The Canadian Real Estate Association believed it was on the cusp of a settlement with the Competition Bureau over access to its Multiple Listing Service as recently as last week, its president said Tuesday as he expressed "disappointment" with the agency's decision to abruptly end discussions and escalate the case to Canada's Competition Tribunal.
"We are surprised and disappointed," said president Dale Ripplinger. "We listened to their concerns and were willing to clarify our rules. For the most part the conversation was quite amicable - I thought we were making progress and weren't that far apart."
The MLS trademark is owned by CREA, which has nearly 100,000 members, and each real estate board operates the service in its region. Roughly 90 per cent of all residential real estate transactions in Canada involve MLS data.
The bureau has asked the federal Competition Tribunal to strike down a series of rules CREA adopted in 2007 that tightened the MLS listing requirements. The rules state that an agent must handle all aspects of a transaction using the system, from the initial listing through to acceptance of offers.
Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken said the rules restrict competition, because real estate agents are unable to hive off certain services within the system and offer them on a flat-fee basis. Agents who want to offer such services have been excluded from the MLS by CREA, she said.
"What that means is consumers don't have any choice, it's either all [services]or nothing," she said.
Mr. Ripplinger said the country's 100,000 real estate agents already compete fiercely for business, with many offering cut-rate services even when using the MLS. Agents find it "offensive" that the bureau believes they are trying to keep prices high by restricting the type of services that can be offered.
"I can say CREA isn't to blame for any of this," Mr. Ripplinger said. "There is nothing that we do that isn't in the best interest of our clients."
The case will now go before the Competition Tribunal, a judicial body that has the right to change the any rules it deems anti-competitive. No hearing dates have been set.
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