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Competition Tribunal orders TREB to release "disputed data," pay $1.8 million in costs

So, after years of arguing about it with the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the Competition Bureau has had its final say: “TREB shall not exclude the disputed data from the VOW data feed.” This means that TREB must remove restrictions on its member agents’ access to data pertaining to properties for sale, including historical listings and sale prices.

That is the “disputed data.” From it a person could learn whether a home had been listed previously, and if so, how long it took to sell and at what price. She could also learn whether the property had been previously listed but not sold, as well as how much commission the agent made or would make if a sale went ahead today. This data must be available “on any device,” including computers, tablets, and smartphones.

In an apparent concession to the TREB argument that it was only motivated by concern for customers’ privacy when it opposed making the disputed data available, the Tribunal orders that sellers may order TREB to withhold certain information from display on the Internet via a virtual office website (VOW). Sellers can still tell their agents not to make public information such as when the home will be empty, what security arrangements are in place, and personal information about the seller and the residents of the home.

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Some restrictions may apply: sellers can tell agents not to make public certain information about the home for sale.

I welcome today’s order by the Competition Tribunal requiring the Toronto Real Estate Board to permit member agents to use and display critical data on virtual office websites. The Bureau remains focused on ensuring that consumers benefit from innovation and competition in the provision of real estate services.

Meanwhile, consumers who want access to the data will need a password-controlled account with a real estate agent. It will not be available to the idly curious who just enjoy browsing real estate listings on the Internet.

The Competition Bureau’s case has always been about competition and innovation in the residential real estate industry. By controlling access to the “disputed data,” TREB stifled competition and prevented realtors from using the information creatively, for the ultimate benefit of consumers, argued the Bureau. The Commissioner of Competition welcomed the Tribunal’s order.

TREB was given sixty days to implement the terms of the order, and ordered to pay about $1.8 million in costs and disbursements relating to the case. TREB has already filed a notice of appeal but has not yet commented publicly on the Tribunal’s order.

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