Cliff Peskin

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Nov 13, 2009

According to the National Post article ‘Realtors edge toward MLS Alternative‘, Canada’s four largest real estate companies are close to an agreement to share their listings. Century 21, Royal LePage, Re/Max Ontario, Atlantic Canada and Coldwell Banker are hammering out an agreement under which they can post each other’s listings to their sites.

On the surface the incentive for shared listings is simple; it makes the websites of these four companies more attractive to purchasers as they will now contain a larger scope of listings. As summed up by Forest Hill Real Estate Sales Rep Jordan Grosman, “Some purchasers are unaware of MLS and are more inclined to use search tools on real estate company websites such as Century21.ca or Foresthill.com. It’s therefore advantageous for these companies to provide as many listings as possible to discourage users from leaving their sites and finding homes elsewhere.”

To gain additional understanding of why these changes are happening now as opposed to a decade ago we must look at three trends and events playing out in real estate across North America. The first is how the Internet has radically transformed access to real estate listings in the United States versus its slower change in Canada. The second is how Zoocasa is being sued by Century 21 for ‘scraping’ its listing data. The third is how Canada’s Competition Bureau has blasted MLS and demanded it change its anti competitive structure.

In the United States, real estate listings have been opened up via the Internet to the public. Consumers are free to browse listings on sites such as Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and others. Real estate professionals have thereby lost their total control over home listings and consumers have been afforded ultimate choice.

In September, the Financial Post reported that Century 21 was suing Zoocas for “scraping” (copying) Century 21 listings and posting them to the Zoocasa site. Roger’s Zoocasa is a real estate website attempting to displace MLS as the public’s ‘go to’ place for real estate listing information. Should Zoocasa succeed in its mission it will mean Canada’s real estate industry, with regard to open access to listings data, will become more like the United States with sites such as Zoocasa receiving more web traffic than MLS or any traditional brokerage.

In early November, Canada’s Competition Bureau concluded that CREA and MLS rules were anti-competitive. For starters, they have demanded that MLS rules be changed to allow for greater access to listings by consumers.

So, by considering the above items we can conclude that change is coming to real estate listings in Canada and the Canadian model is evolving in a similar style to the United States, albeit slower. Century 21 may sue Zoocasa but the brokerage is fighting an uphill battle because Zoocasa is just one of many sites that will “scrape” and repost listing info. With MLS under pressure to provide greater access to consumers the walls surrounding proprietary listing data are coming down even faster.

Although Canada’s largest real estate companies may not be thrilled about these changes, their plan to share listing data with each other is proof that they are cognizant of the impending march to open access real estate listings. They realize that sites such as Zoocasa or Google Base Real Estate or a new open access MLS will prevail and they themselves have no choice but to compete.

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