By Jim Adair

John DiMichele
John DiMichele

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.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. John:

    Based upon the statistics you provided (17,000 TREB members late 1990’s; 54,000 to 58,000 members now), that means that there are 3.2 ‘plus’ times more members now. Are there 3.2 ‘plus’ times more total sales per year now vs the late 1990’s within TREB’s purview? If not, why do the industry gate-keepers keep on sucking in the newbie gamblers, further diluting the foundation of professionalism? Could it be to keep the money ball rolling vis a vis new dues-payers for higher TREB salaries etc.? What is the current median salary for TREB workers? What is your current salary? What is the current median income for TREB Realtors? What is the current public perception of Realtors’ worthiness factor? Is the last answer a whole lot lower than the immediately previous answer? (You know it is) If you want to put your best foot forward on behalf of the actual pros in the saddle—not to mention the public—why not get rid of the chafe and concentrate on the wheat? How about TREB overseeing 20,000 (or fewer) actual pros—or semi-pros at least—transacting at least four deals per year making a decent living thereby? I am sure that at that rate of activity larger dues might be OK with those Realtors left standing. You are running a business based upon volume vs high quality value. That is the cheap thrill of it all, is it not?

    I have often wondered what it is like to be constantly herding stray cats…to be a stray-cat herder. Will you tell us what that is like?

    I don’t mean to be overly skeptical. I am sure that you mean well. But reality has a way of rearing its ugly head through the eyes of outsiders oftentimes. It is the oftentimes of reality that you should be paying attention to. Professional organizations should not be protecting those members within who make the whole weak on the public front just because they are ordered to pay up to be members. In TREB’s case that would be the majority. A Realtor who transacts less than six deals per year is not a professional. He/she is a desperate skimmer or a second-job/don’t-need-a-job skimmer or a retiree skimmer or an under-the-radar crooked skimmer. Take your pick, or picks.

    You are a politician. You need to change your stripes and become a statesman. Be different that all the rest who came before you. Now would be a good time to start the actual evolution of Organized Real Estate in this neck of the woods, not by dribs and drabs, but by a quantum leap. What do you have to lose…but a hacker baby-sitting job? Take a chance. Don’t be a quintessential bureaucrat. They are a dime-a-dozen. The safe route—your continuing route thus far—is the route to mediocrity. Mediocrity breeds stagnation. Mediocrity/stagnation weakens the organism. Struggle and adversity is uncomfortable, but slaying those realities strengthens the organism. Plus, it’s not boring to be uncomfortable. Comfort is the bane of positive growth. TREB is still experiencing never-ending negative growth re professionalism with its ranks. TREB is underpinned by rank amateurism. The public thinks this to be the case. That should mean something more than just being a reason to pay lip service now and again via press releases extolling the virtues of the same-old same-old. The same-old is getting old, very old. Where is your self-respect, I mean, really deep down?

    I think that you are a good guy. Why not display that goodness and take this monstrosity (under your purview) by the horns and slay it? Get rid of the weeds now and the weeds-to-be. Renewal is a good thing. Spring has been a long time coming to ORE.

    • 100% accurate! “TREB has 70% of the membership”, sure they have bodies. But take out the baggage and those not actively working, and your membership number drops to what, 45%? Or less.

    • Brian, If it were exclusively up to the boards and associations to set the bar with respect to professionalism in the industry then things would already have changed. Unfortunately entry to the industry, and the ability to remain in the industry, lies in the hands of RECO, the real estate council of Ontario that is responsible for education, most discipline issues as well as licencing and licence renewals. While the boards and associations certainly have a role in enhancing professionalism, the real issue is the fairly low bar to enter the industry and the difficulty in removing the VERY few but notable bad apples who continue to diminish the public perception of the industry. RECO is working to upgrade the education standards and rules but only time will tell if this has the necessary effect. Meanwhile John DiMichele and TREB remain at the forefront of looking for better ways to serve the public while supporting their members in conducting the business of working with buyers and sellers, tenants, landlords, investors and all of the various stakeholders in the real estate industry that is so important in Canada and around the world. Bob Van de Vrande (30 year Realtor, Broker of Record and currently President of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington with 3200 members).

