TREB creates policy for password-protected sites

The board sent the Virtual Office Website (VOW) policy to members and they will have 60 days to provide feedback on it. The password-protected sites are already common in the U.S. and some parts of Canada, but TREB had not offered VOWs yet.

Currently, the Toronto board allows agents to provide information like previous selling prices by e-mail or phone, but not through websites where customers look up information on their own.

“This policy demonstrates TREB’s receptivity and responsiveness to new and innovative business models – improving the level of service for consumers and providing Realtor members with greater flexibility,” said TREB President Bill Johnston.

While providing more information to consumers is viewed as a benefit by the Competition Bureau, which announced it was filing an application with the Competition Tribunal over the matter of VOWs, the Toronto board has been concerned about protection of consumer data.

“Crafting a policy that ensures the safety of consumer information without restricting members’ ability to provide the highest level of service to their customers took great sensitivity and care,” said Richard Silver, the incoming president for the TREB.

The Competition Bureau was reportedly not completely satisfied by the VOW offering because it fell short of a legally binding consent agreement guaranteeing the sites can operate, spokesman Greg Scott told the Globe and Mail.

While some may see the Competition Bureau's move to sue Canada's largest real estate association as a necessary action, Silver told CRE Online the move was nothing but "political posturing."

The Competition Bureau announced on May 27 that it had filed an application with the Competition Tribunal calling on the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) to allow its members to provide more listings information online to their clients.

However, Silver said in July 2010 he and his colleagues began working on a policy for Virtual Office Websites (VOWs), which real estate agents would use on a case-by-case basis to give their clients access to industry-specific data, such as average prices and historical sales statistics.

In February, Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken approached the board, he said, requesting that TREB introduce VOWs by June.

Board members explained to her, Silver said, that the policy would need more time because it had to be approved in committee, sent to TREB's legal counsel, as well as the Real Estate Council of Ontario and then undergo a 60-day membership review before it could ultimately come to a vote in August.

"We told them [The Competition Bureau] that we would have it ready for August, but they decided to go public at the end of May and said that we were not working fast enough," he told CRE Online.

"[Aitken] knew we were working on it, but now it makes it look as if she's in control and this is her idea and she's forcing us to capitulate. That's just not the case. We never heard from the bureau until six months after we put this into the works."

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