By Neil Sharma

The fourth and final day of the Toronto portion of the Competition Tribunal hearing between The Commissioner of Competition and The Toronto Real Estate Board finished with testimony from the only witness TREB introduced during this half of the hearing before it moves to Ottawa next month.

Pamela Prescott, owner of Century 21 Heritage Group in Richmond Hill, Ont. took the stand Thursday and said it’s her brokerage’s policy not to post clients’ sold data information online because the overwhelming majority expressed disapproval.

Prescott said, “They all don’t want that information up online,” for a variety of reasons ranging from mortgage fraud to providing thieves with knowledge that they could enter a house from the garage.



“If it’s necessary, they don’t mind Realtors seeing it, but they don’t want the public seeing it,” she said, adding that before discarding the practice altogether, it was brokerage policy to secure written consent before publishing sold data online.

By Prescott’s estimation, only five to 10 per cent of clients permitted Century 21 Heritage Group to make sold data accessible by the public.

Moreover, Prescott – a 38-year veteran who has been involved in more than 45,000 real estate transactions – said one of the challenges of putting sold information online is that both buyers and sellers have to agree to publish it. She said that, since individual brokerages are self-governing organizations, they institute their own policies with respect to sold information availability.

“Inevitably, what matters is what our clients feel,” she said.

Prescott told the hearing that her brokerage is currently developing a comprehensive website containing all of TREB’s listings, which will be accessible by the public. It will be introduced in phases, with the intent of using it for lead generation.

Prescott’s testimony was closed to the public. Members of the media and the general public were asked to leave the proceedings several times during the day.

Scott Nagel, chief of real estate operations of Redfin Corporation, also took the stand Thursday, traveling to Toronto from the Seattle area. His virtual office website is operational in 74 American metropolitan areas and has more than 1 million registrants, sourcing data from MLS listings, among other feeds, in states that permit its use.

Nagel said Redfin is beneficial to both consumers and Realtors, remunerating the latter with a base salary and paying bonuses commensurate to sales and customer satisfaction.

“A score of nine out of 10 gets them a much higher bonus,” said Nagel, adding that anything below a score of seven is a failing grade. “Agents don’t spend time prospecting, they spend time selling homes. (Individual) agents do an average of three transactions every month.”

Redfin, said Nagel, couldn’t operate as efficiently without MLS listings.

“MLS data is our lifeblood,” he said. “The vast majority of our customers are from the website, so we need the website to be used and to be useful to customers.”

Nagel conceded, under cross-examination by TREB lawyer Donald Affleck, that traditional real estate transactions vastly outnumber online transactions, such as those brokered by VOWs.

CREA lawyer Sandra Forbes asserted that Redfin’s goal is to show as much online listing data as possible without users having to register.

John Pasalis, founder of Realosophy Realty of Toronto, which operates a virtual office website, also provided testimony on Thursday. He told REM that most people spend hours researching before making major purchases and says he hopes consumers in the Toronto real estate market have as many tools at their disposal as they need.

“That’s what this case is about,” he said. “It’s about giving people access so they can do their due diligence and make a better decision.”

37 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think anyone willy nilly should be able to obtain title information – ie there should be a record of who requested information on a title and why. Also, depending on the circumstances of one’s life, one may not want one’s sold information, particularly, made public. It may be available through Realtors, but many relatives of owners, etc., who are just nosy parkers or who have various other motives, might not try to obtain information if they have to go through someone to obtain it. I think there should more privacy, not less. More and more individuals should refuse to have their sold information made publicly available.

  2. Got an email last night from a 28 year broker owner who has been a franchise brand user for 28 years. He asked me my thoughts on why his Franchisor was not assisting TREB? My Response…..” Control. Control over you and your sales staff. Control that would be the natural consequence of a CB win. Enough control to wipe our your ability to run your brokerage independent of any franchise brand involvement.”

    When their is silence, as all REALTORS know, something is being hidden. A hidden agenda exists. Whether it’s silence that allows a C-Grade home to be sold at AAA-Grade prices or the instructions of the Board of Directors of a publicly traded franchise company, silence in real estate means Hidden.

    RE/MAX international is on the record threatening withdrawal of MLS participation. That is why they are silent right now. Same goes for Brookfield and Realogy (not realosophy btw).

