MLS rules under fire

Central Alberta real estate agents are anxiously waiting to see whether the federal Competition Bureau’s demands to change Multiple Listing Service rules will succeed, opening the doors to cheaper services for home buyers.

Central Alberta real estate agents are anxiously waiting to see whether the federal Competition Bureau’s demands to change Multiple Listing Service rules will succeed, opening the doors to cheaper services for home buyers.

The Competition Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency, recently filed a notice of application with the Competition Tribunal against the Canadian Real Estate Association because it says that MLS regulations restrict the ability of consumers to choose the real estate services they want, forcing them to pay for services they do not need.

Under rules adopted in 2007, agents are prohibited from offering consumers the option of simply paying a fee for an agent to list a home on the MLS system. Instead, all consumers must buy a whole set of additional services, such as the presentation of offers, when they may only want a few services.

PropertyGuys.com offers a way for buyers and sellers to connect on the Internet and avoid the high cost of commission. It will open a franchise outlet the end of March in Red Deer.

“People are sick and tired of paying so much commission on a service that doesn’t seem that complicated nor take that much time,” said Property Guys.com president and CEO Ken LeBlanc from Moncton, N.B.

The national Realtor body recently announced it will ask its members to make changes to MLS rules at its March 22 annual general meeting in Ottawa. These changes could see home sellers paying a flat fee to a real estate agent in order to get an MLS listing, but they wouldn’t be required to sign an agreement for additional services.

The Central Alberta Realtors Association is concerned with what may happen to MLS, a database of information about houses that are for sale.

Roughly 90 per cent of all residential real estate transactions in Canada involve MLS data.

“We’re cautiously watching what happens as they go forward,” said association president Sandi Gouchie. “It’s a system that was developed for Realtors and that is what we’re trying to protect.”

Consumers are not only paying for MLS listing, but also to receive the expertise and training of the Realtor, she added.

Gouchie said the consumer has choice for cheaper services when they go to these online companies, but those same companies want to turn around and put those listings on the real estate MLS system.

“As Realtors, we don’t have a problem with consumers going to these (online companies),” she said. At least one online company is on the MLS system because it has met Canadian Real Estate Association criteria.

But as Gouchie understands, more online companies want to be able to offer the consumer discounted fees and also have access to the MLS system.

“And by putting their property on the MLS system, they’ll be getting exposure,” she said.

Red Deer Realtor Dale Devereaux said every company he knows of locally charges different commissions and has different programs, so he doesn’t understand where the issue is really coming from.

“I’ve read a couple of articles (on the issue), saying there is no competition,” Devereaux said. “And I am going, ‘Holy man! Why don’t you just try the business for a while?”

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com