A Vancouver-based real estate brokerage's multimillion-dollar plan to purchase a controversial Chinese-language website that markets properties overseas has fallen apart.
Vanfun.com, a Shanghai-based company that provides information on B.C. property listings to Chinese buyers, announced last December that it had been purchased by Metro Edge Realty, a relatively new but fast-growing brokerage in the Vancouver area, for $8-million.
Vanfun drew scrutiny from B.C. regulators last year, when the province's superintendent of real estate issued a cease-and-desist order against two people who had been working with the site and fined two licensed realtors.
The website's activities highlighted the role of foreign firms in B.C.'s real estate market. A Globe and Mail investigation into Vanfun prompted the superintendent to announce a review of regulations that allowed offshore companies to submit bids on properties in B.C., though no changes have been made.
Vanfun posted a statement on its website and to the Chinese-language online messaging service WeChat announcing it has ended its relationship with Metro Edge Realty. The statement cited a dispute over payment and said Vanfun had concerns about Metro Edge's practices, but did not offer any specifics.
Stephen Jin, global sales manager at Metro Edge Realty, declined to comment on the dispute with Vanfun but said the company follows the rules of the Real Estate Council of B.C. and the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
"All claims of Vanfun are misleading and not true," Mr. Jin said. "We are doing everything strictly by the book under supervision of council and board."
There have been no disciplinary decisions from the Real Estate Council of B.C. involving Metro Edge. The council declined to say whether there have been any complaints, saying the agency only comments if a complaint results in a disciplinary hearing.
B.C.'s Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate said it was aware that Vanfun and Metro Edge had ended their relationship.
"We are working closely with the Real Estate Council to determine if there are further requirements under the Real Estate Services Act that need to be met to help protect consumers," said Mykle Ludvigsen, spokesperson for the superintendent.
In September of last year, the superintendent and real estate council disciplined two realtors and took action against Vanfun.com.
The superintendent said B.C.-based company Shangren Vancouver Settlement Service Ltd. and two people identified as its operators, Feng (Fanny) Ni and Xiao Wen (Wendy) Ye, were providing unlicensed real estate services and issued a cease-and-desist order. The superintendent alleged those services were facilitated by Vanfun's websites, www.vanfun.net and www.vanfun.com, and said there was evidence Ms. Ni was involved in creating and maintaining the Vanfun service.
The Real Estate Council of B.C. also disciplined two licensed realtors for their involvement with Vanfun. Xiao Ming (Alban) Wang's real estate licence was suspended for 12 months and he was ordered to pay $10,000; Xin (Selena) Li received a seven-month suspension and was ordered to pay $10,000. At the time, $10,000 was the maximum fine available.
According to the council's disciplinary decisions, both Mr. Wang and Ms. Li accepted client referrals from Vanfun and paid referral fees to the unlicensed brokerage. The two realtors also violated the Real Estate Services Act that they provided real estate services on behalf of Vanfun rather than the brokerages they were licensed.
The decisions also say Mr. Wang failed to disclose to his clients that he was paying referral fees to the unlicensed brokerage, nor did he keep his managing broker informed of his relationship and arrangements with Vanfun
Vanfun declined to comment.
Ms. Li and Mr. Wang both declined comment, though Ms. Li said she has no longer has any connection to Vanfun. Vanfun currently advertises more than 14,000 properties in B.C., featuring information such as the Multiple Listing Service number, location, price, size, amenities and property taxes. Prospective buyers can see more detailed information if they provide their personal information. However, no listing brokerage information was provided.
Jill Oudil, president of Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said Vanfun has no right to use MLS listing information and urged the consumers to reply on more reliable and legit sources.
"The Vanfun website is not permitted to display our MLS listings," said Ms. Oudil. "We believe that the people operating this site are in violation of our MLS® data access rules and we're exploring our options. We're concerned that the public may be visiting this site and viewing inaccurate or misleading information."