It will become easier and cheaper for Canadians to sell their homes after peace was declared on Thursday in the war between the Competition Bureau and the organization representing Canada's real estate agents.
The bureau and the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) reached a tentative agreement that will allow sellers to hire an agent to post their property on the all-important Multiple Listing Service and then conduct the rest of the sale on their own, if they choose.
"It's better to negotiate something than go to court," Don Lawby, chief executive officer of Century 21, said in reaction to the agreement. "Bad press is bad press, and whatever the fee structure, people will always think it's unfair."
News of the agreement caught industry leaders flat-footed. The heads of several of the country's largest brokerage firms were unaware of it until contacted by The Globe and Mail.
If ratified by CREA's membership at the end of October, the agreement will end a challenge from the bureau in which the two sides are scheduled to appear before the Competition Tribunal in April. Once ratified, the new rules will take effect immediately and be in effect for 10 years.
Traditionally, sellers hire an agent in an all-or-nothing agreement, in which the agent lists their homes on the Multiple Listing Service - on which about 90 per cent of residential properties are bought and sold - negotiates the sale with the buyer and handles much of the paperwork. In return, the agent receives a commission that is typically a percentage of the sale price.
Energized by a new commissioner, Melanie Aitken, and an expanded mandate, the Competition Bureau went to the Competition Tribunal in February demanding that CREA allow consumers more choice on what services to use.
The association, which represents nearly 100,000 real estate agents across Canada, loosened some of its rules in the spring. Nonetheless, the bureau decided the measures were insufficient.
But while both sides appeared intransigent in public, negotiations quietly paved the way to Thursday's agreement after association representatives approached the bureau earlier this month.
The agreement is a major victory for the Competition Bureau, which was determined to force the real estate industry to become more competitive.
"The agreement is welcome news for Canadians," Ms. Aitken said in an interview. "Consumers are going to have the ability to choose what services they want from a real estate agent, and pay only for those services, and at the same time, it gives much-needed flexibility for the agents to offer the variety of services and prices that meet the needs of consumers."
CREA president Georges Pahud said in a statement that that the agreement "would avoid unnecessary and expensive litigation proceedings."
The long-term impact on the country's real-estate market is far from certain. The cost of buying or selling a home could come down as competitors seek to offer different packages and undercut each others' prices.
But agents have warned that changes could lead to shoddy service or fraud. The agreement seeks to strike a balance, increasing consumer choice while leaving agents as the only portal to the MLS.