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Websites publishing Toronto home sales data quick to spring up after federal court ruling

A sold sign is shown in front of west-end Toronto homes.

Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press

Toronto-area real estate companies have already begun publicly posting extensive information on the sales prices of homes in the wake of Friday's Federal Court of Appeal ruling opening the door for more disclosure of previously private data.

At least four comprehensive online sources are now publicly providing sold prices for homes throughout the Greater Toronto Area – some showing sales prices for the past five years.

One online service, run by HouseSigma, provides sales data back to 2013, allowing users to pinpoint streets or neighbourhoods on a map and zero in on homes that have sold.

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The site can be customized to show sales for the past seven days, 30 days, 90 days or longer, and has filters to search for homes by price ranges or house features, allowing buyers or sellers to look for comparable types of properties.

HouseSigma co-founder and chief executive officer Joseph Zeng said the feed went live within minutes after the court ruling was announced Friday afternoon, but his firm was already providing the data to clients by e-mail or text message, so the technology was already in place. He said traffic has been "ridiculous" since Friday, which demonstrates the level of consumer demand for the data.

"As a technology company that's always been focusing on the real estate industry, I think this is great news for us. We are able to provide much more transparency to Toronto home buyers and sellers," Mr. Zeng said Monday.

The appeal court ruled Friday that the Toronto Real Estate Board could not prevent its members from widely providing data about how much homes sold for, rejecting arguments that it would breach privacy restrictions.

The Multiple Listings Service database publicly displays current listings of homes and their asking price, but only TREB real estate agents can view additional data such as sales prices, historic sales and realtor commissions. Agents have been allowed to distribute limited sales data to up to 100 clients at a time, but could not publish all data broadly prior to Friday's decision.

TREB immediately announced Friday it would seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada and said it would apply for an order staying the decision pending the outcome of the appeal. A stay is not yet in place.

TREB chief executive officer John DiMichele said the appeal court decision dealt specifically with data displayed on password-protected sites operated by TREB members, and the ruling does not permit anyone to display sales price on an open web site that is not password protected.

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Mr. DiMichele said if TREB members are displaying such data openly, it is a breach of the user agreement that is binding on all members.

"TREB is concerned and believes strongly that personal financial information of home buyers and sellers must continue to be protected and only safely disclosed with their knowledge and informed consent," he said in a statement Monday.

Mr. Zeng said he will leave his data on public display until a court rules he has to shut it down.

He said home buyers should be able to do their own research and not have to rely on real estate agents to provide whatever data about sales prices they choose to hand over.

"For example, for a $1-million house on the market right now, it could have been relisted 10 times before you saw that listing. … If you do not know that information when you buy the house, you have no idea how much you should offer for that place."

Toronto-based Zoocasa, a large provider of real estate market data, said it will not post any sales price information online until it gets approval from TREB.

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Zoocasa CEO Lauren Haw said her firm could display the data "in the next 60 seconds" but it is "an active and participatory member" of TREB and does not want to jeopardize that relationship.

"Will be waiting for marching orders, so to speak, before we go rogue," she said Friday. "But I won't be surprised to see if other people do."

MongoHouse.com, which launched in 2016 and has 42,000 member users, is also displaying extensive sold data to buyers. The site previously displayed sold data for the prior 30 days, but decided Friday to offer to expand its offerings in the wake of the appeal court ruling. It is now showing one year of data for people who click on dots on a map of the GTA to scan sold prices for homes, and is offering up to five years of data for those using the search function for properties.

A founder of the site, who would not allow his name to be published, said he and his partners have operated anonymously for two years without revealing their identities because they have faced legal efforts by TREB to shut down their operation.

If Friday's decision is upheld, he said the site could operate openly and expand further using money from investors. The group has similar data ready to launch for Vancouver and Calgary, he said.

He said MongoHouse was launched because buyers deserve more information when they're making a decision, and shouldn't have to rely only on what their agents reveal.

"We have been hoping for this decision for a long, long time," he said. "It is something that will move the market going forward [to be] more transparent."

Another service that appears to be back in business providing sold data, tosolds.ca, is operated by Select/Plan Real Estate Inc., an Oshawa-based firm run by realtor Fraser Beech. The service provides a daily report on home sales, which is e-mailed to members each evening or can be accessed through a password-protected website at a cost of $1 per month.

Mr. Beech spent years battling TREB for the right to publish data, but had to shut down his popular newsletter displaying sale prices last fall after he received a cease-and-desist letter from TREB. As of Monday, however, the site is again allowing members to sign up for its "Just Sold" newsletter, and a letter for Dec. 1 has been posted on the site.

Mr. Beech could not be reached for comment.

Another option displaying Toronto sales price data is an iPhone app called Bluepages, which is providing home sales information on a mobile platform. The app shows an onscreen map of the GTA and allows users to zoom in on areas to find data about sales prices. The app does not provide contact information for its owners.

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About the Author
Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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