Agents push back against TREB warning letter

by Olivia D'Orazio11 Mar 2015
Times, they are a-changing, and some agents say no warning letter from the Toronto Real Estate Board can stop the eventual shift to publicly available sold data.

“On a go-forward basis, we Realtors should be interpreters of information, not gatekeepers,” says David Fleming, an agent in Toronto. “It’s not our job to safeguard this information. The public will have access to it [eventually], our job is to advise and guide, not to hold back the information. There’s no real value in that.”

Meanwhile, there is also speculation that TREB’s so-called warning letter, sent to Toronto-area agents in February, is the board’s attempt to reign in members’ actions ahead of yet another tribunal hearing with Canada’s Competition Bureau over the legality of restricting access to sold data, even via password-protected websites and members-only email newsletters.

While the outcome of that hearing, which is going before the tribunal in May, will immediately affect sales reps in the GTA, the results will undoubtedly impact agents across the country.

Most buyers search for a property before contacting a licensed real estate professional, and there’s no indication that the same wouldn’t be true of sellers should sold data be made public. For instance, in the U.S. where sold data is readily available to the public, the agent population hasn’t been wiped out.

Will Caldwell, a contributor to Inman News in the U.S., discussed the Zillow-Trulia merger south of the border, which spurred similar discussions regarding publicly accessible data, saying, “Agents are now forced to market themselves [as more than] gatekeepers to the MLS and to become local data and homeownership experts.”

Further, some Canadian agents argue making the information public would better inform buyers and sellers.

“Maybe the public should have all the information, so that they can ask informed questions (as with doctors and patients), which means the real estate professionals should stay more educated than the public,” wrote R. Cronje in the REP forum. “I don't want to pay for real estate professionals’ access to information – I want to pay for their knowledge.”

Others, however, said offering free range over the data could lead to severe misunderstanding among the public.

“We have to guide our buyers,” says Peter Barbati, an agent in Barrie, Ont. “Not just give them something and say, here make a decision and I’ll sign the papers for you. Nothing is as dangerous as information in the wrong hands. Statistics can do a lot of damage.”

Have your say: What are the pros and cons of publicly available sold data?

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