1/03/2006

Owners' Web Gives Realtors Run for Money

"MADISON, Wis. - Across the country, the National Association of Realtors and the 6 percent commission that most of its members charge to sell a house are under assault by government officials, consumer advocates, lawyers and ambitious entrepreneurs. But the most effective challenge so far emanates from a spare bedroom in the modest home here of Christie Miller.

Ms. Miller, 38, a former social worker who favors fuzzy slippers, and her cousin, Mary Clare Murphy, 51, operate what real estate professionals believe to be the largest for-sale-by-owner Web site in the country.

The site, which charges just $150 to list a home and throws in a teal blue yard sign, draws more Internet traffic than the traditional multiple listing service controlled by real estate agents.

Elsewhere, the Justice Department, free-market scholars, plaintiffs' lawyers and countless entrepreneurs are vowing to make real estate more competitive and to bring down sales commissions. To do that, they advocate forcing the Realtors' association to share control of its established listing services. Those critics seem to view the listings as an unassailable monopoly.

And who can blame them? Those 800-plus local listing services, controlled by local branches of the Realtors' association, help dole out about $60 billion a year in commissions to real estate agents and the firms that employ them. Despite numerous attacks, the association has been remarkably successful to date at protecting its turf. Through lobbying, litigation and legislation, the Realtors' group has managed to keep control of the crucial listings."

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