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An investigation of New Coast Realty by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver focuses on owner Ze Yu Wu.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Greater Vancouver's real estate board is studying whether to make its confidential disciplinary decisions public, a move toward more transparency that could eventually apply to the entire province.

However, the results of its ongoing investigation into New Coast Realty – perhaps its most high-profile – will likely remain private, Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver president Dan Morrison said during a lengthy round table with The Globe and Mail and representatives from the British Columbia Real Estate Association.

The board's professional conduct committee is now investigating allegations of misconduct among New Coast employees after a Globe investigation revealed an audiotape recording of the firm's owner, Ze Yu Wu, instructing his real estate sales teams on how to make a quick commission by talking clients into selling their houses for less money than they want.

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Mr. Morrison said that investigation will likely conclude long before his trade association is able to vote on whether to publicize the results of its disciplinary proceedings.

"We're a private members' association and our obligation is to our members, and the systems are set up to keep the standards of membership – that's what we do," he said Friday. "We have a committee that's looking into all this now and we're talking about [releasing decisions to the public].

"We actually have lawyers telling us if we can do that. If we do that, we have to go to our 12,500 members and get their permission to do that."

A Globe investigation last month found that real estate agents in Metro Vancouver who are disciplined for wrongdoing face fines and suspensions that are dwarfed by the hefty commissions they earn in B.C.'s superheated housing market.

Records from more than 100 recent disciplinary proceedings from the board and the Real Estate Council of B.C., the industry's self-regulating body, showed only a fraction of agents disciplined ever lost their licences over misconduct, and that fines averaged $4,850 or less.

Last month, when The Globe informed the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver it was leaked 22 of its disciplinary decisions from the past five years, a law firm representing the board sent a letter to the paper threatening a lawsuit claiming the Multiple Listing Service had been illegally breached.

Ninety-five per cent of B.C.'s licensed agents belong to regional real estate boards that guard access to MLS. The 11 boards can discipline members but have always maintained that, as private members' groups, they must maintain confidentiality when an agent gets caught breaking the professional code of conduct. (The Real Estate Council of B.C. publishes all of its decisions on its website for at least a year.)

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That confidentiality may change if the regional boards join together this summer to form a unified organization that could streamline the discipline process for realtors across B.C. who violate an established professional code of conduct and rules of co-operation, B.C. Real Estate Association president Deanna Horn said on Friday. Such an organization would still have to decide whether to publicly post any disciplinary decisions.

"The major advantage for the consumer would be to establish consistent expectations for what to expect," she said, noting that different boards have different maximum penalties across the province.

Carolyn Rogers, CEO of the Financial Institutions Commission of B.C., singled out the boards earlier last week as "large, well-resourced and powerful trade organizations" whose unique role in meting out private discipline is a concern.

"The roles need to be cleared up. What we have observed is the real estate boards have assumed a quasi-regulatory role. Often they position themselves as the place for consumers to launch complaints," Ms. Rogers told reporters last week.

"The boards' disciplinary practices are not transparent; there is no requirement to report publicly on whether a realtor is disciplined."

Ms. Rogers was more forceful in private, at the real estate association's annual general meeting on March 31.

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"Self-regulation puts on each of you a positive obligation to report any and all bad behaviour – anything that has the potential to harm the public – there are no exceptions," she told a room full of real estate agents. "And the reporting is to your regulator and your regulator is the council. It is not your board, it is not your broker, it is the council.

"That is the responsibility you have in exchange for the privilege of self-regulation."

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