By Neil Sharma

The best defence is a good offense.

Such was the case early during the third day of the Competition Tribunal hearing between The Commissioner of Competition and the Toronto Real Estate Board, as TREB lawyer Donald Affleck revealed that the Competition Bureau’s lead witness, Viewpoint Realty, has been the subject of about two dozen annual complaints concerning privacy.

The privacy complaints pertain to trite matters such as property photographs, countered Viewpoint CEO William McMullin.



“The vast majority of people love what we do (but) we get more complaints because of how popular we are,” he said. “The greatest evidence of acceptance is the popularity of the website. Consumers don’t use things they don’t like.”

When later cross-examined by CREA counsel Sandra Forbes, McMullin said, “Our business is driven by website visitors to match them with agents. Every brokerage has a website that they use, to some degree, for the same reason we do.”

However, Affleck told REM there’s more to the privacy complaints than Viewpoint is letting on. He said he is surprised the Viewpoint virtual office website (VOW) didn’t amend its policies to quell trepidation about confidential information being susceptible to security breaches, and said the privacy commissioner intervened.

“You would have thought that would have caused them to be more careful with the private information they had,” Affleck told REM. “Not just with names and addresses and prices, but because of comments made by Realtors (on the site) to the fact that houses are empty for a month or there’s nobody home until five o’clock. If anybody can access that, it’s rather dangerous information.”

While Affleck says that kind of information is available on MLS listings, it isn’t all displayed openly on public sites.

McMullin downplayed the privacy complaints, emphasizing their banalities. He said many people complain about basic listing details such as photographs – even Google Street View – that other brokerages also employ as standard features.

“The number of complaints is relative to the number of users,” McMullin told REM. “There’s a fairly sizeable chunk of the population that doesn’t understand that the practices of our website and others like it are longstanding. We’re not breaking laws or rules – not even close. We have to operate within the law, and we do.”

McMullin also reiterated what he told the panel yesterday. “People are sometimes uncomfortable with the level of information but they also realize they’ll be on the other side of that transaction at some point.”

Affleck revealed during cross-examination that Viewpoint, which conducts all its business in Nova Scotia, is a member of TREB.

The Competition Bureau’s Emrys Davis called its second witness, co-founder and chief sales officer of TheRedPin.com Realty, Tarik Gidamy, to the stand Wednesday afternoon. TheRedPin, Gidamy says, uses technology to create an enhanced consumer experience. The brokerage has grown from five agents three years ago to 65 today.

“Having different tools like data makes you an authority to customers,” Gidamy told the hearing. “Data doesn’t just attract customers, it nurtures them.”

TheRedPin operates with lower commission fees and says it puts money back into its customers’ pockets, tying neatly into the bureau’s narrative that TREB stifles competition so it can preserve its multi-billion- dollar monopoly.

Realtors also benefit when working with TheRedPin because they spend less time chasing leads and more time interacting with clients, many of whom are repeat customers, Gidamy said.

MLS listing information could help unique brokerages like TheRedPin by providing novel information, such as which floors or views in condominiums sell better and faster, using sold data. It could also help consumers make better investment and end-user decisions, he said.

Gidamy defiantly parried David Vailllancourt’s cross-examination, especially when asked if he felt personally targeted by TREB.

“Well, given the nature of this trial, having the ability to extract (MLS) data would do wonders for me,” said Gidamy. “TREB is there to serve its members, but there are some members that would like to do better.”

He added that major real estate companies such as Re/Max are competitors because they incorporate innovative technologies into their online platforms.

In its three years of existence, TheRedPin has grown to conduct $325-million in business.

TheRedPin and Viewpoint pull data from other sources, but allege TREB discriminates against VOWs by withholding pertinent information that could help increase revenues, because TREB considers them threatening.

“One of our core values is data is everything and it should be offered for free,” said Gidamy. “It’s what you do with that data, how you interpret it, how you extract it, that’s what’s going to set my company apart.”

Redfin, an American VOW brokerage, has seen astronomical growth south of the border. A representative from Redfin is slated to take the stand tomorrow before the hearing breaks. It will resume in Ottawa on Oct. 5.

Keep watching REM for updates.

9 COMMENTS

  1. 3 years ago here on REM ( http://www.remonline.com/letters-trebs-campaign-dangerously-misleading/ ) Viewpoint was warned by “Eyes on the Net” about privacy infractions on their site.

