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What will it take to get one integrated MLS system?

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What will it take? Having been an advocate of comprehensive data sharing for more than 20 years, this is a question I have often asked myself. For many years I, perhaps naively, thought that when the directors of real estate boards and associations realized that for their members to effectively serve their clients, they would need access to all of the listings in the area they serve, the boards would find a way to make this happen.

To be fair, there have been some significant advances over time. In Ontario, the establishment of the Starrs Group by the Realtors Association of Hamilton Burlington and neighbouring boards, and more recently, the establishment of ORTIS (now ITSO) to bring the MLS of 21 boards under one umbrella, have been of tremendous benefit to members, notwithstanding the increased cost and bureaucracy.

What remains outstanding, however, is full and integrated access to the listings of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, not only the largest board in Ontario but in the world. Although some of us work within 30 minutes of Toronto, the only way we can obtain access to these listings is by having a dual membership and paying duplicate fees for membership and other ancillary services.

In order to put a listing on TRREB we either need to be a member of TRREB or a partner board or pay inter-board fees and then deal with significant delays in having the listing and photos processed.

Isn’t it time we dispensed with all of this and instead had one integrated MLS that can provide all the services we require at a reasonable cost?

Many boards continue to find reasons to not partner with TRREB, despite items in their strategic plans that suggest that comprehensive data, access to MLS, partnerships and data sharing are essential for their members. If these boards were to ask their members a simple question, “Do you require access to TRREB data in order to effectively conduct your business?,” the answer would certainly be an overwhelming “Yes.”

What, then, will it take? I have come to believe that apart from a ground-swell revolt of members, what will be necessary is for a major lawsuit by a client who comes to learn that they were not adequately represented by their Realtor and therefore suffered a financial loss.

Imagine a situation where a local Realtor lists a property on their local board and fails to list it on TRREB. Given that TRREB has 64,000 members and that many of them are working with buyers throughout all of Southern Ontario and beyond, is it conceivable or likely that a TRREB member may have the best buyer, willing to pay the highest price for that property? Of course it is. In fact, in some areas outside the GTA, TRREB members are selling 50 to 70 per cent of all listings. This fact alone may already have us exposed legally and is further demonstrated by the example below.

I recently had a listing outside of the GTA that had previously been listed by another Realtor only on the local board (and therefore accessible only to the 10,000+ ITSO members) for $379,000. This listing did not sell. I listed it on the local board and TRREB for $379,000 and sold it a week later in competition for $545,000. Not surprisingly, it was a TRREB member that sold the property.

What if this property had been sold at list price by the initial Realtor and then immediately listed on TRREB and resold for $166,000 more? Can you envision a lawsuit by the seller for inadequate exposure and representation? Is it possible that a local board might have been included in such a lawsuit for not making the listing available to all Realtors? Of course, the argument would be made that the individual Realtor could have taken out a dual membership or interboarded the listing, but the reality is that many do not do this. More chilling is a possible class action suit representing all clients who experienced a loss as a result of this failure to harness essential data or fully expose their property.

A similar situation can exist where a buyer is looking for a property but their Realtor does not have direct access to all MLS listings because they do not carry a dual membership. In fact, there are many instances where buyers have more comprehensive access to listing data through Realtor.ca than their own Realtor has through their local real estate board. How embarrassing is it for a buyer client to ask about a listing that you know nothing about? How would that look in a legal claim?

It is my hope that the directors of real estate boards that continue to look for excuses and weak reasons not to partner with TRREB will change their thinking and truly take the needs of their members into account. Issues of distrust, hesitation, a failure in leadership and other artificial obstacles must be set aside in favour of an astute business decision that is begging to be implemented. This means a partnership of their board with TRREB to provide fully integrated MLS data and allow all of their members to properly expose their listings to the fullest extent possible. We owe it to our members and most importantly, those clients we serve.


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