By Neil Sharma

The issue of permitting virtual office websites (VOWs) to publicly display sold data – a property’s purchase history – is still before the courts, a years-long litigation between the Toronto Real Estate Board, CREA and the federal competition bureau. But with finality possibly in sight, just what would VOWs do with the disputed data that TREB argues would compromise privacy if made public?

Canada’s largest real estate board believes publicly displaying sold data impinges upon customers’ right to privacy, although its sales agents are authorized to share it member-to-member and with clients in person, by fax or email. Yet, some VOW operators contend it is in consumers’ best interest to have as much information as they can to make informed purchasing decisions.



Realosophy is a Toronto-based VOW that aggregates copious quantities of information about properties and neighbourhoods to help customers choose their next homes. Not surprisingly, Realosophy’s president and founder, John Pasalis, believes sharing sold data with clients can make their purchasing decisions even more discerning.

The brokerage’s desire to display the sold data, “(Is) rooted in this idea that the more information consumers have at their fingertips, the better decisions they can make,” says Pasalis. “Philosophically, our view is quite different than TREB’s. TREB wants agents to be gatekeepers of data and our experience is when we give clients access to sold data they make more intelligent decisions on their own. They end up being more informed consumers and that’s consistent with what other industries are doing today – giving more people information at their fingertips.”

Realosophy would incorporate sold data into its aggregation packages for clients and Pasalis dismisses TREB’s claim that privacy will be jeopardized, calling it a smokescreen. He says empowering consumers so they’re not at the mercy of Realtors will force the latter to prove they are worth their salt.

“Publicly, TREB’s concern is privacy but if you look at the industry, the concern is the more information you give consumers, the tougher it is to be an agent,” he says. “It’s easier to build a career as an agent if you are a gatekeeper for data. All of a sudden you get rid of that and it becomes a lot harder to demonstrate your value to the consumer.”

Pasalis cited litigation south of the border in which the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division sued the National Association of Realtors for anti-competitive practices that targeted Internet-based companies that, among other things, offered lower commissions. Similarly, Realosophy offers commissions up to a full per cent lower than the common 2.5 per cent charged industry-wide.

“TREB’s not taking that position because it is not a legal argument, but that’s the other underlying industry concern, which is consistent with what we saw in the U.S. when the National Association of Realtors was sued by the Department of Justice. In those records, there’s fear of new interests coming in and putting downward pressure on commissions. I don’t think TREB are champions of privacy by any stretch.

“But this goes hand-in-hand with what I said earlier: If you’re not doing anything of value then of course there will be downward pressure on your commissions. If we, as an industry, change what we do and reinvent how we work and demonstrate more value, those agents won’t have any issues.”

In his experience, clients find ways around the sold data prohibition and while it would be made available online should the Competition Bureau ultimately win its litigation, companies like Realosophy would nevertheless incorporate it into larger data packages.

“Part of it is putting it online and the other component is, internally, we analyze it,” says Pasalis. “The real estate market is complicated. For example, we’ll make in-depth Beaches and Rexdale comparisons. Progressive companies will use data to tell better stories about neighbourhoods, homes and condos.”

Another issue, says Pasalis, is that properties are often re-listed, which isn’t immediately obvious. “It isn’t just sold data, it’s other things like expired or terminated listings,” he says. “At the home level you can understand if this home is sitting on the market for 100 days and agents keep relisting it so it looks like it’s been on the market for two weeks; you can find out if it was flipped, what they bought it for nine months ago and what the appreciation they’re asking for now is.”

Nova Scotia-based Viewpoint Realty, a brokerage that operates a VOW, is extremely popular and offers clients sold data. ViewPoint.ca was visited 7.1 million times in 2016 and has 260,000 registered users, of which 120,000 were active in 2016.

Viewpoint cannot operate in the Greater Toronto Area because of the sold data prohibition, but its founder and CEO, Bill McMullin, a practicing Realtor, says consumers have made their voices heard in Eastern Canada.

“ViewPoint is not in the business of deciding what information each real estate consumer is entitled to – that’s the old way of doing business,” says McMullin. “If you offer consumers a choice of direct or mediated access to real estate information, they’ll choose direct every time. GTA real estate consumers are no different than Nova Scotia real estate consumers; if we were able to offer GTA real estate consumers the same experience that Nova Scotia real estate consumers get, I’m certain we would have a very successful brokerage in the GTA.”

