Two of the three brokers who shut down their online service this week after receiving a threatening letter from the Toronto Real Estate Board have decided to get back in the game.
They say they've concluded they're breaking no rules in doling out the coveted information about what homes are selling for in the city.
It's just the latest development in an ongoing war over the traditional industry's monopoly on vital real estate information.
Toronto detached home price now averages over $1M
TREB gives agents access to recent final homes sales prices that they can offer to their personal clients. But Canada's largest real estate board maintains that realtors cannot widely distribute the information over the internet because of privacy issues.
In a letter sent to brokers last month, TREB told them "to ensure that the [real estate] database is only used for your exclusive and internal use." It also threatened to cut off access to all database information to any broker that didn't abide by its rules.
When broker Fraser Beach axed customers' access to sales prices on Monday, he informed them, "Stay tuned … We will be back."
By Thursday, the broker had resumed his service.
Even though he's distributing daily home sales information to almost 30,000 subscribers, Beach has concluded his service is "compliant" because customers must register to receive the information by email.
"You're doing it for your own purposes, which means it's 'internal' and it's 'exclusive' because it excludes anyone who isn't registered," says the owner of Select/Plan Real Estate.
Beach added that public outcry also motivated him to restart his service.
He says when he cut off access, he received many unhappy emails from customers. "Everybody was saying how sad they were to see it go."
SpringRealty also returns
Ara Mamourian with SpringRealty also plans to resume his weekly home sales emails to hundreds of customers.
The broker says he originally shut it down this week because he wanted to ensure the company wasn't violating any rules.
Now, after doing his research, Mamourian says he's confident he's in the clear because, like Beach, he sends his information via email to registered users.
"TREB has serious issues with people publishing this information online. The big difference with us is people are asking us for the information and we are manually sending it to them just like we would any of our clients."
Mamourian plans to continue his service later this month after he fine-tunes some of the details.
Zoocasa won't budge
Zoocasa, however, appears to have a different interpretation of TREB's letter. The virtual real estate company, owned by Rogers Communications, will not resume its service, emailing thousands of registered users information of recently sold homes.
"We will always work within whatever the regulatory requirements are and in this case TREB says not to do it. Whether we were within our rights or not to provide that information, we'll keep to ourselves," says Zoocasa's broker of record, Darryl Mitchell.
CBC News asked TREB if brokers who register users and send out sales information by email are breaking the rules. The board did not directly answer our question.
But CEO John DiMichele said in an email that "TREB has agreements and rules in place, but more importantly, there are laws and regulations … that apply with which TREB and REALTOR® Members must comply."
"TREB will continue to work to protect the personal information entrusted to it and its REALTOR® members."
Mitchell says Zoocasa hasn't written off sending out sold information in the future, but prefers to wait for the outcome of an upcoming Competition Bureau hearing.
The next battleground
In an ongoing battle, Canada's Competition Bureau is to resume its case against TREB in May. The bureau wants to break the board's monopoly over vital real estate information like sales stats. It's a test case that could affect other real estate markets in Canada.
The Competition Bureau would not comment on TREB's threatening letter.
But spokesperson, Greg Scott, told CBC News in an email, "TREB's anti-competitive behaviour continues to restrict potential home buyers and sellers from taking advantage of a greater range of service and pricing options when making one of the most significant financial transactions of their lives."
Home buyer Jeremy Rozen was one of those happy to take advantage of this option. He found that having access to a wide range of final homes sales information helped him during a recent purchase.
"It allowed us see where the bidding wars were headed and average percentages over asking, so when we came in to make a bid, we were going into it informed," he says
He's also happy his weekly information emails from SpringRealty will soon return. "If you can call a Realtor and get that information, then there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get it on your own."Suggest a correction