By Paul McBeth
Nov. 23 (BusinessDesk) - The Court of Appeal has overturned an earlier ruling, finding some Hamilton real estate agents colluded with their rivals to fix prices.
The Commerce Commission successfully appealed a High Court ruling last year dismissing claims that an arrangement between Hamilton agencies amounted to price fixing. The Lodge and Monarch agencies and their respective directors Jeremy O’Rourke and Brian King were the hold-outs on a 2015 case brought by the antitrust regulator when realtors agreed to pass on increase Trade Me Group property listing fees in response to the online auction site's market strength.
Justices Raynor Asher, Brendan Brown and Denis Clifford today upheld the appeal, saying discretion within the arrangements on how much of Trade Me's fees to pass on didn't skirt around collusion.
"There is no necessity for there to be an agreement or understanding that an absolute position as to price must be maintained for there to be anti-competitive conduct," the judgment said.
"Accepting the arrangement was a starting position, and there was room for exceptions, the arrangement or understanding would still plainly affect price adversely for customers."
Lodge and Monarch were among 13 national and regional real estate agencies accused of fixing prices in 2013 and 2014, most of whom acknowledged wrongdoing. Another eight firms received warnings from the commission.
The courts have imposed almost $19 million in penalties so far, with the head offices of Barfoot, Harcourts, LJ Hooker and Ray White fined $9.8 million collectively while Bayleys was fined $2.2 million.
The Appeal Court ruling declared the realtors breached the Commerce Act and remitted the case back to the High Court to set the penalty.