After a Landmark Verdict, Realtors Ask, ‘What’s Next?’

On a sunny November weekend, plenty of people showed up to see the three-bedroom house with a view of San Francisco Bay, nestled in the hills of Berkeley, Calif., and listed for shy of $1 million. As the inquiries rolled in the following week, Deidre Joyner, the listing agent, received one that stunned her.

A prospective buyer wanted details about the property, built 60 years ago and in need of work. When Ms. Joyner asked if he was working with a buyer’s agent, he told her he didn’t need one anymore.

“Didn’t you hear about the ruling?” she recalled him saying, referring to an Oct. 31 verdict that found the real estate industry conspired to artificially inflate commissions, a decision that has the potential to transform the way Americans buy and sell homes.

The call took Ms. Joyner back 15 years to the only time that she, as a listing agent, had ever dealt directly with an unrepresented buyer, a transaction that fell apart so spectacularly she described it as “the worst deal I’ve ever experienced.” To her, the call felt ominous, a harbinger of how her industry may change in the months to come — some buyers may forgo representation rather than pay for it, she speculated, creating a “more chaotic market.”

Deidre Joyner, an Oakland, Calif., real estate agent, worries about a “more chaotic market” in the months ahead.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In the class-action suit, a federal jury in Missouri ruled that the National Association of Realtors and several real estate brokerages had conspired to fix prices by setting a standard where sellers pay the listing agent a commission — almost invariably 5 to 6 percent of the sale price — that is split with the buyer’s agent. The decision, which found the defendants liable for about $1.8 billion in damages, a sum that could grow to more than $5 billion, could ultimately uncouple the listing and buying agents’ commissions, so sellers would no longer be obligated to pay the buyer’s portion. Similar suits are making their way through the courts, with more filed after the verdict, adding additional pressure on the industry.

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