By Jim Adair
As of Monday, 620 Toronto Real Estate Board members with virtual office websites (VOWs) are receiving sold and other information in compliance with the Competition Tribunal’s order. Another 316 VOWs have applied for the feed and are being processed. To be compliant, members and their service providers must sign and agree to be bound by a VOW agreement as well as TREB’s Authorized User Agreement.
TREB CEO John DiMichele says that despite grumbling in the media that the board has been slow to get the data feed started, “we were up and running well before the 60 days” deadline. He says the board is “working collaboratively with the Competition Bureau” to ensure it complies with the order.
Changes to the data feed “have to be reflected in our forms, our documentation, our internal education focus, our FAQs…but we are moving forward,” DiMichele says.
There have also been some issues with some of the members’ technology providers, he says. TREB has 6,850 members with VOWS, representing 13 per cent of the membership.
A Competition Tribunal decision in July 2016 found that by not including sold and other data in its VOW feed, TREB had engaged in anti-competitive acts. An appeal court upheld the decision and on Aug. 23 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it would not hear TREB’s appeal.
The order gave the board 60 days to make the disputed information available to its members’ VOW websites.
Several TREB members complained to the media that the data feeds were slow to materialize, but DiMichele says it has taken some time to get all the legal and technical issues sorted. He takes issue with claims that TREB is still trying hold back some of its members who want to introduce new features to their sites.
“TREB has always fully supported innovation and competition among its members,” he says.
The board is also receiving calls from members of the public who now believe they can have access to the entire MLS system. The only way the public can see some of the data is if they work with a Realtor, who will give them access through their password-protected website. And it must be in the context of helping the client buy or sell a home.
Most TREB members are still trying to figure out how to use the data on their sites, DiMichele says.
The membership was mostly supportive during the long legal battle, he says. Claims that TREB only continued the fight to try and control the data or to stave off possible lawsuits from companies that tried to make it public are unfounded, and privacy was – and still is – a major concern, DiMichele says.
Pending solds, in particular, are a sensitive issue for both clients and Realtors. “They are saying they don’t want that information out there, particularly when the transaction has not been completed,” he says. “Consumers have concerns about their privacy and confidential information and they have expressed this to us all along the way.” He says members are being asked what they can do to protect their clients’ privacy. “We let them know that there are other authorities they can speak to, including, I guess, the Competition Bureau,” says DiMichele. “But we let them know we are going to comply directly with the order.”
He says, “When all this started, the bureau stated that TREB was deliberately trying to keep out competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. You know what this market is like, you know what our members do and how fiercely competitive it is out there. And in the end, if you look at the tribunal decision, they basically said this is a very close call and they didn’t support a lot of the bureau’s allegations.”
But the courts have spoken, and the board says it is doing its best to provide the feeds. “We are going to proceed and hopefully in six months everyone will be clear (about the new data rules) and it will be business as usual,” says DiMichele.