BUSINESS
05/14/2018 08:16 EDT | Updated 05/14/2018 10:59 EDT

Ontario Real Estate Association Blasted In Toronto Real Estate Board Letter For Getting Too Political

The association's chief executive is long-time Tory Tim Hudak.

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak addresses the media in Mississauga, Ont. on June 12, 2014.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak addresses the media in Mississauga, Ont. on June 12, 2014.

TORONTO — The president of Toronto's real estate board warned leaders of the Ontario Real Estate Association, headed by a former Progressive Conservative leader, to "stay in their lane" in an emphatic letter that relays his concerns that the provincial group is stoking fears about the housing market and becoming too political.

In a letter obtained by The Canadian Press, Tim Syrianos tells the president of the Ontario Real Estate Association — whose chief executive is long-time Tory Tim Hudak — that the organization should turn its focus away from political contests and affordability in the Greater Toronto Area, and stick to its mandate to promote the province's housing market as a whole.

"It is misguided and ill-advised to attempt to supplant TREB and overtake our expertise and well-respected voice in our marketplace simply for media headlines and political gain," Syrianos wrote in the letter to OREA president David Reid.

Plan to endorse specific politicians

Syrianos expressed concern about the "Ontario Realtor Party," an OREA campaign that, according to the provincial organization, supports "all political parties and politicians that support the Canadian dream of home ownership."

He also expressed his discontent with OREA's plan to use the campaign to endorse specific politicians on billboard advertisements — something he sees as a direct violation of his board's mandate to promote policies, not people.

OREA is a provincial organization that represents members of Ontario's local real estate boards, of which TREB is the largest. The Toronto chapter accounts for 50,000 of the 70,000 OREA members in the province.

The letter is dated May 7, just days before the writ was dropped in Ontario's provincial election, to be held June 7. It also comes during the busiest real estate season of the year, one that is much slower in Toronto than the same time last year, after a number of since-implemented provincial and federal policies have had a cooling effect on the market.

The negative tone reflected in the recently released commercial could have psychological consequences for consumers and could provoke further unwarranted negative government intervention.Tim Syrianos, TREB

Syrianos lambasted OREA for using members' dues on the Ontario Realtor Party campaign without their knowledge or consent, and asked OREA for a breakdown of the costs.

In his letter, Syrianos detailed concerns about the recently launched OREA ad campaign, called "Keep the Dream Alive," saying it is far too negative and suggests that the dream of home ownership is dying — pointing out it will have a particularly negative effect on the Toronto market.

"The negative tone reflected in the recently released commercial could have psychological consequences for consumers and could provoke further unwarranted negative government intervention," he wrote, adding that he wants details on a $1-million media buy for the commercial in the fall, which coincides with Toronto's municipal election.

"We expect that you will respect our wishes and OREA will not interfere during the fall municipal elections with similar advertising as local advocacy is the mandate of local boards," he wrote.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
A sold sign is shown in front of west-end Toronto homes April 9, 2017.

The campaign comes at a particularly troubling time for TREB, which has estimated there were 32 per cent fewer home sales in the Toronto area in April compared to the record highs recorded in same month last year. Home prices took a 12 per cent hit compared to the same month a year ago. That's bad news for realtors, who earn commission from every sale.

In April 2017, the provincial government enacted measures that included taxes on vacant properties and a non-resident speculation tax, and the federal mortgage regulator introduced a new stress test for uninsured borrowers at the start of the year. Further adding to the chill, mortgage rates have been marching steadily higher since the beginning of the year.

Syrianos expressed concern that OREA is talking too much about the Greater Toronto Area, which he said is a domain best left to TREB.

He pointed out that the local board and provincial association recently discussed the roles of the local, provincial and federal organizations "to avoid mission creep, the duplication of services ... and to ensure that all three levels of organized real estate 'stay in their lanes.'"

'Stop perpetually lowering the bar'

He said Hudak has "aggressively" pursued "speaking and media engagements" on the Toronto housing market, and has been meeting with and posting about specific brokerages in a perceived "endorsement campaign."

"We once again request that you stop perpetually lowering the bar while at the same time demanding for it to be raised," Syrianos wrote.

OREA and TREB declined to comment on the specifics of the letter in a joint statement, writing only that it is "not reflective of the long standing and positive relationship" between the associations, and that they hope to resolve the discussions "amicably and internally."

Hudak could not immediately be reached for comment.