McMullin adds, “Our sales history feature is the primary factor in our success.”

Like Realosophy, TheRedPin offers clients comprehensive data packages. It studies the cost impacts of everything from living on corner lots or being in close proximity to a WalMart, to being near arterial transit nodes or planned LRTs – even which storeys or condominium views sell better and faster. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, TheRedPin is bracing for the liberation of sold data.

“Having a new set of data will allow me to take on more traffic, which means I can now go out and publicize or let consumers and the public know this data in its new form – the way we’re going to spin it, real data taken and formulated in a way that will make sense to people rather than the graphs and pie charts of the past – is available, and it will allow us to have a new consumer base,” says Tarik Gidamy, co-founder and director of TheRedPin.

“New customers are extremely important to any business. It will allow my agents to go out and do better work. I can formulate better assessments of property values so they can go to meetings with prices that are not based on opinion, but on actual numbers. It will also make homeowners more realistic of what their homes are worth.”

TheRedPin has more than 100 sales agents under its banner and has brokered over $1.5 billion in real estate transactions to date. But it is more than a mere brokerage; Gidamy describes it as a technology company at heart that enables customers to optimize the results of their imminent real estate transactions.

Such an approach to real estate could conceivably inform the wisdom (or lack thereof) of purchasing investment properties, whether residential or commercial – which Gidamy says is just one of the ways in which the industry is evolving.

He believes technology has created better understanding of the real estate market in ways agents, who are prone to human error, cannot. Comparing TheRedPin to Uber’s silent, yet empowering, hand, he is loathed to use the word “disruption,” but says the time has never been better for a shakeup of the industry.

“Because of technology, we understand the business and intelligence of real estate,” he says. “You can’t predict the future without looking at the past in real estate because the industry itself is cyclical. Trends and historical values are relative to what happened before and new things emerging today like what a house is worth if situated next to a Starbucks, big box store or the Eglinton LRT matter.”

Whatever the final outcome of the litigation, the sole surety is that the traditional foundation of the real estate industry has been jolted beyond repair – and whether or not sold data availability is, indeed, the Toronto market’s next transfiguration, technology has rendered the real estate industry of yesteryear unrecognizable from today’s or tomorrow’s.

  • Mark

    When I created the VOW back in the 90’s it was designed to be used for only clients not for the public. Clients , not the public, were extremely loyal to Realtors that had these first initial VOW websites. Being able to access information on their terms while their Realtor was able to handle more business was a key element in it’s inception. The argument that the public needs this information to make a more informed decision is incorrect. Client’s need the information – and if you’re a registered client of a Realtor then whether you receive it in a paper or digital format or whether it’s sent to you or the client pulls it to them should not matter. The key is the relationship and the ability to prove that it is legit!
    That’s what the VOW did. It helped bond relationships by being totally transparent with information. Real Estate Boards felt threatened by this technology and thought the only way to control it was to hold back data. We forget that Real Estate Boards manage only listing information and not Buyer’s information. So in essence we have an MLS system that manages only 50% of our business. The other 50% is managed by tens of thousand of individual Realtors without a centralized database (unlike our MLS) The VOW was originally designed to manage 100% of our clients, both Sellers and Buyers. If the Board’s would have bought into this, we as Realtor’s would have had more control over how are business would have been run over the past decade. Instead, we are reactive to changes in the market place that have been put in place by short sighted policies both locally and provincially. Not to mention the hundreds of thousand of dollars we spend on these ridiculous lawsuits.
    So, registering a buyer should be the same as listing a home. Only one Realtor for each listing and only one Realtor for each Buyer – if you’re not in a relationship with one or the other then there is no reason to give the information out to anyone who is not signed up with a Realtor. Otherwise, our industry will quickly be “UBERIZED” in a very short period of time

  • Don MacKay

    Have every owner sign a prohibition order on the use of their personal and sales information by anyone except the listing agent.

    • Carolyne L

      But proving where someone else got their (otherwise private) information is nigh unto impossible. But the net result could be identity theft, and once that damage is done, it is nearly impossible to undo.

      The person whose identity was stolen or damaged practically has to reinvent themselves, if ever even possible; no different than when people abscond with the identity of deceased people. It can and does destroy families, businesses, and even lives.

