By Phil Soper

The pace of change we live with can be mind numbing, yet things will never move this slowly again.

Technological innovation is often the catalyst, yet the reason the future is so hard to predict is that it is heavily influenced by changes in global politics and shifting consumer demands. Let me begin by stating that sustained success in business comes from acting with the client’s interests in mind. Period. Your personal needs will be satisfied in due course.



We in Canadian real estate have flourished for many years by building an industry infrastructure that services consumers like no place on earth. Through our remarkable, nationwide listing management system, anchored by Realtor.ca, homebuyers and sellers are able to see virtually all listings in the country. And this may come as a surprise to many – Canadians pay much less for brokerage services than American consumers.

Realtor.ca is a trusted service provided to consumers by the nation’s real estate professionals. Today there is no equivalent in America. Our unique advantages go further. In Canada, national brands invest millions to build highly advanced websites such as royallepage.ca and we share our listings with each other. When a consumer is house-hunting, do they really care which company has the listing? No! Go to a national brand site south of the border and you see only that company’s listings. It is no wonder that third-party, non-Realtor websites dominate America.

In addition to serving Canadian consumers, realtor.ca and national brand sites attract hundreds of thousands of international homebuyers each year. Nine per cent of realtor.ca traffic comes from outside the country and half are U.S. residents. If our American cousins want to invest in a pristine recreational property to escape the craziness that has enveloped their land, they are well-served too!

We know from experience that choice is a good thing. Competition keeps us sharp and spurs us to improve and innovate. In my company, we acquire technology and services from around the world in order to grow and prosper. Still, you have to be a smart shopper to succeed in business. I would advise Realtors to be cautious when considering offers that appear too good to be true. As my dad once told me when I begged for help to buy a car, “a too-good-to-be-true opportunity is just that, Phil. Too good to be true.”

Let’s examine the plans of the American online advertising company, Zillow, which has announced that they intend to enter the Canadian market. If Canadian Realtors are willing to give their listings to Zillow, the company promises to advertise the properties to Americans for free on their site, potentially creating leads. Our research leads us to believe that while step one appears “free” (assuming that hard-won listing of yours that you are about to give away has no value, which of course is absurd), there is a cash-cost to the agent in order to extract real value.

Like the “free app” you download to your phone that immediately asks for your credit card in order to access the truly useful features, we assume that once Zillow is up and running, Canadian agents will be paying for leads. Zillow.com amassed US$761 million in revenue from the sale of online leads to U.S. agents last year.

Spending on an advertising service like this would be fine if Canadian agents needed Zillow to ensure that consumers saw their listings. If your company is doing their job, they don’t.

I began by explaining how different the American situation was. U.S. Realtors made terrible blunders in the early days of online commerce and have been paying for it ever since. They are trying to fix the long-standing flaws and may finally be succeeding. Brokerages and national Realtor companies recently launched the Broker Public Portal, known to consumers as Homesnap.com. It offers consumers comprehensive, real-time MLS data from those who list and sell homes, not ads. In other words, the Canadian experience. Already some 900,000 American Realtors are using the system.  We wish them well.

Some of your colleagues may choose to experiment with third-party listings aggregators such as Zillow. If they have their broker’s permission, that is their choice. But is it a sound business decision? I suggest you ask yourself, do I want to deal with the consultant who asks to borrow my watch, and then charges me to tell the time? (Update, July 19, 2018: Zillow’s Alexa Fiander wrote to REM to say this column alludes “to Zillow selling leads to listings agents in the U.S. This is incorrect. Listing agents are not charged for leads on their own listings.”)

Here’s where I believe we in the real estate industry can offer Canadian consumers the best possible value:

  • Double down on innovation. CREA needs to step up and drive realtor.ca to the next level. And companies like us that operate the major Realtor portals like royallepage.ca need to embrace the challenge and get the job done. We need to introduce home valuation technology; to leverage artificial intelligence and data analytics; and build recommendation engines to help families find their ideal home. Plans are in place.
  • Subscribe to CREA’s DDF (data distribution facility) via the RealtorLink website or your local board site. It’s easy to do and a significant contribution to our industry’s success.
  • Embrace Realtor reciprocity. It makes clients happy!  Most brokerages are already co-operatively sharing listings. If your brokerage is not, it is time to participate in CREA’s DDF National Shared Pool and National Franchisor Pool.

