Lawrence Dale has shut down his controversial RealtySellers private sales brokerage and is now group head, real estate business for Rogers Communications, owners of the Zoocasa. com website. Rogers has applied to become a licensed real estate brokerage across the country and will relaunch the site in mid-May.
Becoming licensed gives Zoocasa access to real estate boards’ MLS data, improving its home search engine for potential buyers. The site will also help consumers find a qualified real estate agent. Zoocasa is setting up a referral network of agents across the country. It will not hire its own sales reps.
Dale, who championed a discount brokerage with RealtySellers and later partnered with for-sale-by-owner company PropertyGuys.com, says his focus at Zoocasa is now “at the other end of the spectrum. We are providing consumers with the opportunity to hook up with a quality, experienced, traditional agent. Our research shows that is what most people are looking for.”
Carolyn Beatty, Zoocasa’s president, says site visitors are able to search for properties “much more efficiently than they could five years ago, but when it comes to finding an agent, they are at a dead end. We believe this will be a very efficient way of getting qualified customers in front of qualified agents.”
To become part of the network, Zoocasa is encouraging sales reps to get in touch via email. “We will want a sense of your reputation as an agent, your history and expertise, and what you bring to the table,” says Beatty. “We are looking for professional agents who want to provide a full level of service to customers and also who are comfortable with the idea of being transparent.”
A key part of the website will be a “rate your agent” section – similar to the Rate Your Realtor concept that was proposed as part of CREA’s Futures Project, but voted down at the association’s Annual General Meeting last weekend.
Beattie says Rogers held a series of focus groups to determine what consumers want from the new site, and found that many asked for a section where they could read reviews of sales reps’ performance.
The CREA vote “doesn’t feel in step with the times in a service-based industry,” says Beattie. “I don’t see why agents would not want to hold up their credentials and a key part of their credibility and reputation is the service they provide to their customers.”
In addition to revamping the property search functions and introducing the referral service, Zoocasa will also offer other Rogers products for potential home buyers. “We also want to reach out and add larger national retailers,” says Beatty. “We think they will also add value back to the consumer.”
Dale says, “We are consumer focused and consumers want as much information as possible so they can make intelligent decisions.”
Dale has filed several lawsuits against the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) and CREA over the years relating to RealtySellers, the real estate company that was originally formed in 2000. The company offered discounted flat fee services. Some of those actions are still pending.
RealtySellers also had leave to intervene in the Competition Tribunal proceedings between the Competition Bureau and TREB that were held last fall. TREB is defending itself against a filing by the Competition Bureau claiming that it operates its MLS system using restrictive, anti-competitive practices. A decision from the tribunal is expected soon.
Beatty says that Rogers is not concerned that Dale may be unpopular with people in organized real estate.
“We looked at Lawrence’s history and his depth of knowledge in the business and we believe he brings a lot of expertise to the table, but most importantly, he really believes in this model. We think he can add a lot of value and I think any of the areas that he’s explored in the past are just that.”
She adds: “This is all about serving the customer well and we think there is a group of professional agents who will see this as a performance-based model that is much more efficient for them, in terms of the dollars they spend to acquire customers, than other marketing options.”
Referral fees are subject to negotiation, she says. To apply to be part of the network, email [email protected]