The list of defendants in the two most prominent class action lawsuits facing the real estate industry could be shortened by one as a settlement between Anywhere Real Estate and the homesellers suing the company in the Moehrl and Burnett/Sitzer cases is on the table.
Though it still needs to be greenlit by the judges presiding over each case, attorneys representing plaintiffs in the Burnett/Sitzer filed a notice on Tuesday alerting the courts that they reached a preliminary agreement to “settle all claims asserted against Anywhere in this action as part of a proposed nationwide class settlement.” The settlement, which was jointly negotiated with the plaintiffs suing the franchisor in the Moehrl cases, would cover Anywhere in both lawsuits.
As such, the court document is requesting that the courts stay the case against Anywhere so an agreement can be formalized.
“We are pleased that Anywhere has reached a nationwide settlement with the plaintiffs in the Burnett and Moehrl lawsuits,” said an Anywhere spokesperson in an email sent to RISMedia.
“The path to obtain final approval and implement the settlement is a long one, and Anywhere has taken the first important step toward a resolution that releases not only the company but also our affiliated agents and franchisees.”
Anywhere didn’t delve further into the details of the proposed settlement in its statement or court filing. However, the company indicated that it believes the agreement will remove future uncertainty regarding the upcoming Burnett/Sitzer trial and potential additional claims.
The Burnett/Sitzer lawsuit is scheduled for a three-week trial on Oct. 16, while the Moehrl case is expected to head to trial sometime next year.
As it stands, Anywhere is the only defendant in these cases to file a settlement agreement notice for both cases. That company has been one of several prominent real estate franchisors named in the case, including HomeServices of America, Keller Williams and RE/MAX.
The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is also a defendant and has been at the forefront of both lawsuits as they take particular issue with the trade group’s MLS policies and rules that help govern agent commission and cooperation on transactions in the industry.
At the center of both cases is NAR’s Buyer Broker Commission—also known as the Participation Rule—which requires all brokers to make a blanket, non-negotiable offer of buyer-broker compensation when listing a property on a Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
Specifically, the plaintiffs take issue with sellers paying listing agents, who then split that payment with the buyer’s broker. As such, plaintiffs want “a permanent injunction” to do away with the policy to one degree or another.
At the same time, the home sellers in both cases are seeking damages, which threaten financial ruin for all parties involved depending on how the judges and jury lean in the cases.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the Moehrl case, millions of homesellers in 20 MLS markets could ask to be reimbursed for an estimated $13.7 billion in damages. If the court awards treble damages—triple the actual damages—that figure could exceed $40 billion.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Moehrl and Burnett/Sitzer suits did not immediately return a request for comment on this story.