Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A real estate revolution

Relaxed rules open door to lower prices, increased competition

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Welcome, Winnipeggers, to the world of the $699 Multiple Listing Service. That's the fee one local real estate agent is charging to list a home for sale on the Canadian Real Estate Association's Multiple Listing Service and it's a sure sign of a revolution that's underway in the real estate business -- one that's opening the door to lower prices and increased competition.

Don Shepert, an agent with Canadian Corporate Real Estate Services, began offering his $699 MLS package this past summer, after the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) relaxed its rules to allow easy access to its MLS service for all types of Realtors, not just full-service agents.

The federal Competition Bureau had been pressuring the association for nearly three years to change its rules. It maintained they favoured full-service Realtors and discriminated against agents who wanted to offer an a-la-carte selection of services to their clients, including a low-cost fee to post their listing on the MLS and nothing else.

Shepert said the CREA/Competition Bureau Settlement, which is expected to be approved by the CREA membership on Oct. 24, should lead to more local Realtors offering limited-service packages to their clients, as well.

However, Winnipeg REALTORS president Claude Davis says there are already a number of local Realtors offering limited-service packages to their clients.

He said these options have been available to Winnipeg home sellers for years, but there was never much of a demand for them because the vast majority of home sellers don't want the stress and hassle associated with selling their home on their own.

And he doesn't see that changing much in spite of the new rule changes. What's more likely to happen is more agents will now advertise the fact they offer limited-service packages, he said, and home sellers will spend more time discussing the different options.

A real estate expert with the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business agreed there will still be a good demand for full-service agents.

Professor Tsur Somerville said what will likely emerge over the next few years is three distinct types of agents: full-service ones; discount agents who offer a bare-bones, low-cost service; and tiered agents who offer a variety of service packages.

Somerville, who is director of the Sauder School's Centre for Economics and Real Estate, said the emergence of more discount Realtors could also change the way buyers' agents are paid.

The long-standing practice has been for the seller's agent and the buyer's agent to split the sales commission, which is paid by the home seller. But Somerville questioned whether discount agents will be willing to split their smaller fees with buyers' agents.

"It could mean the buyer's agent will have to be paid by the buyer," he added.

Somerville said the rule changes could also spell trouble for ComFree and other real estate service companies that cater to consumers who want to sell their homes privately to avoid paying Realtor commissions.

He said if those sellers can hire a discount Realtor and gain access to the MLS for the same price ComFree charges -- $699 here Manitoba -- why would they go with ComFree, which doesn't have access to the MLS.

"They're the model that's most at threat," he added.

ComFree spokeswoman Beth Boyle said it's too soon to comment on how the firm will be affected by the changes.

The sale-by-owner segment of the market is also undergoing some major changes with the recent purchase of three ComFree operations (including the one in Manitoba) and a Quebec-based operator by a subsidiary of Montreal-based Power Corp. That deal created a new national player (bytheowner.com) that has the financial clout to make some waves in the industry.

Shepert also predicts firms like ComFree will begin losing more customers to discount Realtors now that they have easy access to the MLS. He said while the discounters had access before, the old rules made it so difficult most agents decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

 

Thoughts on the tentative settlement

-- Here's what Melanie Aitken, Canada's Commissioner of Competition, had to say about the tentative settlement reached late last month between the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Real Estate Association:

"If ratified, this agreement will ensure that consumers have the ability to choose which services they want from a real estate agent when selling their home, and to pay for only those services. It provides much-needed flexibility for real estate agents by ensuring that they have the ability to offer the variety of services and prices that meet the needs of consumers."

-- Here's what CREA president Georges Pahud had to say:

"CREA has always been of the view that its rules regarding member board MLS systems do not in any way prevent or restrict a broad range of business models. In CREA's view, the consent agreement reflects this reality and would avoid unnecessary and expensive litigation proceedings."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2010 B6

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