Realtor.ca, working in tandem with Realtor company websites, are a unique Canadian success story. There will be no need to spend millions on third-party advertising services if we are doing our jobs. Let’s do our jobs.

32 COMMENTS

  1. And this may come as a surprise to many – Canadians pay much less for brokerage services than American consumers. *** this is true *** the demise in 6% commissions in Canada can be directly attributed to the decisions by CREA and organized real estate to enable the consumer to search listings from the comfort of their home on MLS.ca. While this decision of forward thinking in one regard – it opened the door for the likes of Zillow which is simply a digital version of the Saturday Real Estate section that was in the paper.

    • The demise of “standard” commission rates was the result of the Competition Bureau legal action against CREA and Real Estate Boards and the publication of full listing contract commission rates when displaying MLS listing data. It became a breach of Competition Law to imply to consumers there was a fixed commission rate. Only co-op commissions are allowable. Absolutely nothing to do with MLS.ca
      .

  2. The DDF option is what allows listing information to be shared to these third party sites UNLESS the listing Brokerage has opted out. You have to check to see what sites your Brokerage includes in the DDF option…there are the 3 levels to this feed…1. The Realtor Site and Company Sites 2. Your Company Franchise Site… and lastly 3. Any CREA allowed third party sites (like Zillow). Your company’s Managing BRoker has decided which of these 3 levels are included in the”DDF option” – Therefore if we don’t like the idea of providing sites like Zillow FREE information to populate their site (and subsequently selling leads back to us) I suggest checking with your managing Broker to unsure level 3 ISN’T included in the “DDF option”.

    • What some advertising companies are doing is… using DDF to get a foothold into an area then, if the data is incomplete (as it often is because many brokerages haven’t opted in to Level 3) getting explicit permission from a brokerage to display their listings. If they’re really aggressive they do a deal with a brokerage to co-host a Reciprocity page that appears on their site (this may be on shaky legal footing). The latter trick is used by REW for their Vancouver Island listings; the brokerage they’ve cut a deal with has only one licensed agent (the managing broker) and he’s also a senior staff member of REW.

  3. Another kudos to Phil … i don’t know if Phil and CREA have been talking about the points you brought up … it seems that the owness of dealing with organizations such as Z is on individual agents and at times on Brokerages … many times we have experienced that our industry/CREA has been too slow in response thus we end up missing the boat ☹️😡

  4. Bravo Phil! Your words should be like manna falling from the sky to the newer agents who feel that buying leads from any source is a faster way build their real estate career. Having been in the business almost 3 decades now, and having traveled across the US and to parts of Europe, I can see how portals the likes of Zillow and Trulia has made millions of dollars on the backs of “unorganized” real estate professionals in those areas with a fragmented, or without an MLS system. They’re takers, with false pretenses period.

  5. Thanks for taking the initiative to bring this to the attention to the industry. Realtor.ca needs to be more proactive and aggressive in improving their site and services to the public. Adding the walking score etc recently is just one example but they need constant innovation and upgrading to be ahead of companies like Zillow and Trullia in the US. Just my 2 cents. :)

  6. Phil, really well said. Thanks for continuing to be a thought leader and a face for Canadian Real estate! There is no doubt that with the introduction of Zillow, we as Canadian Realtors need to send them packing! How do we do this? #1 Use the data that we’ve been creating for so many years to create home evaluation tools. THIS IS WHAT DRIVES A LOT OF BROWSERS + TRAFFIC TO ZILLOW. We already have the shared national pool of listings on realtor.CA we need to have TREB (and other boards) have this data become public domain. We keep trying to protect it, and its going to be to the detriment of the Full time professional Canadian Realtor

  7. REW (Real Estate Wire) is currently trying very hard to become the Zillow of Canada, at least in major markets such as Toronto and Vancouver. Like Z it is an advertising company not a brokerage. In the Vancouver area they seem to have convinced most major brokerages to give them their listings.

    Phil, why is Royal LePage giving their listings to REW? Isn’t this just like giving them to Z?

    • Gary,

      I was told ages ago that at some franchises and brokerage offices, all leads go to the manager or broker of record and then are “sold” to various agents for a referral fee back to the head fellow.

      Before franchise days I know that this was happening in at least one branch brokerage in my town after I opened my own independent company. Agent mentioned it who wanted to work for me but I had rejected her application.

