UPDATE September 27, 2019 – 4 days after this blog was published, shared and endorsed by hundreds of REALTORS, the Toronto Real Estate Board sent out a memo to put a stop to this practice. Well done TREB.
It started out innocently enough.
I was searching in the MLS, looking at historical neighbourhood sales to help me determine the value of a home that one of our Buyers was interested in purchasing. As I clicked through dozens of homes, I noticed that some of the properties I wanted to use for comparison had no photos – and a lot of them had no property details. And these photo-less, information-less properties? All listed by the same west-Toronto team. It was especially strange because this team always advertises their listings with photos. And complete information. What the heck was going on?
So I turned to a Facebook group I run for GTA agents and quickly found out what was happening:
It seems that a number of Toronto teams have adopted the anti-competitive habit of stripping out the photos and data from their listings on the MLS the moment they know they are sold. The goal in manipulating the data is to handicap their competitors and their competitors’ clients by hoarding important data…while of course, continuing to benefit from the MLS by using everybody else’s data.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, my friends.
And in typical copy-what-everybody-else-is-doing-REALTOR-style, other agents and teams are retaliating by removing their photos and info too, leaving us with an even more incomplete MLS with serious data integrity issues.
So how do they do it?
The offenders skirt the system by taking down photos and property descriptions after a property is sold, but before it’s reported that way on the MLS. It’s a work-around to the rule that prevents REALTORS from changing listing information after a home is sold – a rule that’s in place to protect the integrity of the data that REALTORS, appraisers, Buyers and Sellers depend on.
Some of the offenders will argue it’s about privacy – that the Buyer or Seller don’t want that information on the MLS.
I call BS. This isn’t about privacy.
Only a tiny percentage of home Buyers and Sellers request the removal of the photos from the MLS. Not every single client from one team. And not every single time. In fact, it’s actually impossible to strip the descriptions out of the listing completely – it’s all recorded in the historical file.
Pure and simple, this is an anti-competitive attempt to hoard data and not cooperate – the very foundation of real estate in Canada. In their (small) minds, they probably think this will help their business grow and they’ll be even more important ‘Neighbourhood Experts’.
I guess if data is all you’ve got to offer, then you need to hoard it.
I guess if you’re still selling real estate like it’s 1992 and you’re desperate to remain relevant, screwing your colleagues and the very Buyers and Sellers you seek to serve seems like a good idea.
So why should Toronto Buyers and Sellers care?
- The value of your home – or the one you hope to buy – isn’t accurate when it’s based on incomplete data. That won’t help you as a Seller and it won’t help you as a Buyer.
- It’s impacting appraisals for new mortgages and refinancing. Appraisers have expressed their concern that they no longer have reliable price data. That’s a huge deal if you’re looking to refinance your home.
- Be cautious. If you’re working with one of these agents or teams, be suspicious about their motives and ethics. Ask to see electronic copies of their recent listings…are the photos missing? Work with an agent who puts you first, not themselves.
Cooperation among real estate agents works – IF everybody is cooperating. If agents don’t want to share their data, they shouldn’t be entitled to use the data gathered by everybody else.
Manipulating MLS data is pathetic behaviour and it needs to stop. TREB – as the caretaker of the data….you need to do something.
So who are the REALTORS manipulating the data?
If you’re wondering which teams I’m talking about…REALTOR rules prevent me from naming and ‘disparaging’ them by sharing facts – because THAT rule – the one that protects shifty REALTORS from being revealed for who they really are – is one that does exist and does get enforced.
Background information on the Toronto MLS:
The Canadian real estate industry is almost as old as Canada itself. Back in 1888, the first local real estate board was formed in Vancouver and by 1951, agents were ‘cooperating’ – or working together, for the benefit of the client. By 1962, the ‘Photo Co-op System’ became the MLS – the Multiple Listing Service that now houses decades of historical home data including prices, photos and details about properties. The Multiple Listing Service allows agents to:
- Advertise homes for sale to other REALTORS and cooperate on getting them sold (meaning they share the commission)
- Let the public know a property is for sale via a direct feed to realtor.ca
- Assess the current value of a home for Buyers and Sellers, using the historical database and photos.
- The MLS is tightly regulated and agents are held to high standards in maintaining the integrity of the data.
North American real estate is based on cooperation and the MLS.