Online real estate listing company All Homes Pty Ltd has provided the ACCC with a court enforceable undertaking following concerns that All Homes had attempted to induce an understanding between real estate agents as to the fees they charge to vendors, in breach of the cartel provisions of the CCA.
The undertaking comes a week after ACCC Chairman Rod Sims vowed to increase the emphasis on anti-competitive conduct by companies trading online. In a speech made to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) (available here), Sims stated that a key focus for the ACCC in 2013 would be the targeting of ‘online competition and consumer issues including conduct which may impede emerging competition between online traders or limit the ability of small businesses to effectively compete online.’
This matter was first brought to the attention of the ACCC after All Homes sent an email to over 1000 real estate agents in the ACT and Queanbeyan region of New South Wales. The email expressed All Homes’ intention to restore agency fees to previously higher levels and proposed a website notification to sellers that an experienced real estate agent would incur a cost of between two and three per cent of the sale price of a property.
In the undertaking, All Homes acknowledged that its conduct may have induced an understanding on a minimum price for real estate services in contravention of the cartel provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act, and agreed not to send or request fee information from real estate agents for a period of three years. All Homes also agreed to send a letter to each recipient of its email detailing the ACCC’s concerns and reassuring each real estate agent that they were, of course, free to set their own prices.