Fractured access to MLS data in Ontario has long been an issue plaguing realtors, and Information Technology Systems Ontario (ITSO) says it’s time for that to change.
The not-for-profit corporation is calling for province-wide access to MLS data and will be hosting an all-day meeting in Toronto on Fri., May 19, to bring boards together to find a solution.
Allison McLure, executive director of ITSO, says, “(Realtors) are licensed in the province of Ontario, so realtors should have access to all data in the entire province, full stop.”
ITSO currently manages MLS listing content for 18 member boards and associations in Ontario while providing access to 24 associations through data-sharing agreements.
Fragmented systems and rising costs
McLure adds that in order for realtors to fulfill their fiduciary duties to their clients, “it’s not good enough to have 50 per cent of listings or 90 per cent of listings. You have to have all of them.”
McLure points out that the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) and Ottawa have their own regional systems, while Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton, and Windsor-Essex operate separately. She adds that despite some reciprocal agreements, collaboration beyond individual groups can be limited.
Realtors, as a result, are burdened with paying additional subscriber fees, interboard fees or obtaining dual memberships to access data outside their home boards, and the costs continue to rise. But the issues go beyond the financial, McLure affirms.
The ITSO executive says consumers often turn to virtual office websites or platforms like Realtor.ca because they perceive them to offer a more comprehensive range of listings compared to what their realtor can provide through an MLS system. McLure believes this reflects negatively on the entire real estate industry and insists that realtors should be able to offer their clients access to all listings.
“Without access to a comprehensive data set for the entire area, realtors face challenges when it comes to pricing properties and conducting comparative analyses.”
-Tyson Hinschberger, president, GDAR
Tyson Hinschberger, president of the Guelph and District Association, an ITSO member association, acknowledges the benefits of accessing data in different municipalities. However, Hinschberger notes that fragmented associations across the province impede realtors from easily transacting in different markets.
He adds, “Without access to a comprehensive data set for the entire area, realtors face challenges when it comes to pricing properties and conducting comparative analyses.”
Ken Dekker, president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board, says that while his board is not currently an ITSO member, he’s in favour of an agreement that gives Ontario realtors access to province-wide data.
Dekker explains, “Our responsibility to a client is to find any property that may suit their requirements that they’ve given us. And if that requires being members of multiple boards to search for the data, then that’s something under our fiduciary responsibility we need to do.” He is confident that one source of data would solve that issue.
The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) operates its own MLS and has partner boards in the GTA and surrounding area. When contacted for this article, a representative for TRREB stated that the board has no comment at this time. However, they confirmed their attendance at the upcoming meeting.
In total, McLure confirms representatives from 28 real estate boards and associations have agreed to attend the meeting out of the province’s 34.
Challenges and complexities
Different boards and associations in Ontario hold varying philosophies when it comes to data sharing, McClure explains. Some are more restrictive, while others are open to the concept.
Reaching an agreement among the boards for data-sharing is the initial hurdle, with several more challenges to overcome before implementation.
McLure highlights the complexities involved in opening up access to data across different real estate systems. Aligning data from different MLS systems poses technological challenges that cannot be resolved immediately, according to McLure.
Dekker also raises concerns about data security. He emphasizes the need for data agreements to prevent misuse or unauthorized access, as the data is owned by the local boards.
Enlisting experts to help foster collaboration
To facilitate Friday’s session, ITSO has enlisted Matt Fullbrook from Fullbrook Board Effectiveness. The meeting will also feature a presentation by Sam DeBord, chair of the Real Estate Standards Organization.
Hinschberger is optimistic about the potential for an open and productive discussion between stakeholders. He adds, “In the spirit of collegiality and collaboration for the benefit of the consumer, I think it’s good to have those dialogues and see if we can find common ground on some of the issues that may have plagued things in the past.”
The meeting is a step in addressing the fragmented access to MLS data in Ontario. McLure says ITSO’s goal is to create a solution that allows realtors to access comprehensive data sets across the province.
By removing the barriers and limitations posed by regional systems, she believes realtors can improve their bottom line and better serve their clients.
Jordana is the editor for Real Estate Magazine. You can reach her by email.