Real estate agents are the principal facilitators in modern real estate transactions. As prospective buyers and sellers become more technologically savvy and desirous of information, however, they increasingly turn to Internet-based services to search for or market available properties. “For-Sale-By-Owner” (FSBO) websites allow sellers to advertise or “list” properties in online databases that permit buyers to register to obtain property information. FSBO websites offer low, flat-fee rates, in contrast to the percentage commissions typically sought by real estate agents.
Though reduced closing costs are enticing to consumers, licensed agents take exception to the breadth of services offered by these websites. REALTOR® groups insist that the stringent legal and ethical standards to which licensed real estate brokers must adhere are routinely violated by FSBO websites. They contend that the personalized services and advice certain websites provide belie their purported indifference to the transactional outcome, and thus should comply with the statutory licensing requirements. In response, some websites protest that licensing statute definitions are overinclusive and the corresponding restrictions impermissibly interfere with their ability to communicate. . . .