By Sohini Bhattacharya

“We talk about disruptors in the industry, but if you’ve been around in the industry long enough, you realize that the greatest disruptors are our members themselves,” says Bill Duce, executive officer of the Kitchener-Waterloo Association of Realtors.

Duce was part of the team that recently co-ordinated an agreement between two regional real estate MLS systems in Ontario. In January, the Ontario Collective (OC) – representing more than 5,000 Realtors and comprising 12 boards and associations – and the Ontario Regional Technology & Information Systems (ORTIS), representing 8,500 regional Realtors and 10 boards, signed a transition agreement to combine their two separate MLS systems into one comprehensive regional one. Technically not a merger, it will allow members of all the boards to access listings across the system.



Bill Duce
Bill Duce

It is projected to go live in the first quarter of 2020.

“Our members do the same job, they have the same needs, the same wants, the same concerns that are keeping them awake at night,” says Duce, adding that with ORTIS and OC joining hands, their members are better served collectively than they would be individually. “It’s that whole concept of we smarter than me,” he says.

More than a year ago, the groups came to the realization that Realtors and consumers were doing most of their real estate research online and that “the access to data had blown way beyond what anybody thought it would be,” says Kati Strickland, project manager of the OC. After a few initial and minor integrations between the two groups to access each other’s data, the synergies and the overlapping boundaries between the two became clear quickly.

With each of the 22 partner associations having their own history, maintaining a singular vision and managing their expectations has been, so far, the greatest project hurdle for ORTIS and OC.  “It’s like going out with a group of friends and agreeing to have dinner, but then deciding where exactly to eat in order to accommodate everyone’s diet and preferences,” says Duce.

While correcting legacy issues inherited through years of data duplication, directors of ORTIS and OC remain mindful that the transition project “isn’t just about giving our members what they had before but with more data, but also enhancing the quality and amount of services in order to support brokers’ and salespeoples’ ability to be competitive in the current and future real estate landscape,” says Duce.

On the technical side of the operation, the biggest challenges were to ensure that the “database fields and selections captured the diverse needs of all 22 of the associations involved,” says Steve Francis, vice president of information services at ORTIS. One of the goals was mapping to the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) standard to provide users a superior interface with the data from IDX, websites, apps and other marketing technology. Albeit tedious, Francis adds that it was “a necessity, since doing so ensured we future-proofed the system and designed a database that will directly benefit the members and consumers.”

With the transition to an integrated MLS well underway, ORTIS and the OC have launched IntraMatrix, a system that allows Realtors of both groups to access each other’s data. The only drawback is that it’s not one database.

Brad Johnstone
Brad Johnstone

The advantage, says ORTIS chair Brad Johnstone, is that members now have access to all the data that, in the past, they could access only as members of multiple boards. “As an interim measure, it’s very positive. The goal will be when we go live on our new system, that duplication will be removed and Realtors and consumers will have one complete database,” says Johnstone.

Recognizing that Realtors will have a learning curve to adjust to the new and integrated MLS system, Johnstone foresees online and townhall meetings, along with live training sessions for their members, to ensure they have a full understanding of how to work with the changed system.

Steve Dickie
Steve Dickie

Allaying fears that some members might have of losing their autonomy, Steve Dickie, chair of the OC says, “In any board you’ll have agents who work in the interior of that geography and from their perspective, that may not affect them very much, but it’s mostly the agents who work on the borderlands of the board who’ve, in the past, been forced to belong in two or three or multiple boards to get at the data. Now they don’t have to do that.”

The integrated MLS system is set to work equally well across all types of properties with greater focus on commercial and waterfront properties. “There are certain boards that are more recreational, more waterfront, commercial or industrial. But by ORTIS and the OC coming together, we’re taking the best of everybody’s input and building a better system,” says Johnstone.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Nelson DeHoey: You are on the cautious path – my whole hearted support to you. In my comments (Aug 23), I tried to bring this out politely. The ‘vultures’ (as I called them), are just waiting for us to make mistakes (legal or consequential) based on a mis-guided notion that we would become ‘experts’ on every jurisdiction of a diverse real estate culture of a province like Ontario, (on residential, commercial, agricultural, recreational real estate transactions – not to mention – the whole country!!), just by getting some ‘Actives’ and ‘Solds’ data. As an active-full-time-TREB member of 32 years, I have some experience. I moved my residence to Hamilton 7 years ago, and I am still learning the diversity of Hamilton, from Burlington through Dundas, messed up polluted lower Hamilton and the Bay, Escarpment and above, Stoney Creek, Fruitland, Lake-front flashy new developments, Binbrook, and more.

  2. This is awesome for Purple Bricks, Zillow or ZERO%CommissionRealty as it allows cheaper access to the coveted MLS database. Imagine only having to join one MLS system but grab all that priceless data for nothing.

    Apparently no one has actually had a lawyer read the Ortis agreement for how another attack on the industry is nothing more than an informed understanding of MLS rules creates.

