*Since this article was written, there have been some updates from TREB.  The updates will be shown throughout the article in red.

After a seven-year battle between the Competition Bureau and the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday that it will not hear TREB's case to keep the sale prices, historical listing data along with historical sale prices of home sales private.  Within the next 60 days, the general public will be able to access this data through password protected sites operated by real estate brokerages, sales representatives and other real estate related companies who choose to make this information public.  

This change will help to bring more information, choice and transparency to consumers and will enable the real estate industry to use this data in innovative ways.  As the industry waits to see how quickly this information will be made available, many people are likely asking the question, what does this mean for me?  Here is our rundown of what to expect, and what we all still need to know.

For Consumers:

Consumers have been limited to the information to which they have access when it comes to buying or selling a home.  Why is this home priced so low?  How long has this owner owned the home?  I could have sworn I saw this home listed for $20,000 more a few months ago - what's going on?  Well, now you will be able to do some of your own research should you choose to do so. 

What do you need to look out for?

Within 60 days (by October 22nd, 2018), you will be able to access this information through a variety of different real estate websites.  Some sites have already started to offer this service without waiting for formal instruction from TREB.  Those sites that jumped right in may have to change their process once TREB decides the proper protocol, so be cognizant that logging in to a real estate website now may encounter some slight or major changes in the next couple of months.  TREB has also confirmed that anyone publishing this information now are not allowed to do so.  Therefore, it would be expected that some of the sites that already provide this information may stop doing it in order to comply with the direction from TREB.

Don't want the sale price of your home made public on these real estate sites?  More information about this should be made available soon on how to opt out. Right now, you can opt out of being a part of MLS when you list your home, and this ruling did state that such an opt out is still necessary, it is unclear as to whether there will be a specific opt out for just the historical data. However, it's important to note that ANYONE can access the sale price of your home at any time through the land registry office for a small fee so this information won't be (and has never been) kept completely confidential.  Furthermore, anyone who knows a Realtor (with almost 60,000 of us, we're not hard to find!) can find out this information quickly with a quick email, text or call.

Based on TREB's recent email to members, it appears as though an opt out option might not be available and all data "could be made available on a VOW as of October 22nd, 2018."  TREB will continue to provide updates and listen to the feedback from the public/members and ensure privacy is kept a priority.

What does this mean to you?

You will now have more information at your fingertips.  Realtors will still provide the experience, education and tools to help you interpret this data, but accessing it will become faster and easier.

Will this access to information cost you money?

For now, it doesn’t appear that brokerages offering this information will charge for it, however there is the requirement that people accessing the data have a username and password from the site they use.  It is doubtful that accessing this information will ever cost you money but that doesn't stop some companies from trying.  Keep this in mind as you navigate the different sites that begin to offer more information, and don't sign up for a site that charges for accessing this soon to be public information.

TREB has stated that "the information can only be used for the purpose of engaging in residential real estate brokerage services" and "cannot be monetized in any way."  Therefore, if you do see a website trying to monetize this information, make sure to report them immediately to TREB or notify your Realtor who can contact TREB themselves.

For Realtors & Brokerages:

As Realtors, we now have the opportunity to think of new and innovative ways to use this data.  Whether through the creation of more robust tools to interpret and display data for the public, thinking of next level opportunities such as artificial intelligence or working with other industries to harness the power of this data - the opportunities are endless.  

Will your TREB fees go up or down? 

One could argue that because TREB is providing the same information to Realtors as they are to the general public, that Realtor fees should go down.  This would be because the information is not as exclusive anymore, therefore not as valuable to a Realtor. The access to this information however, still needs to come through TREB, and as there is more information being accessed now, TREB could try to charge MORE for accessing this additional information.  In other areas where this sort of data had been made available (such as parts of the United States), there were different charges for the amount of data being accessed from member boards, with a higher price tag on data feeds including historical data.

TREB has confirmed that "fees will not be impacted by this decision."

What will be the cost to implement this information on your own website? 

