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A group of Hilton Head Island real estate brokers could soon pay some residents and business owners who bought homes and lots in its area, according to a lawsuit settlement.
More than 1,000 members of the class-action suit could receive part of the settlement. Those members used the defendants' real-estate brokerage services when they bought property in the Hilton Head area between Jan. 14, 2006, through Sept. 17, 2007.
The lawsuit, with legal roots dating to 2007, alleges some of the area's real estate brokers charged unreasonably high commissions.
According to the settlement, which still must be approved by a judge, class members will receive:
The issue over brokers' rates has been brewing for years.
In a 2007 deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Multiple Listing Service of Hilton Head eliminated some of its membership bylaws, including a requirement that brokers who joined the service maintain an office within the Hilton Head area, get a credit check and obtain letters of recommendation from current members, according to court records.
The current lawsuit being settled alleges that some prospective members of the MLS were excluded from membership. They included Internet-based real estate brokers and other types of brokers who charged consumers lower fees or worked for lower sales commissions, according to the suit. As a result, MLS members earned unreasonably high commissions and drove up real estate prices for buyers, according to the suit.
Efforts this week to reach attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants were unsuccessful. The pending settlement restricts their ability to discuss the case.
A multiple listing service combines the property listings of member brokers into a shared database. The Hilton Head MLS is a nonprofit organization that represents brokers in Beaufort, Jasper, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Orangeburg counties.