Tag Archives: toronto real estate

Toronto Real Estate Board aims to ease competition concerns

In a bid to satisfy the Competition Commissioner, the Toronto Real Estate Board has unveiled a new website policy for agents that would give them the power to create personalized listing sites so customers can browse for new homes from their living rooms.

While some of Canada’s 101 real estate boards already allow agents to set up password-protected sites for their customers, the country’s largest board does not.

Read the story in the Globe and Mail

What happens next could set a national precedent for the way home buyers research the biggest purchase of their lives, because other boards are expected to adopt the same policy once it’s instituted.

The Competition Bureau launched a lawsuit against TREB in May, saying it prevents brokers from sharing information online with their customers. It was the latest move in the protracted fight between the bureau and real estate agents, who have come under increasing scrutiny as commission-based payments have grown along with the price of Canadian homes.

The Competition Bureau appears less than thrilled by TREB’s overture, however, saying it would still prefer the real estate association to enter a legally binding consent agreement guaranteeing the sites can operate.

“We continue to believe that a legally binding consent agreement, or Competition Tribunal decision, is necessary to achieve a lasting permanent solution that will prevent TREB from denying consumer choice and the ability of real estate agents to introduce innovative real estate brokerage services though the Internet,” said bureau spokesman Greg Scott.

The Toronto board allows real estate agents to provide information – such as the number of days a house has been on the market and previous selling prices – by hand, telephone or e-mail, they are not allowed to create websites where customers can look up the information on their own.

The new policy – which TREB members have 60 days to comment on – would allow the sites to exist as long as they meet certain requirements. The sites must be password protected; they must be available only to clients; TREB would be able to monitor activity; sellers could opt out of having their home appear on the site; and the seller’s name and contact information must never appear in the listings.

That last rule would keep “for sale by owner” listings off the sites, which could be a concern for the Competition Bureau. The last time the bureau locked horns with the industry, the result was that flat-fee listing companies were able to post ads to the Multiple Listing System on behalf of people selling their own homes. Anything that keeps those listings away from prospective buyers isn’t likely to be acceptable to Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken.

TREB said it has been working on the proposed new policy since last August. However, the Competition Bureau says TREB hasn’t been willing to go far enough to satisfy the bureau’s concerns. Both sides met several times before the bureau’s complaint was filed.

Incoming TREB president Richard Silver said the policy confirms the board’s “strong belief in open competition and in its members competitive spirit, quite independent of the Competition Commissioner’s claims and approach.”

The bureau said it would rather settle the complaint before an appearance at the Competition Tribunal, which can issue fines and binding rulings.

TREB’s new policy is based on one adopted by the U.S. National Association of Realtors to satisfy the U.S. Department of Justice several years ago.

Toronto vs. Vancouver – A condo myth buster

Often when we talk about condo markets, everyone assumes that Toronto is more sensibly priced than Vancouver. But RealNet did some number crunching and found that if you compare similar properties, there is actually very little difference.

Vancouver sounds more expensive, but their price quotes include a parking spot (unlike Toronto). Other comparable stats are in this PDF.

Meanwhile, here’s the story I wrote about GTA condos today.

The Greater Toronto Area condo market set a sales record for the second month in a row, with May sales up 37 per cent compared to a year ago.

Realnet Canada Inc. said there were 4,289 new homes and condos sold in May in the Greater Toronto Area, with sales of low-rise housing up 25 per cent and high-rise condos up a “whopping” 50 per cent.

Read the story in the Globe and Mail

Sales this year are 12 per cent ahead of where they were last year.

BILD Toronto attributed the boost to “relative affordability (compared with low-rise here and high-rise globally), low interest rates and, to give the builders their due, some great building and suite designs in some great locations.”

The Toronto Real Estate Board recently released its market update for the first two weeks of June, and said the average resale price for a condo in the GTA was $326,750, up six per cent from a year ago. A detached home, meanwhile, sold for an average $599,208 up 11 per cent from a year ago.


Toronto real estate market continues to surge

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

It was the second best May for Toronto real estate sales since the Toronto Real Estate Board began compiling data, according to statistics released Friday.

Sales increased six per cent from May 2010, while prices gained 9 per cent to an average $485,520. The number of listings to hit the market decreased by 15 per cent from last year, meaning more competition through the summer as buyers compete for fewer houses.

Read the story in the Globe and Mail

In a statement, the board said it hoped rising prices would cause more homeowners to list their properties. Houses were on the market an average of 23 days in May.

The real estate board breaks out sales by median prices, with detached homes hitting $505,000. Other categories include semi-detached at $395,000, condo townhouses at $305,00 and condo apartments at $303,000.

The Canadian Real Estate Association compiles data on the 15th of each month, but the country’s 101 real estate boards often release regional data earlier. Vancouver reported Thursday, saying sales were up 7 per cent compared to last May while prices were up 6 per cent.

