Real estate startups, some independents and foreign players will reap the rewards from a Supreme Court of Canada move to make home-sales data publicly available.
The country’s high court on Thursday ended a seven-year legal battle over the dissemination of house-sales prices by refusing to hear an appeal from the Toronto Real Estate Board, which had sought to keep the data private.
Now, real estate companies can display the sale price of Toronto homes as long as their websites are password protected – a practice that has been allowed in the United States for more than a decade. The change could eliminate part of a realtor’s job and make it easier for consumers to look up home sale prices instead of relying on brokers to privately provide them with the information.
Within a few hours of the Supreme Court announcement, real estate brokerages such as Condos.ca were already making the data available to their clients.
“We can provide more and more insight for consumers,” said Joe Zeng, co-founder and chief executive of HouseSigma Inc., which was established in 2016 and uses artificial intelligence to estimate the value of residential listings in the Greater Toronto Area. “Before, we were not allowed to publicly display the actual sold price. Now, we are allowed to send the data to everyone reading our site.”
Over the course of the legal case, HouseSigma and other real estate businesses periodically published the sales data on their websites or newsletters before being served with cease-and-desist letters from the Toronto Real Estate Board. Known as TREB, the trade group determines how brokerages are allowed to display home-sale prices and other real estate information.
That, at times, put some TREB members at a disadvantage. Independent real estate brokerages, such as Right at Home Realty Inc. and Realosophy Realty Inc., complied with TREB’s directive and never posted the sales data.
“This will level the playing field with the websites that were doing it under the radar,” said Ronald Peddicord, co-founder of Right at Home Realty, which has 4,000 brokers across the Toronto region.
But once all real estate brokerages and related companies are able to disclose the same information, the fierce competition for clients will continue.
“Tomorrow, everyone will see what a house sold for,” said John Pasalis, founder of Realosophy, an independent real estate brokerage that focuses on Toronto and uses data to help homeowners, buyers and sellers better understand the city’s property market. “It is about using data to tell people what they don’t know about properties ... that’s what the real value is.”
Since 2011, TREB has been fighting to keep the data exclusive to realtors, saying it violates privacy rights. The data, however, are already available to more than 50,000 Toronto realtors who are allowed to provide the information to their clients.
But those data are often selective. For example, if homeowners want to find out how much money they can get for their house, their real estate agent will send them a short list of similar properties and their sale prices. Now, the homeowner will be able to look at all the data and do their own comparisons.
Some real estate experts said the volume of new information could make it more complicated for buyers and sellers, but others said the public was entitled to do its own due diligence.
“They can watch the market for a period of time or do their own searches and come to their own conclusions,” said Fraser Beach, who has worked as a realtor for more than four decades and was served with multiple cease-and-desist letters for publishing the house sale prices on his newsletter and website “sold.watch.”
Although Thursday’s decision removes a key obstacle for Mr. Beach and HouseSigma, traditional real estate shops said they are not concerned.
“I don’t think it’s gonna change a whole lot, " said Christopher Alexander executive vice-president for Re/Max Ontario. “All you have to do is just look to the United States. ... What’s very interesting is that realtor use is at an all-time high. The message there is that realtors are a lot more valuable than just knowing what homes have sold for."
The new rules come as the real estate listing and brokerage business heats up in Toronto’s hot housing market. British no-commission online realtor Purplebricks PLC and United States-based Zillow Group Inc. have recently entered the Canadian market. “This will be an asteroid bump for Zillow,” Mr. Peddicord said. “They will be a big competitor because of it.”
With a file from Shane Dingman