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(John Woods/John Woods/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Home listings firms fight over data Add to ...

Long known for pulpy convenience-store magazines advertising used cars and trucks, Trader.ca is taking on Canada's biggest real estate website with a new site that features thousands of house listings.

Trader.ca, owned by Yellow Pages, already focuses on the rental and new-homes market. Now its hometrader.ca site is diving into the much bigger resale housing market, the company plans to announce Wednesday.

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It's not the only site trying to steal a piece of the Canadian Real Estate Association's action. Alternatives are sprouting up to CREA's popular Realtor.ca, which is powered and paid for by the listings entered by real estate agents across the country.

Trader.ca is one of 19 websites in Canada being fed listings by a data stream generated by Saskatoon's Point2 Technologies. The company solicits brokerages and real estate associations to sign on, and then repackages and rebroadcasts their listings across all of the sites in order to provide maximum exposure for a listing.

Point2 charges brokerages and agents fees to access enhanced services and to access the data generated when users visit the listing.

The proliferation of websites may be good news for someone trying to find a home online, but it poses a significant challenge to the traditional industry, which has long had a stranglehold on the data used to generate listings.

"If you lose control of the data and it starts going off to other websites, the data can be compromised," said Don Lawby, chief operating officer of Century 21. "There are a lot of questions of how personal information would be used, who has access to what. Some people are comfortable with that, but we have chosen not to go with syndication."

The industry is most worried about a proliferation of non-affiliated sites offering seemingly identical listings to those on the Realtor.ca portal. But that is the very reason syndication should be embraced, argues Point2 chief executive officer Saul Klein.

Only a small amount of search traffic ends up at the industry's official portal, he says, and everyone else ends up on sites such as Craigslist or Kajiji. By pushing one feed to every site that wants to advertise listings, Web traffic is ultimately heading back toward the real estate agents.

"We think it's about getting the information out there to as many places as possible and letting people find it," Mr. Klein said.

Competitors such as Point2 are emboldened by organized real estate's battle with the federal Competition Commissioner, who is taking CREA to a tribunal because it believes the association prevents new companies from setting up alternate services.

While the commissioner's complaint doesn't address how data is disseminated, Mr. Klein said the debate stirred by the case has made it easier to expand his business and sign up new partners for his service. He said he recently signed the Association of Saskatchewan Realtors, which will send all of its Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data directly to Point2 for syndication on its sites. He hopes to find similar success with the country's other 100 real estate boards.

"MLS is still going to be important because it provides governance and policing and that's what makes its information valuable," Mr. Klein said. "We just think realtors should give people more access to data - we know that distribution is more important than any one single website when people are looking for real estate."

Trader.ca plans to take the listings data and layer on additional neighbourhood information the company already has access to through its parent company to go beyond what Realtor.ca offers. It launched the hometrader.ca site earlier this year, and is now in a position to reach a broader audience.



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