WASHINGTON (AP) – Brokers in five states agreed to allow discount brokers full access to their online multiple listing services as part of a landmark settlement with federal regulators announced Thursday.

The Federal Trade Commission said the enforcement actions are intended to send a signal to real estate brokerages nationwide that discount or “non-traditional” brokers should be allowed equal access to the combined online listings of homes for sale in local markets.

“The rules these brokers made drove up costs and reduced choice for consumers, and they violated federal law,” said FTC Competition Director Jeffrey Schmidt.

The FTC said it reached consent agreements with five multiple-listing services in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin. But two real estate groups in Michigan declined to settle and the FTC will pursue claims against them.

At issue is whether homes for sale listed by discount online firms show up on Web sites operated by local multiple-listing services, whose members typically charge commissions of 6 percent or higher. In six of the seven enforcement actions, the MLS allowed discounters to list homes online in databases viewable by brokers, but not on Web sites available to the public.

In the seventh case, a brokers’ group blocked rival discounter home listings from inclusion on the MLS itself. The practices must be discontinued under the consent decrees or an MLS could face civil penalties of $11,000 per violation.

There are 900 multiple listing services in the United States, says Mary Trupo, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, an industry trade group that operates the realtor.com Web site. The NAR estimates that 77 percent of home buyers start their search on the Internet and then contract a real estate agent.

“Although we do not agree with today’s FTC actions, we are happy to learn that the FTC, which does not customarily reach out to industry, is looking to work with NAR on this issue,” NAR’s President Thomas M. Stevens said.

The FTC’s Schmidt said more cases are in the works. “There are clearly additional … multiple listing services where we think some of these rules continue to be a problem and we’re continuing to look at those,” he told reporters at a news conference.

Investors seemed to take the news in stride. Shares of Realogy Corp., which franchises Century 21, ERA, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby’s International, rose $1.04 or 4.5 percent to $24.38 on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.

AP-ES-10-12-06 1807EDT

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