The Commerce Commission’s court action against Manawatu real estate agents involved in a national price-fixing agreement has been completed.
Property Brokers Ltd and its director, Tim Mordaunt, were ordered to pay penalties totalling $1.5 million in a judgment issued on Monday following a High Court hearing in March.
The commission filed proceedings in the Auckland High Court in December 2015 for alleged price-fixing & anti-competitive behaviour by 13 national & regional real estate agencies, a company owned by a number of national real estate agencies and 3 individuals. The commission also issued warnings to an additional 8 agencies for their role in the conduct.
The proceedings related to alleged conduct in 2013 & 2014 by the national head offices of 5 major real estate companies, and separately by agencies in Hamilton & Manawatu. The alleged conduct occurred in response to Trade Me’s change from a monthly subscription fee to a per-listing fee for properties advertised for sale on its website.
The commission has now concluded its Manawatu & national proceedings and has agreed settlements with Hamilton-based Success Realty Ltd & Lugton’s Ltd. Court-imposed penalties to date total $17.925 million.
Settlements have not been agreed with Monarch Real Estate Ltd (trading in Hamilton under the Harcourts banner), Online Realty Ltd (trading under the Ray White banner), Lodge Real Estate Ltd and 2 individuals in the Hamilton proceedings. These proceedings remain before the court.
The commission filed proceedings in Palmerston North in December 2015 alleging Property Brokers Ltd, Manawatu (1994) Ltd & Unique Realty Ltd breached the Commerce Act by agreeing with each other, and other Manawatu agencies, that they would each pass on to vendors the full cost of advertising a property on the Trade Me website. The commission filed proceedings against Mr Mordaunt for his role in facilitating the agreement.
Property Brokers & Mr Mordaunt reached settlements with the commission admitting that their conduct breached the Commerce Act prohibition on price fixing. The company was ordered to pay a penalty of $1.45 million and Mr Mordaunt $50,000.
Unique Realty Ltd (Jocelyn & Max Vertongen) & Manawatu (1994) Ltd (Stephen Allen) were earlier fined $1.25 million each for their roles in the Manawatu agreement.
Justice Murray Gilbert said in his ruling released on Monday: “Price-fixing agreements fundamentally undermine the proper functioning of competitive markets and have the potential to substantially erode the benefits the public is entitled to expect from them.
“Such agreements are antithetical to the purpose of the Commerce Act, which is to promote competition in markets for the long-term benefit of consumers within New Zealand. For these reasons, participation in price-fixing agreements is regarded as serious misconduct and must be met with a penalty that is sufficient to deter other market participants from engaging in this type of conduct.”
Attribution: Judgment, Commerce Commission release.