What does the DOJ’s lawsuit against Apple have to do with the real estate industry? 

Given the language used in commission lawsuits like Sitzer/Burnett—accusing the National Association of Realtors, in league with brokerages and MLSs, of conspiring to fix commissions, in violation of the Sherman Act—the DOJ’s complaint against Apple warrants a closer look. 

Ultimately, the argument is giving strong “Been there, done that” vibes, alleging that Apple’s anticompetitive behavior is driving up costs for Apple users by limiting innovation and punishing both Android users and cross-platform app developers. 

In other words, if you don’t keep buying iPhones/Apple devices  (which keep getting more expensive), you’ll pay more for cross-platform app and smartwatch functionality. 

Yes, there are still advantages to choosing Apple devices over Android and Windows products. But as both sides seem to imply, the market advantage may have more to do with Apple’s behavior toward the competition than with the brand’s inherent superiority. 

If that doesn’t bring to mind the cost of working with a subpar agent who, unlike the many skilled and ethical agents out there, discourages any attempt to negotiate commissions, it soon will. 

Keep reading for a brief overview of the DOJ complaint and why it matters. 

What are the DOJ’s claims against Apple?

If you want to know exactly what’s in the DOJ’s complaint, you can read it here

Otherwise, read on for a quick overview of the five categories the DOJ complaint identifies as the key areas in which Apple is actively quashing competition.  

Per the complaint, Apple is exercising monopolistic power in the smartphone and performance smartphone markets, using its control over the iPhone to engage in broad, sustained, and illegal anticompetitive behavior to maintain the brand’s dominance and maximize revenue.

Here are those five categories: 

  1. Stifling innovative “super apps” 
  2. Excluding cross-platform messaging apps
  3. Suppressing mobile cloud streaming services
  4. Limiting third party digital wallets
  5. Limiting the functionality of non-Apple smartwatches

From the Office of Public Affairs

“The Justice Department, joined by 16 other state and district attorneys general, filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Apple for monopolization or attempted monopolization of smartphone markets in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.

“The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleges that Apple illegally maintains a monopoly over smartphones by selectively imposing contractual restrictions on, and withholding critical access points from, developers

Apple undermines apps, products, and services that would otherwise make users less reliant on the iPhone, promote interoperability, and lower costs for consumers and developers. Apple exercises its monopoly power to extract more money from consumers, developers, content creators, artists, publishers, small businesses, and merchants, among others. 

“Through this monopolization lawsuit, the Justice Department and state Attorneys General are seeking relief to restore competition to these vital markets on behalf of the American public.” 

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland: 

“Consumers should not have to pay higher prices because companies violate the antitrust laws. We allege that Apple has maintained monopoly power in the smartphone market, not simply by staying ahead of the competition on the merits, but by violating federal antitrust law. 

“If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly. 

“The Justice Department will vigorously enforce antitrust laws that protect consumers from higher prices and fewer choices. That is the Justice Department’s legal obligation and what the American people expect and deserve.”

Read the full breakdown of the DOJ’s complaint on the Office of Public Affairs website. 

How has Apple responded?

Last Thursday, March 21, Apple issued a series of rebuttals to the claims made by the DOJ. 

The core of the company’s argument is that regulators are cherry picking metrics that make Apple appear a more dominant player in the smartphone market than it actually is (in their own view). 

Also, if the DOJ succeeds in imposing regulations on behaviors it deems monopolistic, it would not only diminish Apple’s competitive advantage but also negatively impact iPhone users. 

From an Apple statement provided to TechCrunch:

“This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets. If successful, it would hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple — where hardware, software, and services intersect.” 

App makers, in general, are less critical of the DOJ’s complaint against Apple. The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) fully supports the Department’s regulatory action, which is hardly surprising given several CAF members, including Epic Games and Spotify, have already engaged in public disputes with Apple on its App Store practices. 

CAF Executive Director Rick VanMeter had this to say: 

“The DOJ complaint details Apple’s long history of illegal conduct — abusing their App Store guidelines and developer agreements to increase prices, extract exorbitant fees, degrade user experiences, and choke off competition. 

“The DOJ joins regulators around the world, who have recognized the many harms of Apple’s abusive behavior and are working to address it.” 

Both sides are arguing that a victory for the other side would ultimately hurt the American consumer. That said, consumers reading about this lawsuit might be more inclined to side with the DOJ if they succeed in bringing Apple to account for practices that stifle innovation and drive up costs for smartphone users. 

In any case, stifling technological innovation is more likely to backfire than to benefit any tech company—or any industry—in the long term. 

So, what does any of this have to do with real estate agents?

Even if you’re an Apple user who takes issue with the DOJ’s claims against Apple, it’s worth taking a moment to learn about the antitrust complaint and its parallels with the long list of commission lawsuits filed against NAR and brokerages across the U.S. 

For now, agents can draw two conclusions from NAR President Kevin Sears’ words tying together the NAR settlement and the DOJ spelling out (in their objection to the Nosalek settlement) exactly what it wants—i.e., a complete decoupling of commissions: 

  1. Despite the DOJ’s legal actions against NAR, the national trade association was able to reach a settlement preserving the option of seller-paid commissions
  2. The DOJ’s further legal actions against NAR could, if the judge agrees with the former, derail the settlement and ultimately result in the DOJ getting more of what it wants

One of those things, as mentioned in the Sears interview, was a switch to an hourly wage for real estate agents. 

Watch the Reel below for some comic relief and a sneak peek into what that could mean for agents and consumers:

We can’t help wondering if the folks at the DOJ have really thought that one through. It could be they’re just not looking at it from the perspective of a real estate agent. 

Wouldn’t be the first time.