A seven-year legal battle about what data can be displayed on real estate agents’ websites has concluded. Now everyone from Zillow to your local sales rep is racing to create the listing site that will attract the most potential buyers.
The race to build the best real estate listing website in Canada is now entering the final laps. Prompted by the end of a long legal battle between the federal government’s Competition Bureau and the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) over what data could be displayed on the board’s member websites, now the market is wide open for whoever can produce the best consumer experience.
“Change is bubbling beneath the surface of Canada’s real estate industry, and big data is the catalyst,” wrote Christopher Alexander, EVP of Re/Max Integra, Ontario-Atlantic Region, in a recent op-ed in REM magazine.
“With the arrival of Zillow and Purplebricks in Canada, and most recently the public release of sold data, you can be sure that our industry will look different one year from now.”
Many real estate sites in Canada, including those owned by brokerages and third-party companies, have access to the data feed of homes for sale on the county’s MLS systems. But it’s how the data is packaged and what other features and information is offered that will determine which sites are used the most. The most popular site in Canada is currently Realtor.ca, which is owned by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). The association is putting many resources into improving and upgrading the site.
Recently CREA announced that it would soon provide sold data on its site. This is significant because for several years, CREA fought alongside TREB to keep sold and other disputed data off the public websites of its members.
A Competition Tribunal decision in 2016 found that by not including sold and other data in the listing feed to its member websites, TREB had engaged in anti-competitive acts. An appeal court upheld the decision and earlier this year the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it would not hear TREB’s appeal.
The board is now supplying its members with all of the disputed data in its data feed.
“Change is often accompanied by fear, and in this case, the fear is that publicly available sold data will spell the end of the real estate industry as we know it,” says Alexander. “Instead of fighting the inevitable, I encourage agents and brokers to see this as an opportunity.”
TREB CEO John DiMichele says the complex case is not well understood by the public and that many people have contacted the real estate board in the belief that they can now have access to the entire MLS system.
In fact, clients must get the information by working with a Realtor and accessing the data on password-protected sites. The information must be displayed only “in the context of helping the client buy or sell the home,” says TREB, and the data cannot be provided or sold to a third party.
However, CREA announced that it would not require a password once the sold information is available on Realtor.ca. It will work with real estate boards and regulators across the country to ensure it complies with local laws and regulations.
DiMichele says TREB’s motivation in fighting the Competition Bureau was protecting clients’ privacy.
The Competition Tribunal order also requires TREB to make pending sold information available, which is a particularly sensitive issue for Realtors and clients, says DiMichele. “They are saying they don’t want that information out there, particularly when the transaction has not been completed,” he says. “Consumers have concerns about their privacy and confidential information.” Pending sold information will not be displayed on Realtor.ca.
Sold information has been available on websites in the United States for several years.
DiMichele says that providing the data on member websites “is a whole shift in the paradigm” for brokerages, so they will have to rethink their website and decide how to use the information going forward.
Recently Seattle-based Zillow announced that it would soon begin placing Canadian listings on its site. The company has signed agreements to receive direct listing feeds from several Canadian companies and brokerages, including Century 21 Canada and Exit Realty Corp. International.
Zillow says it operates more than two dozen real estate apps across all major platforms, and that it receives more than 100 million visits from non-U.S. users per year, with most coming from Canada, U.K., India, Germany, Mexico and China.
“The websites that offer more information will get more traffic and generate more leads,” says Alexander. “The real estate businesses that don’t give consumers what they want (convenient, user-friendly and easy access) will fall off the radar.”