Rul­ing may re­lease real es­tate data

‘De­ci­sive vic­tory for com­pe­ti­tion’ could see home sales his­to­ries avail­able online

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - NAOMI POW­ELL

TORONTO The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an ap­peal from the Toronto Real Es­tate Board in a dis­pute over ac­cess to real es­tate data, a de­ci­sion ex­pected to open new op­por­tu­ni­ties to make home sales his­to­ries and other mar­ket in­for­ma­tion widely avail­able online.

The coun­try’s largest real es­tate board had sought to over­turn a lower court rul­ing or­der­ing it to drop re­stric­tions on the dis­play and use of data on its Mul­ti­ple List­ing Ser­vice (MLS) web­site — in­clud­ing the past “sold” prices of homes.

For seven years, a dis­pute over the issue pit­ted TREB against the fed­eral Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau, which ar­gued that the re­stric­tions in­su­lated the board’s re­al­tor mem­bers “from a new and po­ten­tially dis­rup­tive form of com­pe­ti­tion.”

TREB in­sisted that pub­lish­ing sales and other mar­ket data online vi­o­lated client pri­vacy and its own copy­right over the in­for­ma­tion.

The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion means TREB will have 60 days to con­form to the pre­vi­ous order, ini­tially is­sued by the Com­pe­ti­tion Tri­bunal and later up­held by the Court of Ap­peal.

The rul­ing is “a de­ci­sive vic­tory for com­pe­ti­tion, in­no­va­tion and for con­sumers,” Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sioner Matthew Boswell said in a state­ment.

The re­moval of TREB’s “an­ti­com­pet­i­tive” re­stric­tions will give home­buy­ers and sell­ers “greater ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and in­no­va­tive real es­tate ser­vices when mak­ing one of the most sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions of their lives,” he said.

In a state­ment, TREB CEO John DiMichele said the board be­lieves per­sonal fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion must con­tinue to be dis­closed in a man­ner that re­spects pri­vacy in­ter­ests and it “will be study­ing the re­quired next steps to en­sure such in­for­ma­tion will be pro­tected in com­pli­ance with the Tri­bunal Order once that comes into ef­fect.”

Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s de­ci­sion, real es­tate web­sites in­clud­ing Zoocasa and HouseSigma be­gan pub­lish­ing sold prices next to the prop­erty list­ings on their web­sites.

That’s likely just the be­gin­ning, pro­vided no fur­ther chal­lenges emerge, said John An­drews, a real es­tate pro­fes­sor at Queen’s Univer­sity.

“Within months I ex­pect there will be dozens of web­sites mak­ing this data pub­lic, as it should be,” An­drews said. “Know­ing what price homes in a neigh­bour­hood sold for is ex­tremely valu­able to buy­ers and sell­ers when de­cid­ing list­ing prices and bids.”

Real es­tate boards through­out Canada that cur­rently pro­tect their data will likely also ease re­stric­tions as they fol­low the pow­er­ful Toronto board’s lead, he added.

“They’ve been wait­ing, let­ting TREB fight this fight as the largest board in the coun­try and they’re less likely to fight chal­lenges if TREB has opened up. So this will have ram­i­fi­ca­tions right across Canada.”

TREB cur­rently al­lows its more than 49,000 mem­bers to pro­vide in­di­vid­ual clients with in­for­ma­tion on a prop­erty ’s pre­vi­ous sales prices — but only via fax, email or in person. It has pushed back against the idea of mak­ing that same data avail­able broadly online through bro­ker web­sites, even when the site is pass­word pro­tected.

Though home­buy­ers can ob­tain pre­vi­ous sales his­to­ries at land registry of­fices in ex­change for a fee, TREB re­quires ac­cess to oc­cur through a re­al­tor, ar­gu­ing that it had not sought per­mis­sion to dis­trib­ute the data online in the past and act­ing without it could vi­o­late the rights of clients.

“Com­pe­ti­tion has never been the issue, it was al­ways pri­vacy,” said Cameron Forbes, gen­eral man­ager at Re­max Real­tron Re­alty in Toronto.

“The pub­lic needs to know that the price at which they buy and sell prop­erty will now be very much out there for ev­ery­one to see, in­clud­ing their neigh­bours.”

Pro­po­nents of re­mov­ing the re­stric­tions say sell­ing prices have long been avail­able online in the United States and have ac­tu­ally stim­u­lated home sales there while en­abling in­no­va­tion and im­prov­ing trans­parency in real es­tate trans­ac­tions.

Lauren Haw, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Zoocasa, said open­ing ac­cess to Toronto’s data will bet­ter al­low real es­tate web­sites like hers to share an­a­lyt­i­cal prod­ucts that help con­sumers bet­ter un­der­stand the mar­ket.

“What this re­ally does is en­sure that Cana­dian con­sumers are bet­ter in­formed and ed­u­cated in that early re­search stage when they are try­ing to de­cide if they’re ready to make a move.”

De­spite his con­cerns about pri­vacy, Forbes of Re­max be­lieves the change will “level the play­ing field,” par­tic­u­larly against web­sites that be­gan qui­etly pub­lish­ing sold prices be­fore the Supreme Court an­nounced its judg­ment.

“Now we all know the rules and we can all play by them,” he said. Fi­nan­cial Post npow­[email protected]­tion­al­ Twit­­ell

Within months I ex­pect there will be dozens of web­sites mak­ing this data pub­lic, as it should be.


The Supreme Court of Canada says it will not hear an ap­peal from the Toronto Real Es­tate Board that sought to keep TREB’s mem­bers from pub­lish­ing home sales data on their pass­word-pro­tected sites. The dis­pute has been rum­bling on for seven years.

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