U.S. Justice Department withdraws from settlement; launches probe of realtors

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it was withdrawing from a settlement with the National Association of Realtors to facilitate a broader investigation of the organization.

The department and NAR had reached an agreement, announced in November, that required the organization either to scrap or change rules in order to give prospective home buyers more information about commissions for the brokers who represented them and to eliminate any misrepresentation that the services were free.

It also was to change rules that allow access to lock boxes only to brokers affiliated with the NAR.

The settlement would have restricted the Justice Department in pursuing additional probes of the association.

"The department is taking this action to permit a broader investigation of NAR's rules and conduct to proceed without restriction," the government said in a statement.

NAR labeled the Justice Department action a "complete, unprecedented breach of agreement."

"If the Department does not live up to its commitments under the terms of the agreement, we are confident in our pro-consumer and pro-competition policies," the organization added in a statement.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Dan Grebler

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