CRH Key Points Blog

MLS Ruling: housing data = open data?

By December 6, 2017 No Comments

Score another one for Canada’s competition commissioner: on the first of the month, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that a 2016 judgment ordering the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), which represents the GTA’s realtor community, cease its policy of redacting elements of the housing data the Board publishes publicly via Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

The MLS data not at present published publicly includes past or withdrawn listings and past and present house prices; this data is not available online and can only be shared with a client by a realtor via either email or fax.

Upshot? The Federal Court of Appeal decision means nothing just yet, as TREB is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, no certain thing. Should the Court of Appeal decision stand—and odds are it may well stand—realtors will no longer be unable to share access to data of considerable psychological importance to a prospective buyer.

For the buyer, there’s little transparency: realtors themselves who want to share the data, who support transparency and sharing sales data with their clients, openly and freely, can’t under present TREB rules, the appeal court noted. TREB’s lock on data-sharing came under review by the Federal Competition Tribunal, which ruled last year TREB can’t block agent-client data-sharing on the realtors’ website.

In essence, the ruling is the first step in breaking a data monopoly. Contrariwise, TREB has argued that there are clear privacy considerations; the Competition Tribunal and now the Court of Appeal disagreed.

Drilling down, there’s even more at stake: well-briefed consumers get first hand access to street price, on their own, without a realtor’s direct say-so. That’s not all: sharing this data in near-real time opens up pricing anomalies consumers are at present blind to. This may well mean lower prices, when true comparison shopping applies.

Nothing will change overnight. First off, the Supreme Court routinely ignores the vast majority of applications for leave to appeal the court sees; that’s roughly a 90 day window, deciding that—should the Supreme Court grant leave—with yet another six months, once a hearing date is granted…all in: perhaps another year before final resolution.

And, as goes the TREB ruling, so may well go national real estate sales data transparency. If the MLS data redaction ruling stands, this is yet another incentive for both FinTech start-ups and progressive realtors to remake the marketplace to their own advantage.

We shall see: nothing is certain, as someone clever once wrote, except change itself.

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