Industry leaders take the stage (via video) at Sitzer/Burnett
Pre-recorded depositions from Bob Goldberg, Gino Blefari and Gary Keller included tense exchanges about buyer-broker commissions.
- The video depositions followed opening statements from the plaintiffs and defense about whether there’s a conspiracy to keep commissions inflated.
- Top real estate leaders defended the current system as clear, adding that no such scheme is taking place.
- While it involves home sellers in Missouri, the trial outcome could have major implications for real estate agents across the U.S.
KANSAS CITY, MO. — The Sitzer/Burnett trial took a contentious turn on Tuesday afternoon, with the jury being shown video depositions from some of real estate's most powerful leaders.
Pre-recorded testimony from National Association of Realtors CEO Bob Goldberg, HomeServices of America CEO Gino Blefari, and Keller Willams Co-founder and Executive Chairman Gary Keller included tense exchanges, as they pushed back on the notion of a concerted effort to keep commissions inflated, hurting home sellers financially in the process.
The defendants said contracts that sellers sign clearly spell out what commissions they are being asked to pay. They also noted that it's a system that's been in place for decades and stuck firmly to the argument that there is no conspiracy to keep commission rates around 6% and split evenly between the buyer agent and seller agent.
Goldberg was repeatedly questioned about meetings held among industry leaders where no notes or minutes were taken, with the plaintiff's lead attorney, Michael Ketchmark, indicating that would be an opportune time to discuss what would be considered antitrust issues among competitors.
During his deposition, Goldberg said the reason no notes were taken was so that the leaders could have an open and honest conversation about real estate issues. He also talked about the culture of cooperation that NAR tries to foster in the industry.
Keller was questioned about previous comments he made in his books and speeches about 6% commissions and whether KW agents were trained to get that commission. In a tense exchange, Keller said he was "offended" by the line of questioning and the insinuations Ketchmark was making.
In its opening statement, Keller Williams' lead attorney Timothy Ray said they would present evidence that during the firm's existence commissions have fluctuated, and that KW agents work independently and very hard to help people buy and sell houses, earning what is negotiated in the contract.
In his testimony, Blefari discussed his experience as a real estate agent and how he handled situations where the seller didn't want to pay the full commission, focusing on how it was part of a negotiation process. When training agents, he said they were taught commissions were negotiable.
The trial continues on Wednesday as the attorneys for the plaintiffs are expected to present more evidence and introduce testimony. That phase of the trial is expected to last for a week or more, followed by testimony and evidence from the defendants and then closing arguments from both sides.