Sales are showing signs of slowing in Vancouver, however, slipping 8.1 per cent below the 10-year average in May. The market has caused concern because of the high prices – the board said its index price for a detached house was $805,000 in May, up 10 per cent from a year ago.

The index “represents the price of a typical property within a market, taking into consideration what averages and medians do not – items such a lots size, age, number of rooms, etc.”

The board said there have a been a lot of high-price sales this spring, which makes big headline numbers deceptive.

“Of all residential properties sold on the MLS in Greater Vancouver in 2011 to date 21 per cent sold for $1-million or higher and 20 per cent sold for $350,000 or lower,” the board stated. “While 77 per cent of the properties that sold for over $1-million were located in West Vancouver, the Westside of Vancouver or Richmond, the properties that sold for $350,000 or lower were located throughout the entire board area.”




Competition Bureau vs. Toronto Real Estate Board

The Competition Bureau is picking a fresh fight with the real estate industry, this time over how crucial market data is being kept away from consumers by the country’s largest real estate board.

The federal watchdog has launched a lawsuit against the Toronto Real Estate Board, arguing that it prevents brokers from sharing information with their customers over the Internet. The challenge is the latest salvo in the bureau’s battle with the nation’s real estate agents, who have come under increasing scrutiny as their commission-based payouts have grown along with the price of homes.

The Toronto board allows agents to provide their customers with all sorts of important data about a home that are not available on the public website Realtor.ca, such as the number of days a property has been on the market and previous selling prices. The information is essential for any home buyer, because it tells a deeper story about the local market and the home’s history than a simple listing.

While some of the country’s real estate boards have no problem with this, the Toronto board has resisted making the material available online, citing privacy concerns. Toronto agents are allowed to send the information via fax, hand it to the customer in person or zip off an e-mail.

Read the story (and hundreds of comments)  at the Globe and Mail

Some brokerages want to go further and set password-protected websites that would allow customers to access the data from their living rooms. But TREB won’t allow the brokerages to pull the data from the Multiple Listing Service that they need in order to fill the sites with information. In a court filing, the Competition Bureau argued that the policy stifles competition.

“The restrictions are a practice of anti-competitive acts, the purpose and effect of which is to discipline and exclude member brokers who use non-traditional methods,” the Competition Bureau’s court filing states. “If a broker does not abide by the restrictions, TREB can terminate the broker’s access to the TREB MLS system – and has done so.”

The filing refers to a 2007 decision by the board to deny access to a brokerage after it downloaded listings from the MLS server to provide to its customers on a password-protected site.

Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken said that decision has scared other brokers away from attempting to set up similar services. If those services were allowed, it would mean “their customers could conduct their own searches for information relevant to the purchase and sale of homes in the GTA without the personal assistance or direct intervention of a broker.” This could lead to “significant savings” for consumers, she said.

“This is simply about allowing consumers to gain access to information in innovative ways rather than the traditional way,” Ms. Aitken said. “We told them about our concerns and have talked to them since February, but we can’t let them continue to violate the act so we had to move.”

TREB sees it differently, arguing that having that information on a website that could be accessed by anyone with a password is an invasion of privacy. The association, which represents about 31,000 agents, has been working on a system that would allow such sites to operate, yet address privacy concerns, said Bill Johnston, the board’s president.

Mr. Johnston said he had met with Ms. Aitken’s “underlings” earlier this year and felt blindsided by the decision to go ahead with a case to the Competition Tribunal.

“We thought we were on the right track and then she threw us a curveball,” he said. “This smacks of career building on her part, and is a waste of taxpayers dollars. It’s a low blow that shouldn’t have happened, and I can see no other legitimate reason for doing this other than to grab headlines.”

The two sides can either come to an agreement, or meet at the Competition Tribunal – which has the power to impose a solution and issue fines.

The country’s real estate industry is made up of 101 individual boards, which are organized geographically. Each runs its own Multiple Listings Service, which all feed into the Realtor.ca site that is run by the Canadian Real Estate Association. They can set their own rules on how their data is used.

Other boards have allowed brokers to offer the information that TREB is denying its members.

Bill McMullin has invested “several million dollars” into Viewpoint.ca, a site that legally pulls data from the Nova Scotia boards and repackages it for its clients. He has taken it a step further, adding additional data sets that allow users to see information on things such as lot sizes and recent assessments.

“Everything you see on our site is made possible because we have access to that MLS data,” said Mr. McMullin, who wants to expand into Toronto but can’t get the data from the Toronto board.

This is the second time Ms. Aitken has taken aim at the real estate industry. Last year, she accused the real estate association of blocking its members from posting flat-fee listings, instead requiring consumers to hire an agent for the entire sales process if they wanted their house listed on MLS. That case led to a settlement that opened the door for flat-fee brokerages to list houses on the system.