Sometimes, the Supreme Court speaks eloquently by what it declines to hear.
Last week, Canada’s top court elected not to grant the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) leave to appeal a Federal Court of Appeal judgment from 2017 that compelled the industry association to be more transparent with sales data.
A seven-year legal battle is thus at an end and it has been resolved in favour of Canadian consumers.
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Home buyers and sellers in the Greater Toronto Area will soon be able to gain access to sale prices via TREB’s multiple-listing service, or MLS, as well as to sales trends, listing histories and data about the transaction volume of specific agents.
More information is always better, particularly when it comes to major financial decisions such as home ownership. Individual realtors have clearly heard the signal; several have already begun posting comprehensive sales data to their websites.
So it is disappointing that TREB’s latest public statements suggest the organization is determined to keep some transaction information confidential. Privacy is being invoked as a fig leaf, even though the Federal Court of Appeal clearly found copyright and privacy concerns do not supersede competition considerations in real estate deals. That ruling is final and TREB should abide by it.
So too should real estate boards across the country that restrict access to MLS data the way TREB did, but are not subject to the court ruling.
For one thing, the federal Competition Bureau will be watching. The agency filed the initial legal action against TREB and, as interim commissioner of competition Matthew Boswell told The Globe and Mail, Canada’s other real estate boards will want to make sure they “are not offside."
Those that are offside should comply with the ruling voluntarily. Doing so will open real estate markets to more players, including discount and virtual brokerages. This should create more competition, spur innovation and may well result in lower fees for home buyers.
Plus, real estate transactions are a matter of public record. Making the information hard to access, especially in the digital age, simply doesn’t make sense.