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Making homeowners’ info public: Canadian MLS showdown

The Canadian Competition Bureau seeks to make homeowner and home information more readily available in a move to promote competition between real estate models, while the Toronto Real Estate Board pushes back, noting the safety risk and negotiation risks of making this level of information publicly available.

Canadian real estate snafu

Canadian Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken is taking action to force consumers’ private information to published in the multiple listing service (MLS) which will all be online and made public, including sellers’ names and property access information which the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has declared would put homeowners at risk of assaults and robberies. Aitken also seeks to publish information like mortgage details and negotiated sale prices, both of which could potentially harm the ability for homeowners to negotiate fairly when listed for sale.

TREB launched the “Protect Your Privacy website informing consumers of Aitken’s plans.

A third party survey commissioned by TREB revealed 75 percent of Ontarians believe that personal information such as name and final sale price should be kept confidential by REALTOR® professionals, 70 percent of homeowners do not want their personal contact information released to the public, and 67 percent of Ontarians oppose any measure to make personal contact information such as name and address available to others who are not subject to a professional code of conduct.

According to The Globe and Mail, since assuming her role in 2009, Aitken has taken on Visa and Air Canada, but this is the first of her targets launched offensively with no court case in play. “Ontarians clearly oppose what Commissioner Aitken is trying to do. They’ve said they want their personal and private information kept confidential,” Von Palmer, Chief Government and Public Affairs Officer and Chief Privacy Officer for TREB, said in a statement.

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Homeowners, Realtors at risk, says TREB

“Easy access to information online is a huge safety issue,” Von Palmer told The Globe. “There is a real possibility of break-ins and assaults; you only have to read the headlines to imagine what might happen. You hear stories about realtors getting attacked and killed. Can you imagine if we put that information out there about consumers? You can only imagine the headlines.”

A spokesman for the Toronto Police Service said he wasn’t aware violence against real estate agents was a problem in the city. While AGBeat has not verified violence in Toronto, our 2011 Realtor Safety Report revealed a sharp increase of violence against American Realtors.

Bureau claims traditional model is being favored

Aitken’s office notes TREB is protecting the traditional real estate model, limiting competition from discount brokers or untraditional models that eliminate the middle man and asserts that information available to agents should be available to the public whether they have a Realtor representing them or not.

“TREB is trying to have it both ways as the identical information is routinely provided today by real estate agents to consumers, either by hand, mail, fax, or e-mail,” Competition Bureau spokesperson, Greg Scott told The Globe. “TREB has for years permitted member agents to share this same information with their customers and they continue to do so today,” further noting the association engages in “anti-competitive conduct.”

The Bureau notes that the information they seek to make public is not only available to people that visit an open house, but from land records, or even a phonebook.

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A long battle ahead

TREB is focused on the safety of homeowners while The Bureau is focused on competition, citing arguments that were made nearly five years ago with the launch of American real estate media companies that sought to make housing sales data public. This case goes to a tribunal this fall, so the fight is far from over, and it is safe to assume both will continue lobbying and public relations pushes on both sides.

Tara Steele is the News Director at The American Genius, covering entrepreneur, real estate, technology news and everything in between. If you'd like to reach Tara with a question, comment, press release or hot news tip, simply click the link below.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Sheila Rasak

    March 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Wow! And here I thought that Canadian agents were in a great place making the bank that we Americans were over 6 years ago. Now this looks like a huge threat to their livelihood not to mention the potential harm to homeowner’s who place their trust in strangers. So not good!

  2. Bob LeDrew

    March 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    In general, the Canadian real estate industry has been incredibly resistant to the use of technology and particularly social media. While I am not enough of an expert to comment on the merits of the Competition Bureau v TREB dispute, I find the claims of violence and danger laughable, and I would like to see a full report on the poll before trusting its numbers.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 14, 2012 at 11:34 pm

      Bob, it will definitely be an interesting dispute, and while it seems both sides are polar opposites about the impact of this information, I wonder what the compromise in the end will look like – maybe they’re not really after consumer contact information but sales data, a major issue we already battled here in America.

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