Price-fixing Hamilton realtor fined $1m
A Hamilton realtor has been fined more than $1 million for price fixing, joining a long list of agents punished over a nationwide scheme to pass on listing fees to clients.
Online Realty, which traded under the Ray White banner, was this week handed a $1.05m penalty by the High Court after admitting it had agreed with other agencies to pass on the cost of Trade Me listing fees to customers.
"Online Realty also admitted unlawful price fixing by agreeing with the others that vendors' existing listings would be removed from Trade Me," the Commerce Commission said.
Since 2015 the commerce watchdog has been looking at alleged price-fixing practices at 13 companies including the head offices of Barfoot & Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White and Bayleys along with other agencies in Manawatu and Hamilton.
The agreement allegedly came into place in response to online auction website Trade Me's move from a monthly subscription to a per-listing charge in early 2013, the commission says.
To date, agents have been hit with just short of $19m in court-imposed penalties in the case.
The head offices of Barfoot & Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker and Ray White were earlier ordered to pay $9.8m between them.
In her judgement on Tuesday, Justice Patricia Courtney said while Online Realty was not a ringleader, the conduct had brought major change to the Hamilton real estate market, with most agents in the city still passing on costs.
Two Hamilton-based real estate agencies are defending the claims against them and will go to court in September. They are Lodge, its director Jeremy O'Rourke, and Monarch, trading as Harcourts Hamilton, and its director Brian King.