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Real estate agencies cleared of price fixing

Two of the 13 real estate agencies accused of price fixing by circumventing Trade Me's pricing scheme have been cleared by the High Court.

It comes after the 11 other agencies have already paid close to $20 million in penalties and negotiated settlements following a major Commerce Commission investigation.

In late 2013, Trade Me notified a change to the fee charged to real estate agencies, from a capped subscription to a "per listing" fee, the judgment said.

The commission alleged the agencies agreed to withdraw residential real estate listings from Trade Me by January 20, 2014, not to bear any of the cost of any further listings on Trade Me, and to require vendors and/or their individual agents to pay for any new listing.

In a decision released last Thursday, Justice Pheroze Jagose concluded that Hamilton's Lodge Real Estate and Monarch Real Estate, a franchisee of Harcourt's, did not take part in price fixing.

Representatives for the two companies accepted they had met with the other agencies in September 2013 but maintained that any decisions about how to respond to Trade Me's new prices were arrived at independently.

Counsel for Lodge and Monarch said they had decided in advance of the meeting to vendor-fund standard listings upon the introduction of the new fee structure.

Justice Pheroze found that the companies were "part of a consensus giving rise to expectations each would not absorb the cost of Trade Me's proposed per listing fee".

However, "the arrangement or understanding between the defendants did not have the purpose or effect of fixing, controlling, or maintaining ... the price for, or any discount, allowance, rebate, or credit in relation to, real estate sales or advertising services supplied by the defendants in competition with each other", the decision said.

Monarch's lawyer, Mark Anderson, said in a statement that the realty market had been left in an unfair position by facing "massive" price increases while also having a duty to protect the best interests of its vendor clients.

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