Peace in our time: MLS and feds finally reach truce over real estate listings

Peace in our time: MLS and feds finally reach truce over real estate listings

"By owner" sellers among the winners of the deal (Image: Casey Serin) 

Toronto real estate watchers are abuzz with yesterday’s victory for, well, anybody looking to buy a house. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and the Competition Bureau have finally come to an agreement that will keep them both out of court. At issue is the CREA’s control of MLS, the multiple listing service that is used by sellers and shoppers alike for the vast majority of home sales. In short, the CREA was sticking to a one-size-fits-all business model, while the feds and small realtors were asking for an à la carte option. (Even shorter: CREA wanted to keep selling cassettes in an MP3 world.) Today, CREA announced it was going to lose this fight gracefully.

According to the National Post:

The legally binding deal will allow for home sellers to pay for only those services they want from their real estate agents. Previously, under the rules established by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), consumers had to opt for an entire slate of services, a practice the Competition Bureau deemed anticompetitive.

“Since challenging CREA’s rules, the Bureau’s goal has always been to achieve a long-term solution that would strengthen competition in the residential real estate brokerage services market,” Melanie Aitken, commissioner of competition, said in a release.

The deal caps off more than four years of feuding between the industry and the federal watchdog….

Lawrence Dale, a Toronto-based real estate lawyer who sued CREA, told the Post the industry association buckled in signing the consent agreement.

It’s odd enough that the CREA spent as much time as it did fighting this battle—it was one of those cases where the PR was so bad that even if they had won, they’d lose. It’s 2010—being a company that tells consumers they can’t take only the services they want looks positively backwards. Hell, even cable companies, those icons of great customer service, have à la carte options these days.

What changed CREA’s mind? Well, maybe the concerns about a slumping real estate market convinced some realtors that it wasn’t worth looking like a monocle-and-top-hat-wearing monopolist while home values fell out from under people selling their biggest assets. Or maybe they just realized that times are a-changing. In any case, fees will presumably come down once CREA’s members accept this latest proposal in a few months.

• Competition watchdog, realtors reach a deal [National Post]
• Realtors reach accord with Competition Bureau on listings [Toronto Sun]
• Real estate listing deal opens door for sellers [CBC News]
• Watchdog, real estate association reach agreement [CTV News]
• MLS deal could lead to lower real estate fees [Toronto Star]
Real estate group reaches tentative agreement on MLS listings [Globe and Mail]