But, by proscribing sold data—a property’s purchase history—is TREB protecting consumer privacy, like it purports it is, or is it stifling competition? Bill McMullin, CEO of Nova Scotia-based Viewpoint Realty, a virtual office website (VOW), believes the latter.
His VOW cannot operate in the GTA, but he says his business is proof positive that TREB’s assertion that sold data compromises privacy is sophistry. He also questions why TREB, a trade association, is competing with its members.
“I can be unequivocal about this: If it were not for the availability of MLS data, the full VOW feed, as it’s known, we would not exist,” said McMullin. “We have the leading website for real estate in Nova Scotia by a mile. We have 285,000 registered users and there are only 12,000 homes sold every year in Nova Scotia. We’re here to serve the customer by giving them the information. Because our website provides such depth and breath, including this information, the disputed data at the heart of this case is exactly what we’ve been providing to consumers in Nova Scotia since 2010, but TREB is trying to suggest it would be unlawful to provide consumers this data.”
He also says that if Viewpoint were guilty of untoward practices, it would have already suffered the ramifications.
“We’ve not been breaking the law for eight years,” added McMullin. “If we’d been breaking the law for eight minutes, we’d be sanctioned, so this is the absurdity of the situation. TREB has spent millions of dollars of its members’ money fighting.”
There is also a feeling among VOW operators that it’s only a matter of time before sold data becomes available to customers, who, for the time being, can only access it from a sales agent in person, by email or fax.
John Pasalis, president of Realosophy, ultimately believes that consumer choice is at the heart of the matter. Not only will consumers receive enhanced services, their privacy will remain protected, he says.
And, in the process, Pasalis believes allowing brokerages to access sold data will augment their businesses. Realosophy prepares elaborate data packages for its customers, and sold data would without a doubt figure prominently if made available.
“There are so many things you can do,” said Pasalis. “Giving the public more insight into the sales history of the particular property they’re looking at—the sales and transaction history— provides more analysis on the neighbourhood and housing trends in the market.”
Pasalis added TREB is waging war against innovation, and he’s certain it will be in vain.
“They’re waging a war against technology, innovation and where the rest of the world is going, and people want access to information to make smarter decisions,” said Pasalis. “I mean they have it in virtually everything else they do; our governments are opening up their databases and making them public, and I think it’s just a matter of time before TREB does as well.”
New firm seeks to make sense of Toronto's market
Real estate board continues crackdown
Although the courts ruled against the Toronto Real Estate Board in its years-long litigation against the federal Competition Bureau, the former is appealing the case, once again relegating sold data to purgatory.