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Real estate agents left in dark over CREA deal with bureau Add to ...

The Canadian Real Estate Association's recent deal with the Competition Bureau to settle complaints of anticompetitive behaviour has the potential to change how houses are sold in this country.

But there's one group that is being left in the dark about it: the agents who sell those homes.

The vast majority of the country's 100,000 real estate agents won't see the details of the plan until after it has been voted on by top representatives of the country's 101 real estate boards next Sunday - though details were leaked to The Globe and Mail last week by industry insiders.

The decision to keep the contents under wraps until their elected representatives approve of the deal is being explained as a legal decision, but rank-and-file real estate agents across the country are frustrated they are being cut out of the process.

"CREA is really trying to keep the details away from the great unwashed because they don't know how we'd react if we saw them," said Brian Martindale, a Century 21 agent in Peterborough, Ont. "The last thing they want is for us to be upset and making noise while they try and settle."

The real estate association has been locked in a battle with Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitkin since the beginning of the year, when she said CREA kept its members from offering services that would lower costs for consumers.

The two sides reached a tentative deal this month that would allow sellers to hire an agent to post their property on the Multiple Listing Service and then conduct the rest of the sale on their own, if they choose. They could also pay an agent extra fees for extra tasks, such as running open houses or negotiating deals.

The deal also ensures that only licensed agents may post to the listings site, and that they will be legally liable for any errors or omissions.

While there doesn't appear to be any surprises in the settlement, agents are leery of the deal simply because they haven't been allowed to see it. CREA president Georges Pahud said in an e-mail that the deal must remain secret until after the vote because if it is defeated at Sunday's vote in St. John's, the case will proceed to court.

"However, we have started and will continue, where practical in the short time between now and the special general meeting, with detailed presentations to boards and associations regarding all elements of the agreement," he wrote. "In the meantime, it is critically important not to publicly divulge details."

Representatives from CREA's member boards have to be in St. John's in person to have their votes counted. Each board will receive a number of votes based on its size, and a simple majority will decide the outcome.

Some agents say they are upset because they pay the fees that keep MLS running, but for-sale-by-owner companies and other agents pushing flat-fee plans (in place of commissions) will load listings onto the system. The vast majority of homes in Canada are sold through MLS.

Tina Forbes, a ReMax agent in Stoney Creek, On., estimated that she pays annual board membership fees of about $2,600, which includes insurance premiums.

"We as agents pay to maintain that system and if you just let anyone post on it, there's no validity to it any more," she said. "Why should they get to use the system when we fund it? I don't see how that's in our best interest."

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