By Jim Adair
When Toronto Real Estate Board CEO John DiMichele was working as a manager for Royal LePage in the late 1990s, the board had about 17,000 members.
“Now, our numbers are staggering,” says DiMichele. “There are over 54,000 members, and if you bring in our partner boards, there are close to 58,000 users of our MLS system.”
Critics say there isn’t nearly enough business to go around for that many members, but the GTA residential sales numbers only tell part of the story. DiMichele says TREB members are now listing homes from as far away as Windsor in the west, to Cornwall in the east, to Thunder Bay in the north. Those sales are not reflected in the statistics. Nor do the activities of Realtors working in the rental, commercial or business brokerage markets.
DiMichele, who has been CEO at TREB for almost five years, began working at the board in 2002 as chief information officer. Prior to that he managed offices in Oakville, Burlington and Toronto and served on committees at the Oakville and Toronto boards, as well as at CREA.
“I have always carried that entrepreneurial spirit, even now,” he says.
While the EO position used to be primarily an administrative role, now DiMichele is in charge of an organization that has a huge impact on the economy.
“When someone says you are an economic engine, you take it seriously. And there’s a responsibility with that,” he says. “Just look at the way our statistics are consumed. We take that responsibility seriously to make sure they’re accurate and meaningful.” His role now includes pushing governments with various advocacy initiatives, stickhandling legal issues and dealing with the news media, among other things.
But he says the mission of the board can best be summed up as “members first”, and to that end, TREB is “working on a new approach to MLS. We will be going out with an RFP (request for proposal) to consider a reimagined MLS environment, bringing in technologies that are burgeoning and in some cases mature. Things like artificial intelligence, predictive technologies and primarily my focus has been blockchain, just to prepare for the future. So, over the next 12 or 18 months we hope to be putting something together that will be future-facing and who knows, something that could be scalable, something that will allow people to operate in their own communities…and empower our members and the brokerages.
“Maybe we will disrupt MLS – in a positive way that will be efficient and effective and orderly,” he says.
DiMichele says work is still needed to come up with better solutions so Realtors in different boards can do transactions seamlessly, noting that TREB recently worked with the Oakville board to better integrate some missing data in the TREB system. But he said a provincial MLS system would need to address local nuances. For example, those selling primarily recreational properties would have different needs than Realtors in mostly rural areas or those selling in the urban areas.
The sheer size of Canada’s largest real estate board has long created some tensions with the provincial and federal real estate associations, but DiMichele says that for the most part, all three levels work well together.
“Obviously we are a unique challenge for everyone – 54,000 members out of 120,000 (CREA’s membership). It’s a big number.”
TREB supported a motion at last year’s CREA AGM that enables associations to become direct members of CREA, which in Ontario means they could bypass the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA). With real estate boards and associations amalgamating in many provinces, DiMichele says, “Perhaps there are some associations that don’t want to be part of the amalgamation and maybe they won’t want to work with a separate organization and want to be direct members. I think it sets up the future.”
TREB’s voting representation at the OREA AGM was recently increased from 33 per cent to 49 per cent. “It just makes it fairer. We had 70 per cent of the membership but only 33 per cent of the vote,” says DiMichele.
But he says all three levels of organized real estate “are moving in the right direction and we have a great working relationship. Obviously, like any family, you might have quiet differences of opinion but you work through them…their missions are not unlike ours. At the end of the day you step up and do the right thing.
“I believe in the three levels, and so does the Board of Directors,” says DiMichele. But he says, “We have to consider that there will be an evolution at some point. Don’t know what that means but as time wears on, everybody evolves.”
He points out that CREA supported TREB during the legal battle over a Competition Tribunal decision that the board, by not including sold and other data in its virtual office website (VOW) feed, had engaged in anti-competitive acts. TREB complied with the Competition Tribunal’s decision last August after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear TREB’s appeal.
Asked if he thought the long fight was worth it, DiMichele says, “I don’t know if you’ve been watching what’s happening in the media, but privacy has been a huge issue there and now we are seeing people like Facebook – organizations that once promoted open and unrestricted access – saying now it’s privacy first.
“I think it was the right fight, to get the issue before the media and the government with respect to privacy. I believe it was not just a fight for members, it was something consumers were telling us they were very sensitive about. So, has it changed anything? I would suggest it has. I hope they (the Competition Bureau) were right and we see the innovation they were talking about.”
But he adds that he’s still “not sure that it’s a good thing to have a pending sold out there (online) that hasn’t closed yet.”