    They are licking their lips in silence as this opportunity to control franchisees grows!!

    • Ross,

      It’s an interesting hypothesis and I understand the basic logic.

      A Provincial Association would still require that the franchise brands were members, and would also likely create a common website for inter-Board or Association exposure of listed properties — were CREA to eventually collapse. Most seller’s being aware of such a Provincial Website would no doubt want exposure on it — as opposed to just being held as an Exclusive listing that wasn’t being exposed on OREA.ca — which would be expanded to promote actual listings, in a post CREA world. A Provincial website could easily be populated using the same technology as the DDF, but enhanced to allow selective inclusion or exclusion. The opportunity to control franchisees would come down to the ability of the Franchise Brands to be able to retain sale price data, for the exclusive use of the franchise brand. The Provincial Association would probably insist on having the sales price data — at least for any property exposed on their website. In other words, we would probably come full circle.

      Ross, regarding your following statement: “Control that would be the natural consequence of a CB win. Enough control to wipe our your ability to run your brokerage independent of any franchise brand involvement.” I believe that the Competition Bureau of Canada has wrongly pursued agendas against organized real estate that have and will undermine the professional progress that was imperative to correcting the shortcomings of our industry. However, there could be no doubt that the Competition Bureau of Canada would be bound by the Competition Act to do everything within its power, to correct a situation where a brokerage couldn’t be run without franchise brand involvement.

      As far as your statement: “They are licking their lips in silence as this opportunity to control franchisees grows!” Ross, if you are correct about this it would mean that the major franchise brands are only thinking two moves ahead, instead of three. If organized real estate can’t defend itself while occupying the high ground, it will be the Competition Bureau of Canada that will be licking it lips, when disorganized real estate tries to defend the low ground.

      • Alan,
        I don’t know how many franchise brand users have even read the year end annual reports that are issued to the shareholders of the publicly traded companies that own the brand they are using. How many Royal Lepage agents know Brookfield BRAGS about the fact it has protected shareholders monthly dividends by moving it’s earnings capacity off of the “risky” commissions earned by brand licensed sales reps, and onto the “guaranteed and low risk” desk free rental model.

        This is precisely explained every year in the annual report.

        Brookfield is a self-serving shareholder accountable business whose sole focus is on shareholder value. Brookfield will and must act in the best interest of it’s shareholders which means it must gain the most sales reps or brokerages possible, all the while controlling them to ensure profits continue.

        Brookfield has no interest in OREA or CREA other than what benefit their shareholders ( not sales reps) can withdraw from those associations.

        How many of the 109,000 CREA dues payers knew Brookfield got special rules added to the DDF to allow royallepage.ca to get a special feed supplied ( yes the other brands working in conjunction to obtain the same)?

        How was a publicly traded non-registrant franchise company ever allowed at the table of a National Trade Association. At no time did any Franchise communicate or solicit input from the sale reps using their brands during these negotiations nor did CREA or OREA ever provide a Contrarian assessment of business risk to the 109,000 about the consequences of these special consideration given to non-registrant companies.

        Trade Associations are suppose to protect their membership. Sadly the lowly sales rep are not the real members of Canada’s trade associations for real estate. CREA is not the Canadian Real Estate Association of Registrants as the last part is left off.

        REALTORS in general are simply “too stupid” and “short sighted” to gain even a modicum of engagement in the infrastructure to protect themselves or their families long term.

        Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Accountants and even Used Car Dealers (in Ontario anyway) would never allow a Franchise company to gain special priviledges. Only Organized Real Estate allows that to happen.

  3. I would like everyone to pass these comments on to your fellow TREB members.

    When The Beatles created their songs Apple was their own label not the one that appeared on the first iPod. Everyone thought mp3s could be used to steal Beatles copyrighted works. Zoocasa thought so too but years ago the courts said otherwise.

    There is no such thing as MLS data, there is only an MLS system which members of an association license their listing creative to one another under a series copyright licensing agreements. These agreements are not only with members but also with members of other MLS systems who market their listings through these agreements across multiple MLS systems. The are highly restrictive in nature in order for the licensee to remain compliant with the variance governmental bodies they are accountable to.

    TREB is not like kijiji or point2 or Zillow, where realtors advertise their listings through giving away their rights to their creative, with an MLS there is a carefully crafted agreement that is designed to meet federal laws on copyrights and protect members ownership of such.

    Much of the data TREB has on its servers was acquired years ago under even further restrictive covenants. Lisencing that took place before VOWs were even a dream of an imagination let alone part of the consciousness of a membership.

    Everyone forgets TREB is not only accountable to its current members but also all former members or any non members it previously entered agreements with. Certainly some retired members may have 1000s of listings remaining on TREB servers that are worth substantial amounts today and even more tomorrow.

    As a student of all Canadian MLS systems I know what can and cannot be done with data stored in the nations MLS systems and I know the battle treb would face if it ever attempted to usurp my own copyrights on the listings I marketed on their system.

    All the Best

    • Michel,

      Should TREB not prevail at the Competition Tribunal, and beyond — as may be necessary, REALTOR.ca shall cease to exist! You and others need to realize what a full-blown VOW (Virtual Organization Website) represents — you’re just not getting it.

      • I absolutely agree with you, but do you believe TREB will prevail ? and if not, then what. Don’t forget that the judge that will make the decision is one that TREB tried to disqualify and failed and is now making the decision in this case. I am saying that if the public is made to pay to access MLS.CA only a very small fraction will.

        • Michel,

          If justice rules the day at the Tribunal, TREB has already won; if not, then TREB has already lost — this round. The Competition Bureau of Canada is pushing an agenda that is leftover from the previous Commissioner– who left prematurely. The Competition Bureau can’t justify their intervention in pushing or advocating for an elitist ( the big guy) concept like a “Virtual Organization Website” (VOW) against the individual practitioner (the little guy) on its own merits. This is why the suggestion of “innovation” is being thrown around, because it is a word that is included and advocated for in the Competition Act. The Competition Bureau should only win if pure justice loses against pure politics, in my opinion.

          We can’t contemplate losing because what is at stake is: another unqualified wound to the sanctity or value of Agency Relationships — the first one being “mere postings”. Consider this: (A) a full-blown VOW Brokerage can provide a “Customer” free and unqualified real estate data, however a Registrant or Practitioner can’t provide their pass-code to a “client”. — even though sharing our pass-code, could have numerous benefits in terms of protecting the data, especially if consumers were required to be under contract in order to access our data, on an ongoing basis. I only suggest the aforesaid because: your “Client” may simultaneously utilize the VOW Brokerage as their “Customer” — if they want the direct data access that you can’t give them. It is disruptive to an Client, Agency, Working Relationship should your Client utilize the services of another brokerage while they are working with you!

          Michel the (B) part is this is the question of: to what extent and frequency have or will Real Estate Consumer’s potentially delay entering into a Full Agency Relationship with a Registrant or Practitioner, as a result of the level and amount of data they have access to with but a “Customer” status,as a Customer of a Full-blown VOW Brokerage? How can anyone argue the importance of an Agency Client Relationship out of one side of their mouth, while suggesting out of the other side of their mouth that the timing of commencing such a working relationship isn’t just as important? Should a Real Estate Consumer miss out on a real estate opportunity because they didn’t understand what a: Subject to Sale of Buyer’s Property clause, or Back-up Offer Clause means, who takes responsibility for this?

          Michel, we need to be ready to be able to hand over our pass-codes to our internal data-bases, on a limited basis, to our clients, but only if we were to lose all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

  4. Jeff Stern
    “Interesting how in say… a divorce, if a lawyer worked for a firm that had dealings with the other party, that lawyer must recuse themselves and here we have a presiding judge who clearly was more then just employed by the firm but had conversations and was ‘cc’d in an email”

    HWR
    Don’t we as Realtors do this all the time? I have a listing and a buyer comes directly to me…should we recuse ourselves from her on?

    • HWR,

      I’m not sure what I can say exactly, because editor Jim thinks I’m too hard on you at times, apparently.

      HWR, only people of some significance are ever able to consider recusing themselves. However, if you really think that buyer’s come to you “all the time”, you need to consider something more permanent than recusal, anyway!

  5. Only in na, you can spend a fortune building a sophisticated tool to be told that you have to share it with others because it’s not fair that you have it.

    • Do you mean share it with those who contributed the data, without which that sophisticated tool wouldn’t be worth 2 cents! What is this world coming to – unbelievable!

      • Think of it this way Alan, if there was no system there would be no listing and there would be no data. At the end of the day you agreed to use the tool, hence you agreed to the terms of usage.

        • Michael,

          I’m a REALTOR, I pay to use the tools I use. I have no idea what you’re talking about, in terms of something that could be confused with a lucid point. However, it’s sounds as though in your original point, you’re feeling some future or present pity for some unnamed party or organization — so perhaps, you could start by clarifying who it is that you feel is being hard done by, somehow?

          In any event, if you believe that listings exist because of systems, as opposed to systems existing because of listings, I don’t think I’m the one to shed any light into your dark corner.

          • Regardless of who you are, prior to using a digital “tool/system” you must have to read terms of use agreement e.g. who owns the data that you enter. Just because you pay for the tool that doesn’t mean you own it. The issue isn’t about you sharing data but rather about how it’s shared.

            I pity people that feel that they are owed something because they haven’t done their due diligence in reading fine print of the agreement they willingly signed.

          • Michael,

            So, you’re writing to REM, to tell readers that some internet platforms have a “terms of use” that must be acknowledged, that some data is proprietary and that there are people who take things for granted, in this world. Michael, I need more time to consider the gravity this!

          • Good job Alan you’re catching on. I guess when you’ve built nothing of value in your life it’s hard to understand that other peoples hard work should be worth something, instead of cry babies like you who run to the competition tribunal every time they want a slice of cake some one else made. And no entering data or paying fees does not qualify one as a part owner of anything.

          • Michael,

            You’re using a full name, however perhaps you’d like to tell the readers what your interest is in this topic? For some reason you want to defend some parties hard work, but you’re reluctant to outright indentify who the party you are eluding to is — which is bizarre; what are you afraid of? Michael, clearly your someone who isn’t an industry member, because you’re embarrassing yourself with your outside looking in attempt to interject yourself into an industry discussion.

            Michael, I’m not a VOW operator; I didn’t go running to the Competiton Tribunal. Michael, you sound like someone who is either being paid to try and spin this, or you’re trying to protect your investment — if it’s the former, I wouldn’t pay you for such a lame effort; if it’s the latter, you should really hire a professional spin doctor, because you bored me.

          • Great stuff guys; very entertaining! I’m going to recommend that you all three get a spot concurrently on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon.

          • Brian,

            I have no interest in being entertaining, consequently I don’t understand your comment. If you have an opinion on the original article let’s hear it. Otherwise enjoy your boat.

          • Alan:
            With all due respect, I do have an interest in being entertaining from time to time…breaks up the monotony. I think that you ‘do’ understand my comment, but that you take yourself too seriously, and to that end, possibly (likely?) lack a sense of humour to round out your intellectual mastery of certain topics of interest. Perfectionists are often afflicted with that kind of underlying mind set.
            You have been kind enough to back some of my positions as described herein in the past and you have once have even applauded, as you described it, my writing style as eloquent; thank you for that. But you need to lighten up my friend; single-minded right-fighting everyone in sight is a losing proposition. In the end none of this will matter.
            Yes, I have an opinion on this subject, but I would rather spend time enjoying my boat. It’s not a leaky yellow submarine with krill-proof screen doors like Hard Working Realtor scuppers…I mean…skippers, but it is mine. I designed it and built it with my own hands and my own money, and it is fast as a bat out of hell, but more importantly, nobody, but nobody, has access to its controls but me, Competition Bureau bureaucrats and highjackers be damned Hmmm…sounds familiar to the jist of the topic, does it not?
            If I see you floating around out there like human jetsam on the sea of loneliness, I will throw you a life-line, no strings attached.

          • Brian,

            Your comment was a gratuitous quip that I didn’t appreciate.

            This industry is behind you now and so should your motivations be for submitting herein. I don’t fight everyone in sight; I make comments that I believe to be relevant and truthful and try to discourage those who engage in disinformation. I feel obliged to submit, due to the absence of real leadership in this industry. I believe that you submitted because you needed REM to be your online support group. As I understand it, you quit this industry at one point because you were taken aback by what you believed you had become — which should’ve been all the more impossible because of a key role model, in your life.

            Brian, in countless letters to REM you’ve ranted on about the “Creacrat’s” and how they are the bane of our existence. However, you never talked (that I’ve read) about any failed attempts at joining your Board of Director’s — where one who wants real change should want to be. I don’t accept that: “In the end none of this will matter.” in terms of the sum total of my efforts. However, your repetitive references to the “Creacrats” wasn’t likely to motivate any one to resign, and there is no evidence that anyone did. The Creatcrats are employees that should exist at the pleasure of the CREA Board of Directors — consequently, the issue has always been about a Board of Directors who are lead as opposed to leading, and the rank and file members who allow them to ascend to our highest place.

            Brian, as long as you’re lured back to submit to REM you’ll never be retired, or at peace, you’ll still be fighting the same internal demons that motivated you to write the majority of your letters. Unlike our internal demons, the Creacrats can be terminated from their positions with the right amount of will, but not from the pages of REM!

          • Alan:
            Interesting response. Now I definitely believe that you lack a sense of humour. At least Hard Working Realtor has a sense of humour and recognizes when someone is pulling his chain…or should I say the cork out of his sub.
            Yes, this industry is behind me now, but I can assure you that I am not helplessly ‘lured’ into the fray against my better judgement like a hungry fish, and as for demons, in my world there are no such things. As for my quitting the business long ago after my first go ’round as a hot-shot salesman, my conscience got to me, plain and simple. I got sucked into the “sell, sell, sell” frame of mind because I was at that time a naïve wannabe. Then I grew up. Simple.
            You must understand my friend that I mostly enjoy responding to the articles and posters on this site when time permits; gotta keep the old brain cells a clickin’ as I near 70 years of age. I have no illusions that anything that I say herein will have even a whiff of a chance of leading to anything changing within the ranks of Organized Real Estate. I believe that the powers-that-be within ORE routinely ignore all commentaries herein that run counter to their chosen agendas; we commentators have no power after all. Therefore, I fully realize that I am pissing into the wind; always have. I just don’t take myself as seriously as do you of yourself. That is where we are different from one another.
            I was never interested in trying to become a board member because I knew that I was an outlier who would not play the political game to stay in the game or to get ahead. I’m simply not a committee kind of guy who is prepared to sit through a never ending stream of useless meetings where things happen, if they happen at all, at a pace as slow as spilled molasses in January. My only aim herein is to possibly encourage others who currently have something at stake to speak up, just as Chris Seepe, for instance, does at meetings. Injustice has always pissed me off, and that is the only reason that I rant-on herein from time to time, but the interest factor is indeed waning, likely to the delight of the humourless readers.
            Best of luck with your crusade; hope you have a positive impact. I don’t really care any more, and that’s kind’a nice for a change. Now I must go and try to find a demon. I think Chrysler produced a Dodge Demon muscle car in the late sixties…yeah…gotta get one!
            Shit! I think that was a gratuitous quip! Sorry old friend.

          • Brian,

            I’ve never had a sense of humor when it comes to all the hands that try to find their way into my pocket in this business and never will. It’s the fact that I can’t even count the number of hands anymore that’s all but killed my sense of humor – desole’.

          • HWR,

            I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Demi, isn’t your sock-puppet, or perhaps you’ve a found missing relative. However, if Michael is your sock-puppet you should get at least one more — that way you could talk to both of your hands!

  6. This whole privacy issue is such a weak argument. No one is posting any information that is harmful to sellers and why should sold price matter, if someone wants it so bad and for any malicious purposes they can simply pull title. The information that out industry uses is the same information that all levels of governments use to monitor the economy, appraisers use it, banks use it, lawyers use it. And we Realtors use it to help our clients make better decisions. Any seller complaining about posting their sold info would change their mind if other sale info wasn’t their to help THEM make THEIR decision. All this privacy crap is being planted in the minds of sellers by our industry who’s last tool to protect them is fear. Not gonna work!

      • Didn’t see what you were referencing but so what? Who cares Carolyne? If I want to promote an assumable mortgage then so what? Where is the privacy issue? In fact, I challenge all REM readers to provide one relevant, not silly and meaningless breach of privacy posted on MLS listings.

