By Jim Adair
It’s been a lively year for the real estate industry in Canada, marked by declining real estate sales and affordability challenges for buyers. A Supreme Court decision sealed the Competition Bureau’s victory in its long-running dispute with TREB and CREA, and a vote at CREA’s AGM in the spring enables boards to apply for direct membership in the national association, bypassing their provincial organizations.
Not to mention the constant barrage of disruptors from outside the industry who are hoping to take business away from the country’s Realtors.
For her year as CREA president, Barb Sukkau adopted the theme of We R One. “It means we’re stronger together,” she says. “As we move forward in these challenging times, it’s important for us to work together. I know real estate is local but that doesn’t preclude the fact that we are all Realtors and part of the Realtor community.”
In an interview at the CREA headquarters in Ottawa, Sukkau said that so far no boards have applied for direct membership, and she believes that since the AGM, provincial associations and boards are working together better. She says that there are discussions in Saskatchewan and Quebec to amalgamate some of the boards, and she is pleased that in Ontario, two separate groups of boards – ORTIS and the Ontario Collective – have combined resources and are now sharing MLS systems.
“That’s a positive thing,” she says. “Do we need 39 boards in Ontario? Probably not. As long as their decisions are based on what’s best for the membership, I think those partnerships make a lot of sense. I could see the Ontario Collective joining with ORTIS, and then we would have only three or four MLS systems in Ontario, which would be a big step forward.”
Recently CREA announced some major upgrades to Realtor.ca, including the addition of sold data for those boards that request it.
“I’m really proud of the Board of Directors for making such a bold and timely decision, because we really feel it’s time there was sold data on Realtor.ca,” says Sukkau. “It’s important to remember that it’s each board’s choice. We are creating the facility to post sold data and if they choose not to, that’s their choice.”
CREA and TREB spent seven years fighting the Competition Bureau about whether sold and other data would be allowed on password-protected virtual office websites (VOWs). The Realtor groups cited privacy concerns of their members’ clients as a major reason why the data should not be provided. But Sukkau says posting sold data on Realtor.ca is different than what TREB and CREA were batting to keep private.
“The TREB case was specific to VOWs and other disputed data. What we are planning is a different animal. We are planning on posting historical data and the most recent sales data of listings that are currently on Realtor.ca for a very short period of time.
“We were very supportive of TREB as we should be, and unfortunately that litigation is over. So now we move on and listen to what our members are asking for at the boards. That was the genesis of the decision, because the boards and associations were coming and asking us for the facility.”
CREA CEO Michael Bourque says there are still a lot of unanswered questions about posting the sold data on Realtor.ca. “In Ontario, the Real Estate Council of Ontario takes the position that this sold information cannot be released without consent…If you read their rules and then you read the decision in the Competition Bureau (case) and the fact that the Supreme Court essentially agreed with the Competition Bureau…it’s a contradiction. It’s like any other change. We just legalized cannabis in this country and it’s full-on with contradictions – you’ve got different places with different rules. Over time these things get worked out.
“So, we can’t post sold data if it’s not allowed by a provincial regulator,” Bourque says. “But the spirit of putting it there is in keeping with the decision of the Supreme Court.”
He says the Supreme Court “essentially agreed with the Competition Bureau because they didn’t hear the case. That’s not a passive thing, that’s an active decision to not hear the case because they agree…If you look at the rulings the Supreme Court makes on a whole range of societal issues, they are often at the leading edge of where they see society going. They make a decision and society follows. I think that’s where we are in this case.”
Sukkau says that Realtor.ca is “wildly popular; it’s Canada’s No. 1 listing website. We are committed to improving it. We want to continue to deliver on our brand promise, which says we are going to generate leads and promote the value of using a Realtor.”
Sukkau, a sales rep with Royal LePage NRC Realty in St. Catharines, Ont., has been a Realtor for 23 years and for most of that time she has served on committees or the boards of directors at the local, provincial and national level of organized real estate. “Once you become involved in an association you realize how rewarding it is,” she says. You get to be part of major decisions that have impacts on your members. And it’s a lot of fun. I get to meet Realtors from all over the country. They are fun, kind people,” she says.
Her business partner is taking care of business for her while she’s away, but Sukkau says when she’s not doing CREA business she’s an active Realtor and having a “pretty good” year. She encourages everyone to volunteer at their local boards.
Finally, she says, “I just want to remind everyone that there is always going to be a lot of choice out there, but I truly believe the Realtor will always be central to the real estate transaction. Data doesn’t sell houses, people do. Those Realtors who stay interactive with their clients, stay on top of technology and provide good service are going to the be ones who thrive.”