      Who tracks contiguous useage of information provided by the real estate community: even something as small as being identified by a moving company or a law firm, and solicited. Once exposed to the market via the real estate systems there’s not much privacy left.

      Even CRA watches “every” listing that appears. And marries the information to their files. I once had a listing where within hours of the sold sign going on that lawn sign, and reporting the sold to TREB immediately, they actually called my office, properly identified themselves (not a scam call) and wanted to know the full “details,” including who had bought it, deposit, down payment, mortgaging if any (looking for a seller take back that would tie up equity), wanted called-for closing date, even what chattels and fixtures were part of the contract.

      I said that unless I had my sellers’ written permission to divulge I was not permitted to share that additional information. I know agents who would have succumbed to the caller by virtue of “who” was calling.

      Always refer such a call to the seller direct and or the seller’s lawyer. I don’t believe no matter how much our fee is, that we are an extension of the government wishing to interrogate our clients and their private information.

      Of course I could be wrong, but I was not intimidated by the caller, and didn’t feel at all threatened. I believe I handled the call professionally and notified my (surprised) seller immediately, and learned his business was then in jeopardy. I wiped the details shared from my mind, and his family business survived.

      But I always was amazed how quickly that call came in. And being curious how they chose to call ‘me,’ the caller confirmed that I had lots of signs around town and confessed they watched all signs, mine and everyone else’s. Quite a learning experience for sure. Did you all know that?

      My curiosity was in part: do you know where your neighbours work? What they do for a living, or if are even maybe an operative?

      Yes, many jobs have privacy business agreements but the human element is always there. The poorly paid teacher or bank teller next door may resent the high price you got for your house, and that you spent a boatload on an in ground pool last year, along with having bought a new high-end car or a boat (using the equity in your home).

      Of course, not their business but some people feel driven to make everyone’s business their business; even some agents, who tattle client business back at the office.

      Sadly, some, when they don’t know all the (divorce, or such) info, they invent the rest of the story. And the whole thing becomes like that old party game where a tale is whispered in the neighbouring ear, and passed around the room with the end person to tell aloud, the story. Oh, my, how it grew. And we’re not talking pin the tail on the donkey.

      What would you do if you received such a call?

      Carolyne L 🍁

  • Jeffrey Joseph

    I have a comment to share about the sale information of real estate, being available to the public: “Pay As You Play”. Before I had unrestricted access to MLS information, I had to go to Real Estate School, pass an examination, get a license, all for a fee, join a company, join the Toronto Real Estate Board for a fee, pay for Real Estate Council Of Ontario Insurance, and now, some Government Evangelist thought it was a good idea at the time, and wants to make private information available without restriction, unlimited, and free to the public? Why? Was something which wasn’t broken, need fixing?

    The information has been collected by a privately held organization at some expense, and is available to members of the Toronto Real Estate Board, and the Ontario and Canadian Real Estate Associations Real which require membership fees + HST, to access this information. Hows does a government agency, interfere in the free democratic process of privately owned business, and want to throw it open to the public for free? Actually, just think about it; any person can call up any Realtor, and get the information he or she wants to have, without charge. The key is of course, a connection is then made with one of us, and if, the people do not want to talk to one of us, they are always able to go to the Registry Office, and find out the sale price there, or join Teranet, and get it online, just not for free.

    Every time government interferes with business, something goes wrong. Just look at the punishment the B C government has meted out to Sellers, and the ripple effect to every support enterprise which may be involved after the sale of a house takes place. Prices and sales are down dramatically. Prices would not have gone up forever, resistance would have set in as people stopped paying through the nose, and the change would have been gradual, and natural, not invoked! It was tried in Ontario in 1974, caused a bloodbath, failed, and was repealed. The only people to come out of it well, were the litigation Lawyers. The difference was, the people of Ontario were blindsided by the legislation, and in B C, they were not. I have always wondered, just how many Ontario MPPs sold their homes before The Land Speculation Tax Act and The Land Transfer Tax Act were dropped onto the Ontario people, on Friday, April 9, 1974, which caused the real estate market to collapse over night, and sold deals failed to close starting Monday. What a mess!!

    Jeffrey Joseph, Broker
    Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage
    Toronto, ON
    jeffreyjoseph@realtor.com
    416-782-7000

  • Robert Ede

    Is this an advertorial?