Does Sharing Home Sale Data Online Actually Pave the Way for Innovation?

28 September 2018
Joshua Chisvin

Allow me to share a little story.

Without naming names, I know several real estate agents who have wanted to post home sales data on their business' password-protected website. For about as long as I can remember, too.

However, it took a multi-year court battle between the Competition Bureau and the Toronto Real Estate Board, also known as TREB, for them and others to land the right to publish the numbers.

Truth be told, they are still working to get the information posted on their websites.

Why so dedicated?

Well, they believe the right to publish the numbers could open the door to increased innovation in the Canadian real estate market.

That the more the barriers come down and the more access improves, the more it reduces people's tentativeness in trying to do, well, more.

At least that's what they claim. And you know what, whether I personally agree or not — that's a topic for another day — they may be onto something.

After all, real estate is one of those odd industries which hasn't seen much change over the years — and years and years.

No, releasing sales data isn't really an innovation.

On the flip side, access to information and how you can use it is really what people are looking for. And, of course, increasing amounts of people are going to find ways to do that.

TREB, which has begun releasing the data, has restricted realtors from scraping, mining, selling, reselling, licensing, reorganizing or monetizing the data.

That said, some experts envision a future where real estate companies will be able to increase their craftiness.

They can already imagine sales representatives using the data to build tools that create timelines of housing sales at a specific address. Or, I've been told, that offer side-by-side comparisons of neighbourhoods or properties.

Still, those would pale in comparison to some of the innovations the American and British markets have seen.

Take San Francisco-based Opendoor, which allows users to request an offer for their home from the company through an app. If the seller agrees to the offer and a commission fee, Opendoor buys the property and then flips it to another buyer.

This allows the original seller to move on to their next home without the hassle of waiting for their place to sell.

Then there's No Agent, a U.K. company that lives up to its name by allowing customers to sell their homes without a broker, as well as Reali, which allows buyers and sellers to complete their entire transaction through an app.

Despite none of the companies having announced plans to head to Toronto, the ability to publish the TREB data could certainly empower international companies to set their sights on Canada.

Purplebricks, a commission-free real estate company, and Zillow, a prominent U.S. listings service, were both preparing for their entry into Canada in the months prior to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision not to hear the home sales data case, effectively forcing TREB to allow realtors to publish the numbers.

TREB had fought the release at three judicial bodies for seven years, arguing that allowing the numbers to be released on password-protected websites would infringe on privacy and copyright.

The Competition Bureau insisted keeping the data under wraps was anti-competitive.

As the fight dragged on, real estate companies watched anxiously and probably realized that they would be remiss if they didn't enter the Canadian market.

Make no mistake, anywhere there is business to be had or a problem to be solved, innovation should be welcomed, at least according to some of the aforementioned agents I know.

Toronto being as immense a market as it is, alongside Vancouver, is probably the most logical starting point for new innovations in real estate.

However, other agents and industry insiders believe the TREB decision will be enough to push American innovators into Canada.

Why's that?

Well, many of them still have plenty more room to grow and markets to conquer in the U.S., but they still expect some novel ideas to come from Canadian companies.

Which means some companies will focus on trends by crunching the data to show what neighbourhoods have markets that are rising and falling, how price projections differ from what properties actually sold for and how investments, zoning and new schools are affecting the market.

But it's not like these things haven't been occurring anyways.

Canadian real estate companies have long toyed with artificial intelligence and maps to lure in customers.

Perhaps this will excite consumers to be more open to using those kinds of tools rather than always using people?

Maybe that's the real question.


  Real Estate