    TREB and RestOfOntario MLS systems are now officially in a battle to OWN the mls system market in Ontario. The first time membership numbers begin to decline from slowing home sales, expect the American Franchisors to jump on the Ontario-Wide MLS bandwagon like you have never seen before.

    BTW remember CoreLogic has dreamed of gaining access to the full mls dataset for over 10 years. that day has now become closer.

  3. I think it is great but everyone can not be a specialist in all of Ontario. That is why we have a referral system in place so we are able to give our clients the best possible service. I sold in York Region but have recently moved to Muskoka and there is not a chance I would sell a property up here as it is completely different than the city.

  4. While I am just a little fish in a big realtor pond, I agree that this can’t come soon enough. Just this week I spent many hours to get a listing posted on another board. Help was hard to come by until someone at the “other board” took pity on me. The idea alone that the data entry forms are all different and everything has to be duplicated but I cannot “fix” a data entry error on the “other side” and I had to rely on the kindness of someone at the other board to correct things. I could spend all day telling about my experience, but I don’t want to bore anyone. Looking forward to a system for all of Ontario.

  5. Being a member of Orea and Crea I believe I should have access to all listing on all of Canada’s boards.
    Giving the public access to Realtor.ca and we poor Realtors have to call and chase the listing agents for more info. made us look inept. It is wonderful to see such a long overdue agreement. We are always stronger in numbers. Thanks to the wonderful Realtors that made this happen.

    • The minimum should be access to all of Ontario. We are licenced in Ontario after all. As a memember of TREB I requested floor to ceiling windows as a search option and it took over 25 years for it to materialize so don’t expect province or Canada wide any time soon.

  6. Congratulations & great for them now lets see if we can follow their lead in the right & only direction we should be heading.

  7. One thing I’d like to make perfectly clear is that this is a team effort – it is only through the exceptional support and work being shouldered by the countless volunteers, directors, staff and CEO’s from all participating boards that this project is even possible. And this is all on top of their normal workload which still has to get done.

    If you see one of these people it would be entirely appropriate to treat them to a coffee or if the sun is over the open-house sign, perhaps a slightly stronger libation.

    Brad Johnstone, Proud REALTOR

  8. Let me congratulate the members of both sides who have taken immense time out to iron out the goose-necks of technology, of fields being mixed up, omitted, or rendered erroneous, of near and far historical parameters that give us trends, averages, medians – not to mention terminologies and abbreviations.

    While helping our clients, the consumers with making informed decisions, ‘Agents’ shouldn’t get carried away and call themselves (or present themselves) as ‘experts’ in unknown territories, just because they have some ‘solds’ or ‘actives’ available. I have been a TREB member for 32 years, and yes I have listed, sold, etc in far away places from my active area. And I have seen huge errors made by ‘Agents’ and Appraisers (who regularly use data obtained from our boards). Please be cognizant of your limits.

    One other area of concern – confidentiality of our consumers, and stolen data, used by commercial vultures. Some of the many principles of ‘security’ are: 1. The longer data is kept, the more vulnerable they become to breaches, 2. The bigger the data bank becomes the more prone to system failures and a host of other damaging consequences. 3. The bigger the number of humanoids employed, the weaker the chain becomes.
    AND, last but not the least, technology IS NOT FOOLPROOF, nor is it age-proof.

    Thank you,

  9. This is a great advancement. Soon MLS listings do not have to be inter board, ensuring consumers best interest and cost savings to realtors.

  10. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t have an Ontario wide system. OREA should step in and provide this. We are licenced in Ontario we should have access to listings anywhere in Ontario. Clients are finding this information through private sites. Shame on us for dropping the ball.

      • I’ve tried to get onto committees in the past however they have a “selection committee” that decides who gets to volunteer and I keep getting rejected because I represent change. As a result I can’t run for president, If I were the president of TREB it would be my goal, access to all of Ontario through OREA. Make one wonder what their objective is when they block change.

  11. We need a Provincial system that allows all Realtors to access all information within Ontario. What about the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) the largest real estate board in Canada serving more than 53,000 Realtors?

  12. Apparently treb and drar are working to form a collective with other southern Ontario boards but there appears to be resistance from the smaller boards to welcome GTA Realtors. Since we are all licenced to trade in Ontario it makes sense to have a province-wide system with regional offices.After all, we are all working towards the same goal.

  13. Its is awesome. Now onwards to a National System – I’m sure it can be done if we all work towards one.

    • Let us first have pan Ontario MLS system. It is wierd when customers tell you about a listing in their interest area of Mississauga and you can’t find it on TREB MLS. Eventually, you discover it is listed on Burlington MLS. Go figure!

  14. Congratulations to the combined ORTIS/OC on this amazing achievement. We at the Realtor’s Association of Hamilton-Burlington are please to share data with this expansive group of boards and associations in Ontario.

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