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TREB loses Supreme Court bid to appeal release of real estate sold figures

CEO Khai Intela
The Supreme Court of Canada has decided not to hear an appeal from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), marking a significant development in the ongoing battle over the publication of home sales data. This...

The Supreme Court of Canada has decided not to hear an appeal from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), marking a significant development in the ongoing battle over the publication of home sales data. This decision may bring an end to a long-standing debate on whether consumers should have online access to information such as home sales prices, house history, and property market trends in a neighborhood.

Currently, those seeking home sales data typically rely on real estate agents, who have access to the Multiple Listing Service database, or online property value services that charge a fee for public access to sales data. TREB has been fighting to keep this information exclusive to real estate agents since 2011, arguing that publishing the data would violate consumer privacy.

In 2011, the Competition Bureau challenged TREB's policy, stating that it hampers competition and digital innovation. The tribunal ruled in 2016 that real estate agents should make the data public, and in 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. In response, TREB took the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to protect the data.

Decision 'long overdue'

The Supreme Court's decision has received positive reactions, with many experts believing it is long overdue. Joseph Zeng, the operator of HouseSigma, an online real estate site, expressed his support for the decision, noting that his website is ready to provide consumers with information about past house sales, new house sale prices, and other data that will help them make informed decisions. Zeng believes that this kind of innovation can make consumers more aware of market conditions.

The Competition Bureau also welcomed the decision, stating that it will promote greater competition and innovation in the real estate services market in the Greater Toronto Area. The bureau's order requires TREB to remove restrictions on the display of historical listings and sale prices online through virtual office websites.

John Pasalis of Realosophy, a real estate brokerage, was a witness before the Competition Bureau, advocating for open access to house sales price information. In anticipation of the ruling, Realosophy has been developing its online information service, which will be made available to clients once TREB releases all the information. However, there will be no obligation to become a client to access the data.

TREB may have just days to comply

With the Supreme Court declining to hear the case, lawyers believe that TREB has limited options to continue its legal battle. TREB's CEO, John DiMichele, stated that the tribunal's order will come into effect in 60 days, and the board will respect the court decision, studying the necessary steps to protect the information in compliance with the order. However, the Competition Bureau clarified that 54 of the 60 days had already passed before TREB was granted a stay to appeal the decision, leaving the board with only a few days to comply unless an alternate arrangement is reached.

Real estate professor John Andrew anticipates that the release of this data will eventually extend to most real estate markets in Canada. While some provinces, like British Columbia and Alberta, already allow the publication of such information, the TREB case primarily focused on realtors posting information on password-protected websites. Andrew expects a broader push to allow the publication of these numbers without password protection since they are already available in the public domain through Teranet or local registry offices.

John Pasalis believes that releasing the past history of a house can empower consumers by providing valuable insights before making an offer. For example, consumers can identify if a house has been flipped multiple times in a short period or if it has been delisted and relisted quickly. This information, often not analyzed or released by agents, can enhance consumer knowledge and decision-making.

Advantage to the consumer

Contrary to TREB's privacy concerns, Joseph Zeng argues that the board's resistance was driven by a desire for market control. Zeng points out that in the United States, where house price data have been available for ten years, there has been no decline in the use of real estate agents. The ruling ensures that consumers will no longer be at a disadvantage during real estate transactions.

Zeng recalls his personal experience when purchasing a condo in 2009, saying, "I had no idea how many transactions had occurred on the property before my purchase. If I had that information, it would have influenced my offer price."

With this significant ruling, consumers will have access to comprehensive information about the past history of a home, including valuable insights that were previously inaccessible. It will empower them to make more informed decisions and level the playing field in real estate transactions.

Image: John Pasalis, president of Realosophy, a Toronto real-estate brokerage, says the Supreme Court ruling Thursday means consumers will know more about the past history of a home, including whether it was flipped or been pulled off the market and relisted.