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Realtor fined $1.25m over price fixing

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 20/05/2016
Unique Realty's Palmerston North office. © Google Street View Unique Realty's Palmerston North office.

A Manawatu real estate agency has been ordered to pay $1.25 million in a price fixing and anti-competitive behaviour case.

The Commerce Commission has filed proceedings in the High Court in Auckland against 13 companies, including Barfoot and Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White and Bayleys.

It alleges the five main companies breached the Commerce Act in 2013 and 2014 by agreeing an industry-wide response to Trade Me's new pricing model, which changed from a monthly subscription fee to a per-listing fee for advertising properties.

The agents made vendors pay a listing fee, it is alleged.

Unique Realty Ltd, from Manawatu, is the first agency to appear in court over the allegations.

It reached a settlement prior to the proceedings being filed, under which it admitted its price-fixing conduct.

Justice Geoffrey Venning said all residential listings in Manawatu were affected by the anti-competitive behaviour, impacting on ordinary New Zealanders at a time they were making one of the most significant financial decisions they will make.

"A limited number of vendors paid the full $159 fee that Unique passed on to them, but more importantly some vendors may have elected not to list on Trade Me because they were facing a full $159 fee."

If the vendor chose not to list on Trade Me, it may have led to a lower number of `buyer eyes' or interest in their property, and they could have missed out on potential purchasers, he said.

The Commission's case against the other defendants in the Manawatu proceedings remains before the court, it said.

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