By Kathy Bevan
Canada’s largest real estate board is asking CREA to change the name of the mls.ca website, to make it clearer to consumers that mls.ca and MLS are not one and the same.
The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) is concerned that the buying and selling public is confusing the information carried on the public mls.ca website with the MLS system itself, which provides member-to-member listing information for Realtors.
“Consumers think this is something new, that previously only Realtors could get this information and now they can get it free, so they don’t need a real estate salesperson,” says Ron Abraham, president of TREB. “Some people are thinking, ‘Well gee, I found this all by myself because I’ve got the MLS system and it’s free for me. I’m a member of the public. I just go on the Internet and I find all the same stuff you (Realtors) find’ – and they don’t. It’s not the same system.”
TREB’s concerns are based on research conducted in late 2003, that asked board members and the general public about the services provided by mls.ca, MLS and Realtors. The board says that research shows many consumers believe mls.ca and MLS carry exactly the same information, and that by using mls.ca consumers are performing much of the work that would normally be done by Realtors.
“They perceive the value of our services as being reduced, as we no longer have to look for a house with them, they look for themselves,” says Abraham, who stresses that this “who needs a Realtor” misconception overlooks the true value a Realtor provides.
“It’s the difference between going to a department store and trying on a suit and saying ‘I’ll take it’, as opposed to going to Harry Rosen’s, where they say, ‘This is for you – let me measure you up and make sure it fits right.’ The service is not there. That’s something we need to bring the public’s attention to. We don’t offer less services, you’re just expecting less services because you think you’re doing the work yourself.”
In a letter sent out to CREA last December, TREB asked the members of the national association to rebrand the mls.ca website to differentiate it from MLS. A second letter, clarifying TREB’s position, was sent in late January, after a number of boards questioned the intent behind the rebranding proposal.
“We wanted to clear up the perception that we want to get rid of mls.ca,” says Abraham. “That is not at all what our intention is. We’re more than comfortable with the website, we think it’s great, but it’s the public’s view of it that is presenting the obstacles.”
TREB has asked CREA to bring forward its proposal at CREA’s March assembly. “At this point we’re saying, let’s see it on the floor for discussion at CREA in the spring. Here it is – we’ll throw the ball up in air and kick it around. That’s all we’re doing at this stage,” says Abraham. “We have no firm solutions. We just have a concern and we want to make sure it’s fully discussed and out in the open.”
The TREB initiative is taking a different approach than proposals put forward last year by a group of Fraser Valley Real Estate Board members, who suggested up to a seven-day delay in uploading MLS listing data on to mls.ca. But it is raising some of the same questions about consumers’ perceptions of the services provided by mls.ca versus those provided by Realtors. The Fraser Valley group was also concerned about the public perception that by accessing mls.ca, consumers feel they are doing much of a Realtor’s work and should therefore be able to pay less for a Realtor’s services, or not use a Realtor at all, to buy or sell a home.