While it seems as though a flick of the switch is all that's needed to implement this additional information, you will still need to involve your developer to set up a password protected part of your site if you haven't already done so.  It's a great idea to start discussing this with the person or company who handles your site to give them a heads up about what's to come and what they need to do in order to offer this information on your site (if you choose to do so). There may also be new processes and interpretations (with new costs) required to better integrate the larger and differently laid out data into your searches or reports (this is especially if you are currently pulling the less robust data into a preset model on your website).

Will Realtor.ca or tools such as TREB's Collaborate System begin to offer sold price data as well? 

The hope is yes.  It only makes sense for TREB to help direct as many people as possible to those sites in order to best serve our industry.  How and if Realtor.ca does integrate this data into their public searches should be watched in order to determine what similar (or enhanced) features your own sites can offer. Weigh the potential costs and benefits so that you aren’t committing a large amount of resources to replicate something already offered.

How will this impact other boards of which you are a member? 

Many members of TREB are also a part of other boards throughout the GTA - for example, the Mississauga Real Estate Board (MREB) and the Oakville Milton District Real Estate Board (OMDREB) share their MLS through a system called Ortis.  For now, these boards are not opening up their sales data so depending on the area you are working in, your clients will not have access to data outside of Toronto, which can be confusing.  However, it can be expected that now that the largest real estate board in Canada is opening up their sales data, other boards will consider following suit.  

TREB has communicated that they also expect other boards to change their practices as well.

What happens with interboard listings? 

Sometimes, a Realtor from another board will list their property on their own MLS system.  This listing will then appear on their home board and the Realtor will often go through a process called 'interboarding' in order to list it on the Toronto MLS as well.  Will the sale price data transfer to TREB once the home is sold?  What happens if the agent fails to list the home on TREB and just has it on their own home board?  Will historical data be limited only to the times a property was available to TREB? There may be some missing information as a result.  

TREB has confirmed that the order will apply only to those listings that appear on the Stratus system, including interboarded listings.  Therefore, if the listing is interboarded, the sale price information will be made available.

What about sales that are pending, firm but not closed, etc?

Once a sale is closed, the data is definitely available to the public (as it is now through land registry), but what about the information on a property that has sold but isn’t closed yet? In other markets where sold data is made public, the information is released once the deal is closed, not once conditions are waived. Classifications such as ‘pending escrow’ (which would equate to ‘funds in trust’) would be an option, but releasing sale prices prior to a ‘sale’ being official could have dangerous consequences. TREB will need to be clear on their plans.

The official ruling defines the disputed data as: "the data in the MLS System Database including the archived data, with respect to sold and pending sold homes, withdrawn, expired, suspended or terminated listings, and offers of commission to brokers who represent the successful purchaser."  The ruling goes on to state that the conditionally sold listings are not included in the disputed data.  For all the details on this ruling, click here.

For Everyone:

For consumers, Realtors and brokerages, the next 60 days will be a very important time.  It is time to keep your head up, be aware of the opportunities and ask questions. There is not an absolute method that has been prescribed in how this information will be made available, and what conditions may be placed on the release of the information. Knowing that this decision took seven years to come to fruition, TREB’s opposition implies that they have also been preparing an interpretation of the ruling that may look different than the industry is expecting.

As a brokerage built on transparency and innovation, this is most certainly an exciting and important time for On The Block. We are making sure to look beyond the ruling into the consequences that may follow, and we are preparing not just for more data, but for the nuance that surrounds it, and the ways that this information can better serve our clients and the public. As more information comes out about the methods in which the information will be provided and can be shared, brokerages and agents need to be nimble enough to make the new process available and useful to the public. Conversely, the public needs to stay aware of the new tools that will quickly become available in allowing them to make more informed decisions.

There will be a learning curve and some adjustment needed, but this decision is a step in the right direction to a more transparent and innovative industry. We will keep a close eye on developments, and look forward to helping people make use of this data in ways that add value and give them even more power in their real estate decisions.

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