real estate agents exclude some listings from their online competitors. More than 800 multiple listing services nationwide are affiliated with the Realtors group.
In a September 2005 lawsuit, government lawyers said such policies discriminated against online brokers. The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, opens the MLS databases to online and traditional residential property agents.
“It really does free brokers generally to engage in whatever they feel is the most efficient and effective way to compete,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Deborah Garza of the Justice Department's antitrust division told reporters.
She said the settlement “should lower the cost of the transaction for buying a house.”
In 2006, for example, consumers saved up to 1 percent on home prices by using online brokers, Garza said. That year, the median home price amounted to more than $225,000, with median commissions of more than $11,000.
Real estate agents earned $93 billion in commissions in 2006, she said.
In a report last year, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission found that more consumers use the Web when house hunting than rely on “For Sale” yard signs.
Tuesday's settlement will not take effect until late summer at the earliest.