      Does that happen in many offices or is it a rogue situation. That manager wasn’t there long and if memory serves me, he was only a salesman not a broker, but was part of a well-heeled political family it was known. The prior manager had been fired was the word on the street but joined another name brand as manager.

      It’s an odd industry sometimes with no across the industry set in stone parameters, except that no one can tell an owner how to run his own business.

      So it’s always open-season on many decisions.

      If tested, I think the public truth be known, could care less how much exposure their private property listing gets outside the company they hired (listed with).

      Someone posted on REM recently that there likely would come a time when listings would not in fact be shared with all the outsiders… If sellers really knew their listings were being sold as lead generators.

      Your thoughts?

      Carolyne L 🍁

  8. Is Realtor.com not Realtor.ca’s American counterpart? I thought this website was in place before Zillow and similar to our Realtor.ca?

    “Realtor.com®, the official site of the National Association of REALTORS®, is the leading homes for sale Web site, offering more listings and essential real estate-related information, to over 40 million consumers each month. Realtor.com® displays home listings from nearly 800 Multiple Listing Services (MLS) across the U.S., resulting in a database over 4 million existing homes available for sale or rent. Approximately 80% of all listings found on realtor.com® are updated every 15 minutes and the remainder are updated every one to 24 hours. This provides consumers with the freshest listing information and content available online.”

  9. Well said. REALTOR.ca is the envy of our American counter-part and let’s make stronger rather than weaken it by surrendering our most valuable asset, our data! Zillow’s free advertising will eventually be a free “introductory” offer in disguise; sooner or later it will be at a much higher cost.

  10. Well said. Realtors in Canada are well positioned to manage our data through continued cooperation and advancment of our technologies.

  11. Thanks for the insightful article Phil. I must confess I love it mostly because it agrees with my thinking and supports my ranting at our office meetings 5 and six years back, asking our Realtors not to be giving away there listings to these third party sites as it will come back to hurt us.
    Great analogy; “I suggest you ask yourself, do I want to deal with the consultant who asks to borrow my watch, and then charges me to tell the time?”

  12. I already don’t recognize this industry any more. I especially don’t get how so many can be sucked in by organizations like Zillow. They really don’t provide any service other than another channel to market listings that we already do through realtor.ca. We just need to, as you say, do it better. This is a classic example of the fox coming into the henhouse, but like all foxes in henhouses their days are numbered and I suspect their model will eventually fade away.

  13. Thank you for breaking this down as you have. In this day of 20 second soundbites people seem uninterested in truly exploring the details. Zillow coming into Canada is not a positive thing for our industry but too many people will not see the repercussions until it is far too late or they are long gone from the industry. Far too many of our members will be wooed by the prospect of being handed client leads. Information is power and we need to get your message and the message of others out to our membership in CREA in a bigger way.

  14. It is certainly great that an industry leader gets the plot. Succinct and to the point…should be read at every brokerage office meeting. The Canadian real estate market place IS different!

  15. Yes! Realtor.ca could be a much more powerful site for the consumer. Let’s get the SOLD data on there and get the tech team to create a better UI. I hope that CREA is spending most of our money on hiring the best and brightest web design and web marketing people. Zillow is a behemoth! They are spending almost $100 million dollars a quarter in R&D alone! We don’t have that kind of cash as a collective but we need to have the best online tools we can for realtor.ca. Let’s put the power of the data in to the hands of the people before Zillow does that in Canada and then tries to sell us our own leads back. Lol. We all know our role is changing to that of tour guide, skillful marketer, social media manager, skillful negotiator, process coordinator, effective communicator, and referral partner for other professionals in the transaction along with tradespeople to work on the homes.

  16. Well done Phil. This is a very humble opinion. I believe that everything you have said is true. I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of brokerages. Will they merely become a deal processor with the master franchise supporting the needs of consumers nationally?

  17. Great article. Zillow does charge realtors south of the border and will charge here. There are many complaints in the USA by agents how their listings are being mishandled by Zillow. That agents can’t get hold of their rep. Agents are promised XYZ and that never happens.

  18. Great article. REATOR.ca and the services that CREA provides are far beyond what is available in the U.S. and for much less money. I refuse to get caught up in the Zillow offering.

  19. Compliments to a well presented arguement. The lazy, look-for-the-quick-buck real estate agent will be drawn into the “free” offers. That’s why they are short-term Realtors.

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