On May 2, 2008, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against the Consolidated Multiple Listing Services (“CMLS”) of Columbia, SC. The lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court in Columbia, SC, alleges that the CMLS’s rules regarding who can be a member and how those brokers must conduct their business stifles competition. These rules prevent local real estate brokers as well as rival brokers from outside of Columbia from providing innovative options that would provide better services to consumers.
CMLS, like other multiple listing services around the country, is a database that includes members’ home listings information. Members are allowed to communicate amongst themselves as well as search through all of the home listings available in the area through the database. As such, access to a multiple listing service database is critical for any broker to service clients efficiently.
Some of the rules that are being challenged by the DOJ include, for example, preventing brokers from offering clients a way to avoid a broker fee if the seller found a buyer on his or her own. Another rule forces brokers to provide certain services such as being involved in the negotiation of a home’s sale price and attending the closing, even if the broker’s client would like to conduct these tasks on his or her own to avoid broker fees.