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The Multiple Listing Service of Hilton Head Island and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division have reached an agreement that the service will change its policies to let in a wider variety of members.
The agreement marks the end of an investigation that started in summer 2006.
In a press release, the Department of Justice said the changes will encourage low-priced brokers to come into the area and that the current rules "caused consumers to pay more for residential real estate brokerage services."
Local Realtors and the Multiple Listing Service management say the changes won't have much impact on the local market. They say discount brokers already were in the market, individual brokers' commissions have been negotiable and there are enough Realtors in the area to foster competition.
A multiple listing service is a joint venture of real estate brokers that combines member listings into a database for use by all members. On Hilton Head, the service is a nonprofit organization independent of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors.
The Department of Justice asked the Multiple Listing Service to eliminate bylaws requiring members to have a physical office in areas the service reaches and that its trustees come from those areas. The service covers Beaufort, Jasper, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Orangeburg counties.
Also cut from the service's bylaws are provisions that could restrict Internet-only members. The service also had to remove bylaws requiring all membership applicants to undergo a credit check and to obtain character references from three current members.
Some of those requirements have been in place since the service was started in the 1970s and reflect state licensing requirements from that time, said William Rose, an attorney for the Multiple Listing Service. The changes bring the service in line with current state licensing requirements.
The Multiple Listing Service has 251 member companies and more than 1,800 real estate agents.
Mary Williams, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors, said the real estate community on Hilton Head doesn't exclude discount brokers.
"The general public should be offered whatever services they are interested in having," she said.
James Wedgeworth, a Realtor with Charter I and a prominent agent on the island, scoffed at the Department of Justice's investigation.
"To me, it's a total non-issue," Wedgeworth said. "I don't think it's going to have any effect."
The Justice Department has taken action against a number of multiple listing services in the past few years, including an ongoing lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors.