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.”