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OPINION: The MLS data divide is hurting Ontario realtors

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Did you know there is more than one MLS System in Ontario? There are actually seven MLS Systems in the province — more than in any other jurisdiction in Canada — and there is different data in each system. 

Realtors tend to like statistics, so let’s look at some more important numbers.

Consumers viewed MLS listings in the ITSO client portal more than 4 million times in the last month alone. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there were nearly 120,000 new listings on the ITSO MLS System and close to 60,000 sales. These listings and sales come from the more than 23,000 users of the ITSO MLS System — 18,500 of which are realtors.

Now, let’s look at the statistics found in the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s (TRREB) Market Watch report. In the same time period, there were more than 112,000 new listings on the TRREB MLS System and close to 54,000 sales. According to CREA’s 2023 Q2 Membership statistics, there were 76,000 realtors that belong to TRREB and TRREB’s partner boards, all contributing to these listings and sales. 

As you can see, access to both ITSO’s MLS data and TRREB’s MLS data is essential for realtors trading in areas covered by these two systems — and these aren’t the only ones in Ontario. 


Fragmented MLS systems in Ontario


Ontario realtors need access to all the data in the province so that they can do their jobs and appear professional in the eyes of consumers. Consumers have access to and VOWs. They know what listings are out there, and they notice when properties are missing from searches provided by their realtors. Realtors need access to the comprehensive listings found only in MLS, and they need that information to provide comprehensive comparables and relevant guidance to their clients.

ITSO and its member associations are willing to share their data. The 15 member associations of ITSO share their data with each other, as well as with the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, Sudbury Real Estate Board, Ottawa Real Estate Board, Cornwall and District Real Estate Board, Rideau-St. Lawrence Real Estate Board and Renfrew County Real Estate Board. The bad news is that there are a handful of real estate associations in Ontario that appear unwilling to reciprocally share their data.

Realtors created these listings and put them in the various MLS Systems across the province. Now, the associations they belong to, formed to act in the best interest of their members, are capitalizing off that data and forcing realtors to pay dual memberships or subscriber fees — just to access their own collective data. This is a tax on realtors that could stop. 


Collaborative data sharing


ITSO found a solution that can give realtors access to all the data from the various MLS Systems in Ontario — while each association maintains their own corporate identity, local presence, and ownership of their data. Associations do not need to be forced or rush into amalgamations simply to gain access to data. However, this solution will only work if the leaders of the associations in the province support this direction. 

ITSO is not, and will not be, a barrier to increasing access to MLS data because we are only custodians of the data for the real estate associations we serve. This is where ITSO and your local real estate association need to hear from you. 

This has been a year of monumental change in the real estate industry, and there are realtors in Ontario who feel they have not been adequately consulted or heard when they voiced opinions. This is your chance to let your association know if you want them to embrace this opportunity to be pro-competitive and reduce artificial geographical boundaries that currently prevent realtors from accessing all MLS data.

The call for action


ITSO is hosting a second province-wide meeting for the leaders of Ontario real estate associations on Nov. 26 to discuss this solution for increasing access to MLS data. We trust that the industry will come out of this meeting with a plan to provide all Ontario realtors with access to the MLS data they need, which will increase professionalism in the real estate industry and raise the public image of the profession. 

We have heard a plethora of reasons as to why increasing access to data can’t or shouldn’t be done. Some associations claim there would be data security concerns, others point to issues regarding the uniqueness of specific markets, and competition is brought up at almost every meeting. 

But these are simply excuses. 

Realtor associations could change to provide services their members want and need instead of just acting as gatekeepers to data. Isn’t it time that the Ontario real estate industry takes this bold step forward?


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