The Quebec Professional Association for Real Estate Brokers (QPAREB) is currently facing an investigation by the Competition Bureau on its real estate data-sharing practices.
Marc Lacasse, the president of the QPAREB board of directors, assured members in an unlisted YouTube video that the organization complies with the laws of Quebec and respects client data confidentiality.
In the video posted Feb. 24, Lacasse addressed members in French while English subtitles were provided.
The president emphasized that Quebec is one of the most regulated provinces in Canada in this area. He also stated that QPAREB is collaborating with the Competition Bureau and has 90 days to provide the information required.
Competition bureau investigation
On Feb. 15, the Bureau obtained a Federal Court order for access to all information that could advance its investigation.
The Bureau is investigating whether QPAREB has engaged in certain practices that harm competition in the real estate brokerage services market or that prevent the development of innovative online brokerage services in Quebec.
In a statement, the Bureau said it had obtained a court order to advance an investigation into conduct by the QPAREB and its subsidiary, Société Centris, related to real estate data sharing restrictions.
The order requires QPAREB to produce records and written information relevant to the investigation.
“It is important to understand that the investigation is about the sharing of data internally, not with non-member companies or the general public,” Lacasse said to members. “As you know, data entered by members into the broker-agency collaboration system is routed according to their instructions.”
What is the bureau concerned about, what are they looking for, and what is the risk?
Lacasse addressed three questions for members: What is the bureau concerned about, what they’re looking for, and what is the risk if it’s determined that QPAREB’s practices are anti-competitive?
Lacasse explained the Competition Bureau is investigating whether QPAREB’s practices of sharing residential data could have limited the ability of certain members to offer new brokerage services.
However, Lacasse believes that QPAREB’s practices comply with applicable laws and have not prevented members from offering innovative brokerage services.
The Competition Bureau is particularly interested in understanding how real estate data sharing works, specifically looking at “all relevant information relating to the sale or purchase of a residential property and its characteristics,” including information for active and previous listings.
Lacasse emphasized that there is still a long way to go before the Competition Bureau determines whether QPAREB practices comply with federal legislation.
In the event that the Competition Bureau determines that QPAREB’s practices are anti-competitive, it may negotiate with QPAREB to modify its policies.
Though if the two parties disagree, officials may ask the Competition Tribunal to issue an order requiring QPAREB to modify its policies. He explained, “Technically, the Act provides for the payment of a penalty. However, these situations are rare.”
Competition Bureau and TRREB
In 2016, the Competition Tribunal ruled in favour of the Bureau in its case against the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board relating to anti-competitive conduct that restricted real estate brokers’ and consumers’ access to historical home sales data and novel real estate services.
Erkan Yönder, an associate professor of Real Estate and Finance at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, said data sharing is important.
“There is more and more data out there . . . Today there is more and more data available for real estate. This is a very relevant topic currently, and things are changing,” he said, adding that around the year 2000, the industry started to see more and more real estate data available.
“Think about it. You hold some private data. You are the only company or investor that has the data. You can benefit from this because no other entity in the market… hold the same data. That specific data you hold, you can make informed decisions, more sophisticated, more informed decisions.”
Over the years, data started to be shared on a wider scale and became more public, and in the end, more publicly available data brought more transparency into the real estate market, said Yönder.
The Competition Bureau did not respond to a request for an interview, and QPAREB declined to grant an interview on this subject, stating that the Bureau is required by law to conduct its work confidentially.
Mario Toneguzzi is a contributing writer for REM. He has more than 40 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald, covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer for several national publications and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named in 2021 as one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the World by PR News – the only Canadian to make the list.
I’m curious why the competition bureau has not looked into the Sarnia board. I understand they are the only CLOSED board left in Canada. I live less than an hour away and cannot access any info in their area