Thinking of obtaining past home sale prices to inform your buying decision? If you’re scouting for real estate in the Greater Toronto Area, that won’t be easy, as a great deal of the region’s historical home sales data is controlled by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).
Fortunately for buyers, TREB’s time as a gatekeeper may be coming to an end. Last Friday, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 ruling which ordered the real estate board to end its strict control on some housing data. The decision marked another victory for the competition commissioner, who has long argued that TREB’s practices were stifling competition and innovation.
TREB operates a database of real estate information known as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Some of this data, including the list prices and addresses of residential properties currently for sale, is available to the public on Realtor.ca, a website operated by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).
Real estate agents have access to the full version of the MLS, which contains a lot of additional data about properties that isn’t readily available to the public, including information about past and present sale prices of homes, as well as information on withdrawn or expired listings.
Consumers aren’t allowed wholesale access to this database. Until now, agents have only been allowed to share bits of data privately, via fax and email. This means that most people thinking of bidding on a home have no way of finding out what similar homes have sold for unless they ask an agent.
The competition commissioner has argued that these restrictions impede agents who want to develop new business models built around providing sales information directly to consumers.
Real estate industry insiders told the tribunal that unrestricted access to housing data would allow them to alert clients when prices are dropping in a particular neighbourhood, track how many homes are selling above their listing prices, and provide speedy property valuations. Savvy consumers could use this data to assess the current value of a home without needing to ask a realtor for help.