      • Hi Bob, excellent point(s)… The VERY few but notable bad apples definitely tarnish the good name of those sales representatives who take every measure to ensure professionalism and good service. I can tell you that the sales representative I worked with to sell my home and also buy a condo was great (even though I got impatient waiting for an offer), yet the fellow that listed the condo we purchased was more interested in selling to his own client(s). As I read about this issue more and more, I saw that TREB is aware of this “double ending” thing yet do nothing about it. Very upsetting… Any way, again great point as I didn’t know that RECO is responsible for education real estate sales people. Also, is it against the rules to be a part-time real estate sales person?

        • Hello Eduardo:

          Yes, Bob did make some good points. However, his and your claims that bad apples are few and far between does not sit well with me. Re your recent experience: You say that only ‘one’ of the two Realtors with whom you dealt re your purchase was on the up-and-up. That’s a 50% rate of bad apples, albeit the product sample is a small one. Half of the Realtors you dealt with was sub-standard, maybe unethical even? Yup!

          It does not take much to realize how unethical many Realtors can be the closer the get to a commission when most of their lead-up activities fly under the radar of public awareness. You are speaking from the outside. I speak from the inside. Unfortunately most consumers don’t know what they don’t know. If they did RECO would be overwhelmed with complaints. Realtors don’t usually turn on one another because they know that their next deal might be “arranged” with just that offending Realtor. That is why the “Code of Ethics” forbids Realtors from speaking negatively, publicly, about other Realtors on penalty of being taken to task by RECO ‘themselves’. How just is that?

          I’m all for transparency. Transparency is not something aspired to by Organized Real Estate in general, although there certainly are individual Realtors who operate as if the entire world sees everything they do. They are the honest ones, the professionals. They are also in the minority. Like I said earlier, 20,000 or so real professionals are all that are needed to properly serve the TREB market. Only the bad apples know who the bad apples are. A few others know who they are, but they are on the inside, and thus, they are muzzled.

          I admire truly good Realtors. I disdain the rest. So should the good guys/gas who proudly wear the Realtor lapel pin.

          Someone needs to fight the system from within. I think John Di Michele could do it. I would gladly help him, but I believe that my offer to do so would be rebuffed offhand. Comfort has a way of dulling one’s senses to reality, and John is currently enjoying a comfortable existence atop the greasy pole of real estate-related political power. It’s hard to bite the hand that feeds one’s self.

        • I think defining what a “part time” real estate agent is is the challenge. Is it someone who has another job (few have the financial means of going 6 -12 months without any income) ? Or is it someone who chooses not to be one of the “big guys” ? Or is it someone who may have a bad year (for an array of reasons which could be health or family) ? Until we determine what a “part time agent” is we can’t really make any decisions either way.

          • I will throw my two cents in here. I think what the point is, is that there are a large number who do 1-0 deals per year but are factored into the membership numbers. That would be a hobby, not a profession in my opinion and I then would have to agree that the numbers would be considerably different if this was factored in. Just because someone pays for a membership doesn’t make them a realtor. Many have another job, look at the number of single moms and dads who need that cushion to ensure they make ends meet, there’s nothing wrong with a side hustle but if real estate isn’t your primary gig then you are definitely part time.

    • Martindale is right of course but TREBs articles of incorporation prevent the CEO from doing what is needed.

      Lets be honest when the overwhelming (over 80%) of your membership does not earn minimum wage over a year in take home pay they control the direction ORE heads. OREA and CREA are controlled by their reliance on votes from that 80% of dues payers.

      The Paradigm Shift in the real estate brokerage industry will be come from this failed model designed and evolved to rent desks instead of selling homes.

      The goodness of a person in the brokerage industry should be defined by Ethics that in turn are defined by open and full disclosure to the public. Covering up for past mistakes defines Unethical and thus no goodness at all.

      Whether that was covering up for lying to 1000s of innocent home buyers working with your brokerage who you pretended to be getting them the lowest price in the 90s or pretending a brokerage can offer buyer agency and seller agency both to 100s of clients at the same time in 2019 it simply unethical and the reason why the brokerage industry as you know it today will not exist in 2029.

  2. I am all for TREB leaving OREA. It is now only another government lobbyist and forms provider. We do not need another government lobbyist, with its size, TREB can handle both municipal and provincia. We do not need a second forms producer on relatorlink and we most certainly don’t need to pay fees for another lobbyist or forms producer.

    • Dive in a little deeper….OREA is more than a government lobbyist and forms provider…do some research before making your statements

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