Realtor settlement evidences the culture shift

The Justice Department has announced a major settlement in its anti-trust case involving the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the use of its Multiple Listing Services (MLS) by internet-based residential real estate brokers. In a nutshell, it means Realtors won’t have exclusive access to MLS listings; they will be shared with those who are competing with Realtors by offering much lower commissions.

A New York Times article on the matter notes that MLS listings are the “lifeblood” of the real estate industry:

The settlement “is a win for consumers, certainly, who will now have the benefit of unrestricted competition,” Deborah A. Garza, deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, said in an interview. “There inevitably will be more efficiency and more competition in the market.”

…The National Association of Realtors, with more than 1.2 million members, said that the settlement was “a win-win” for both the real estate industry and consumers. It noted that the association admitted no wrongdoing and paid no fines or damages as part of the deal.

The NAR notes that consumers won’t notice much difference, but I disagree. This opens the door for a high level of innovation in a $93 billion industry, and it will certainly benefit home buyers and sellers. Realtors? Not so much.

In a post on the settlement, Jeff Jarvis says, “Kiss your 6 percent commission goodbye, Ms. Agent!”

This new economy can now come to real estate sales as information becomes freer. Oh, it’s not fully freed yet. But I do believe that the combination of this settlement and what it does to empower discount players and the depressed real estate market will combine to finally shove dynamite up Realtors’ rears.

I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that this is further evidence of the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism, one that threatens every modernist institution of the West.

Protected knowledge (or access) is what empowers such institutions, and as we’re already witnessing with media, when you remove the protection, the institution collapses. Craig Newmark did it to classifieds with Craigslist, so what’s next?

How about medicine and the law, to name a couple. Back in the early days of the Web, the American Medical Association formed a special lobbying group to make sure they maintained control of medical information (to protect the people), because those within the group with vision could see what would come down-the-pike. Will we have a “doc-in-a-box” someday? The insurance industry might be interested in that. How about a “lawyer-in-a-box” to represent your needs in court?

I know those ideas are way out there, but the horse of postmodernism — that participatory, interactive culture — has already left the barn, and its destination is unknown.

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