Hamilton real estate companies fined $4m for price-fixing

real estate
All up, the 13 companies involved have been fined $23 million. Photo credit: Getty

Two Hamilton real estate companies have been fined $4 million between them over a price-fixing "cartel" they were a part of. 

Thirteen companies have now been fined in relation to the scheme, which saw real estate agencies agree between them to pass on new costs, imposed by auction site Trade Me, to vendors.

The final two are Lodge Real Estate (fined $2.1 million) and Monarch Real Estate ($1.9 million), "penalised for their roles in coordinating the Hamilton regional response to Trade Me’s pricing decision".

"It is not unusual for industries to experience price increases from suppliers and this case illustrates how important it is that companies avoid any discussions with their competitors on how they could or should respond to such a change," said Commerce Commission chair Anna Rawlings. 

"Cartels can harm consumers and business, by raising prices, restricting supply and changing the competitive dynamic between businesses."

All up, the 13 companies involved have been fined $23 million.

Directors from both Lodge and Monarch avoided fines themselves, despite the Court of Appeal - in a decision backed up by the Supreme Court - ruling they'd broken the law.

Rawlings said from next year, anyone operating such a cartel would face up to seven years in prison.

"We strongly urge businesses to familiarise themselves with the law and ensure they have processes in place to guard against collusion with their competitors."

Trade Me increased its pricing for real estate listings in 2013, and the Commerce Commission began its legal proceedings in 2015. The High Court initially ruled in favour of the real estate companies, but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2018. An appeal to the Supreme Court by Monarch and Lodge upheld the Court of Appeal's judgement. 

Hamilton. Photo credit: Getty

The 11 other companies fined were Online Realty, Property Brokers, Lugton's, Barfoot & Thompson, Harcourts, LJ Hooker, Ray White, Manawatu 1994, Bayleys, Success Realty and Unique Realty.

Another eight were handed warnings. 

The fines for Lodge and Monarch were handed down by the High Court in Auckland.