    • Hard worker, I don’t think anyone is resorting to fear mongering. Some of is are indignant about the way our private system is being targeted for misuse; nepharious or otherwise. It is a for Realtors by Realtors tool for the purposes of coorperation and technical applications such as establishing value by licenced registrants. This information is fundamentally private and requires a duty of care. It is not a public site. This trend is not rational primarily because our industry is grossly misunderstood and underestimated.

  7. I encourage all readers to check out your competitors websites as Alan M. has below.

    Here are some things you should be aware of on your own sites as this means you are in breach of REBBA and/or CREA

    -“search all toronto mls listings” – currently there is not a site owned and operated by a Toronto brokerage that meets this definition and of course as a member of CREA you MUST use the MLS brand correctly at all times.
    -“pushy agents, lone wolves, cheesy headshots” words like these used to describe fellow registrants break all 3 Codes of Ethics you must follow.
    -“traditional agents and brokerages charge 2.5%” – this is simply a lie and cannot be supported by any review of the mls system of TREB for more than 7 years. Especially in sight of Listing Broker Commissions being private data.
    -“service provided gets higher prices” – sorry simply a lie
    -“inducements of a 2.5% buyer commission” stated to garner more offers is simply a fraudulent statement and implies fellow registrants freely breach REBBA.
    -“claimed savings with a disclaimer” breach of REBBA
    -“buyers agents are great allies to sellers”- seems like lawyers would love to find those reps and I think this is yet another breach of REBBA as a misreprentation
    -“commenting on housing markets”- whoops you just crossed a big line with RECO
    -“commenting on fellow traditional agents”- you cannot paint brush or tarnish or defame fellow registrants.

    The bigger question is folks why is TREB spending all this money and time defending against a CB complaint filed by members who refuse to follow the rules, breach provincial trading legislation, misuse CREA trademarks, open defame and criticize fellow members, suggest “traditional” is a bad name, suggest fellow registrants offer inferior service, etc etc.

    Of course REBBA’s sights have been moved from Zoocasa now and this allows them time to consider other offenders.

  8. John Pasalis, founder of Realosophy Realty of Toronto, which operates a virtual office website, also provided testimony on Thursday. He told REM that most people spend hours researching before making major purchases and says he hopes consumers in the Toronto real estate market have as many tools at their disposal as they need.

    “That’s what this case is about,” he said. “It’s about giving people access so they can do their due diligence and make a better decision.”

    The basic definition of “diligence” is: “careful and persistent work or effort.” So, let’s be honest about what this is really about, and that is: are we not as REALTOR’s, Registrants and Practitioner’s, the one’s who should be doing the “due diligence”, and why would someone hire us, if we weren’t going to give the: careful and persistent work effort? Why would a reasonable person expect the average consumer to be able to their own “due diligence” — notwithstanding what is expected of them at the point of an: “accepted offer”? A consumer typically should lack the experience and or expertise to be “careful” and the time to be “persistent”!

    Consider the following quote made recently here on REM, by the alias known as: Hard Working Realtor: “In fact, the transaction is almost always more about managing emotions and guiding sellers and buyers than it is about the stats or numbers.” The aforesaid statement is just another example of how some Registrants or Practitioner’s are trying to put the onus of our “due diligence” on the consumer — without even making the distinction between a Customer or a Client, and they justify this sometimes by boasting about how they charge less than a competitor.

    Let’s be absolutely clear about what this case is about — its about money. It’s about brokerages trying to come up with a business model that draws the moth to their flame.

  9. I wonder how many consumers are comfortable with mortgage details being availabe to the public on a VOW. Treat as clear is the norm in a climate of low rates but when existing portable financing becomes attractive again, it is used as a feature. MLS is a broker to broker tool, not a public website. It is not “innovation” to misuse an existing tool. It is short sighted. Realtors are conducting the due diligence on behalf of clients. Who populates the MLS system? The Realty fairy? Realtors single handedly create a reliable marketplace and are underestimated in the public eye despite guiding thousands of transactions to a close a year. I would hate to see the economic fallout if we didn’t.

    • Tina
      I agree completely. Divide and conquer might apply.
      Perhaps read my today’s comment at Peggy’s bloopers article, addressing this very topic.

      Carolyne L 🍁

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