    Now it took 3 years to be proven right but it is now on the court record.

    So let me be clear to any brokerage in Ontario who thinks they can display information contained on the servers of MLS systems in Ontario, under the terms sought in the this case.

    REBBA and PIPEDIA and The Copyright Act will need to be revised before your dreams are fulfilled. In the mean time your Broker of Record will find ( as Zoocasa’s did ) their risk exposure trying to bypass REBBA and PIPEDIA is so dangerous even a high salary is irrelevant.

    There is now a fully engaged authority on this topic working to protect the public as Rogers found out.

  2. I’m happy we’re hearing the from members from real estate community that actually see the benefit more information could have to the homebuying/selling process. Kudos to theRedPin guys and Frazer Beach for starting starting this fight long ago.

  3. From what I’ve read so far, I feel TREB won’t win this fight. The door is open and the courts favor the consumer absolutely. So why don’t we as an industry make realtor.ca that amazing go to site? Sure some will take advantage of it, but ultimately consumers want guidance when buying and selling. In fact, the transaction is almost always more about managing emotions and guiding sellers and buyers than it is about the stats or numbers.

  4. “The only information we make available to customers and clients is that which helps buyers and sellers make an informed decision – the same information which all TREB members can, do or should provide to their customers and clients.” — Bill McMullin

    When you read the above mentioned quote one might get the impression that there isn’t any difference between a VOW and the more traditional websites — it sounds like a case-closed argument. However, what I find most interesting about the above quote is the absence of a distinction between a Customer and a Client — beyond the titles themselves! And the reference to TREB members and what they should do, in the vaguest sense possible.

    Isn’t it more accurate to say that Practitioners or Registrants help clients to make informed decisions in the context of: “knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction” — in particular, as it would relate to instruction in the sense of counsel. Would anyone really seriously suggest that a Customer who was given unqualified data, is in the same informed position as a Client who has been given information or counsel by a real estate Practitioner or Registrant?

  5. “Having different tools like data makes you an authority to customers,” Gidamy told the hearing. “Data doesn’t just attract customers, it nurtures them.” Without reading the transcripts, I certainly hope there was a supplemental question to the aforesaid mentioned quote, asking for clarification.

    Every Registrant or Practitioner has access to our “data” the mere access to which doesn’t make anyone a default “authority” — it’s one’s ability to interpret the “data” and apply the “data” that determines the extent to which a Registrant or Practitioner may be viewed as an “authority”. In addition, a Customer Relationship is such that the Customer shouldn’t view the Registrant or Practitioner as an “authority” — before the Registrant or Practitioner has had the opportunity to utilize their discretion within the context of an Full Agency Relationship! The suggestion that just by virtue of having access to raw data a consumer is nurtured (trained or nourished) presumes the ability of every consumer to be able to correctly interpret the data — when the real estate industry wouldn’t even presume this of our own membership.

  6. I agree @@bill_mcmullin:disqus , I think they are just too into the fight…. let’s see what happens when he wants to by a house, hopefully he lands on TheRedPin.com ;) Good seeing you and best of luck

  7. If Mr. Affleck had taken the time to actually use ViewPoint.ca or even paid attention to the demonstration in the hearing room he would have seen that we don’t disclose occupancy information or any other information that might compromise the security of the seller and their property. The only information we make available to customers and clients is that which helps buyers and sellers make an informed decision – the same information which all TREB members can, do or should provide to their customers and clients.

    • Well, is it or is it not true that you’ve been the subject of privacy complaints with intervention by the privacy commissioner?

      I trust that those complaints were made by sellers and that you would call them “trite” and speak only to it being buyers without exactly saying so, who are looking to find an agent, is an insult to the property owners whose information is being the subject of privacy complaints since buyer information is non-existent, and goes to show that once more, no one considers the sellers, only what the buyers want.

      Whether it is one complaint or a dozen it doesn’t matter and as a Realtor you ought to know that one complaint is enough to change the way should disclose, or write a clause.

      You’d think from all of your statements found on the internet and in the previous hearing that Viewpoint gets its sales information from the real estate board when in fact it doesn’t, it gets it from your land registry office. So why on earth, is the CB and you, not going after the province of Ontario for Land Titles information?

      That’s a rhetorical question of course because we all know the answer is that it would be a losing battle, so better to make the real estate industry the scapegoat.

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