How will $1.8bn U.S. legal case impact UK estate agents?

Paul Smith

It may have escaped your notice but across the pond, agents are bracing themselves for the fallout from a a huge $1.8bn legal case over the amount of commission they’ve been charging vendors for years.

It all hinged on a complex case that alleged that agents in the States had colluded in fee price fixing, a claim denied, and has now resulted in multi-million dollar settlements being paid by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), along with a number of the country’s largest real estate brokers – some of whom have UK operations.

Among those hit hardest are Keller Williams, who’ve agreed to pay a hefty $70m, while Anywhere Real Estates – whose brands in the U.K. include Century 21 and Sotheby’s International Realty – settled before the case for an eye-watering $83.5m.

eXp Realty and eXp World said in March they were still litigating but eXp World Holdings, in its Q1 2024 earnings call, stated they had provisionally set aside $16m for their anti-trust litigation but this could change as the case evolves.

Surely these sorts of settlements will have a serious knock-on effect on their UK businesses? How will they absorb these costs? Will they still seek to invest in the UK?

It’s a case worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, and it’s not over yet. There are other ‘copycat’ court cases being lined up across different States and it’s caused mass confusion amongst buyers and sellers, who’re keen to understand whether the fees they pay, or the ways that property transactions are handled, will be changing in any way soon.

In the UK we have always charged one of the lowest fees in the world and we have always been envious of American agents who have charged 6%. This fee has never been challenged until now; the average American seller expects agents to charge around 6% and the NAR, with its multilisting service, has encouraged this as the norm.

Having spoken to my contacts in the States, they have varying views from “nothing is going to change” to “the model will now change radically”. Buyers’ agents may disappear and the blocking of the digital agents to some portals will have to stop.

In American political circles, I’m told the NAR was viewed by some as a strong Trade Union with excellent lobbying credentials. This fine has smashed their dominance in the Agency sector.

New regulations are to be introduced in the next couple of months. We will all be watching closely to see how it affects those with UK interests.

I’ve seen reports that some realtors fear their earnings will plummet by between a quarter and a half as a result of this case, and that hundreds of thousands of realtors could be put out of business. They’re certainly going to have to do far more to explain why they’re worth what they’re charging.

This case has left me thinking about the way that we operate here in the UK, what we charge sellers and how we need to better explain our value to our customers. This race to the bottom to charge nothing has been so damaging to our profession and has resulted in a serious decline in customer service.

Maybe it’s time for a concerted campaign among traditional agents to demonstrate the true value we offer?

I also wonder how many agents in towns here, or even self-employed agents within franchise models, could be accused of colluding over commission – as has happened in the past. I daresay the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) keeps a close eye on what agents are charging. Any breaches in the UK could attract seriously high fines.

The unfolding events in the U.S. serve as a stark reminder that being transparent and justifying your worth as estate agents are not just issues overseas but critical considerations here at home as well.


Paul Smith is executive chairman of Spicerhaart



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  1. EAMD172

    Very interesting case and outcome. Also well made points about UK fees and customer service. Our industry has become less well paid relatively over the 40 years I’ve been in it. It has made it harder to recruit, particularly since Covid for some reason as everyone seems to want to work short hours. Poor quality corporate agency has left less of a pool of those wanting to move on and up. We need to get our charges to a reasonable level so we can have higher staffing levels and provide a better service. I still find many offices just compete on fees alone and are still overvaluing to entice clients into long contracts. Maximum of 4 week contracts should be legislated with rolling 2 week notice period thereafter to stop bad practice. Service charters should be legislated to ensure that if a client is not receiving the service they were ‘promised’ they have the right to break the contract immediately. All this needs better fee levels.

    1. EAMD172

      Also clients have much higher expectation levels of service these days which they don’t appreciate is completely free of charge unless we actually sell it. The most demanding are usually also the most unreasonable about their price as well. There needs to be a system of charging for our time for those who don’t sell.

  2. jan-byers

    “Maybe it’s time for a concerted campaign among traditional agents to demonstrate the true value we offer?”

    Nice idea but what does that actually look like?

    1. Robert_May

      You won’t be told but it’s what happens- in 3200 individual selling areas 3 main agents pick up 80% of instructions between them. They do that because they serve and dominate- their for sale and sold boards reinforce their service and reputation

  3. lukejonesre

    This is a watershed moment in US Agency and an opportunity for us in the UK to really pay attention to how the Top Producing Agents react. As a UK Agent who spent 10+ years as a Licensed Realtor in California, I can absolutely say that the learning opportunity here is all about the Agent’s Value Proposition; Consumers will always pay for value as long as they SEE the value and understand the difference. I do believe there will be a consolidation with many low producing Agents who’ve predominantly only represented Buyers exiting all together and I do see some smaller Brokerages changing their business models to adapt to the lower Agent headcount and fee compression that could result. But as ever, the cream will rise to the top and those Agents and Brokerages that SHOW value will prevail. Our lesson here is to watch HOW those Agent’s thrive and then take those learnings and implement some of those changes to our own best practices. This will ensure that we can continue to make a compelling case for raising commissions by providing more value and delivering better results. As a dual US / UK resident, I’m qualified to say that we should never discount the USA’s ability to adapt and thrive when these big changes happen and that we have a lot to learn learn from our friends across the pond!

  4. A W

    How does a legal case about fees in another country affect fees in ours? Not at all.

    We have a different legal system and our fee structure and cost is entirely different.


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