Realtors in some regions are raising concerns about the implementation of the Openn Offers system across Realtor.ca, which is aimed at increasing transparency in the negotiation process.
Operated by the Australian property technology firm Openn Negotiation, Openn Offers has been dubbed by the Canadian Real Estate Association as a digital version of the current negotiation process that will provide realtors, buyers and sellers with near real-time tracking of offers on Realtor.ca.
The Openn offers platform has been operating as a pilot project since last fall but is expected to be launched soon across Realtor.ca.
However, according to Christian Twomey, chair of the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), Openn is moving from a pilot into full-scale adoption “with no opportunity for input by real estate boards.”
Calgary Real Estate Board opposes Openn adoption without input from local boards
In a letter to members dated May 16, Twomey writes that CREA is partnering with a third party “whose commercial interests far exceed the member benefits their business solution offers. To put it in simple language — the Openn and CREA joint effort to bring transparency to the offer management process is contrary to how we do business in Alberta.”
Twomey said CREB is working with the Alberta Real Estate Associations and other boards in the province to require CREA to remove Openn as an option for Alberta listings on Realtor.ca. “We are not satisfied with CREA’s efforts to insert themselves into the transaction,” he writes.
CREA declined an interview request from Real Estate Magazine.
“CREA is currently focused on continued outreach and support of the pilot to participating and interested realtors,” spokesperson Pierre Leduc said in an email. “Until a seller opts to share offer details on Realtor.ca, we won’t have anything new to speak to.”
Realtors’ perspective on Openn
Andrew Carros, chief operating officer at Engel & Völkers Vancouver, says he has no problem with the transparency objective that Openn offers but notes consumers are already supposed to be informed by realtors where they stand in terms of offers.
“Trust is really why the program is coming into play,” Carros said in an interview. “I don’t think enough of the public is trusting our process because they feel like it goes against them quite often.”
Openn is a tool that doesn’t change the process, nor does it solve the multiple offers problem that exists in many markets, he says.
Carros says instead of getting tech that teaches realtors how to do the process correctly; they keep being offered tools that make it easier and faster to do their jobs.
“The pace of business is more of the problem. We need to give people a longer time to make decisions as opposed to making quick decisions on multiple offers all at the same time.”
Trust is being lost with consumers “partly because of the frantic nature of how this business is going,” Carros explains. “We need to look at slowing down a little bit instead of trying to speed everything up and make everything easier all the time. It should be more about training than technology.”
Carros adds there has been little communication with realtors about Openn. “I don’t think most realtors and our organizations even know what it is.” If CREA thinks Openn will be beneficial, “then explain that to us. Let us know why it helps us, and make sure that messaging is correct.”
Openn’s goals for the Canadian market: Ambitious targets and user base expansion
Duncan Anderson, executive director and chief technology officer of Openn and president of Openn North America, says about 60 agents, mostly in Ontario and B.C., have been “onboarded” onto the Openn platform as of mid-May as part of the pilot project and the “soft launch” process has begun. “Properties are actually selling through the platform right now.”
The timing for launch is a few months behind schedule, he says, attributing the delay in part to ensuring there is a sufficient volume of activity before it takes place.
Anderson says feedback from the pilot project has been positive. “There are some agents that are using it on every property. There are some agents that like it but don’t have any listings to really test drive it.”
Openn is aiming to have at least 10 per cent of the Canadian market in two to three years and a target of 25,000 subscribers by the end of 2024. “We’re hoping to build out a fairly sizeable user base (in Canada).”
Openn’s impact in Australia: Lessons for the Canadian market
About 4,000 agents have signed up to use Openn in Australia since it launched in 2017, and about $5.3 billion worth of properties have been transacted on the platform.
Openn’s Australian market share is less than five per cent but hits a 60 per cent share in some markets. (He notes some Australian states are very auction-centric and “auction is not what we do.”) Openn also has several pilots in four U.S. states, including California, and a small presence in New Zealand.
“In the (Australian) markets where we do have material market share, I would say we have had a very significant impact,” he says. “It’s pretty clear that transparency drives efficiency in property sales.”
Anderson says there is evidence that agents in Australia who subscribe to Openn do better than those who do not. For example, when Openn was first released in Western Australia, the area was going through one of the largest property downturns in 20 years. In Bunbury, south of Perth, properties stayed on the market for an average of more than a year.
“It was quite a challenging market, and agents were willing to give anything a go, and some of them latched onto Openn. Those that did saw a dramatic shift, with properties averaging about 70 days on the market versus over a year for the market overall.”
Anderson explains that if a buyer saw a home on Openn in Bunbury and put an offer in, other buyers would see it and find proof there was a demand for the property. “It gave that second buyer confidence to place an offer on the property.”
By providing transparency, “you’re better-informing buyers and sellers as to what buyers think the price or value of your property is worth,” he adds. “The theory of transparency is that you deliver a much more efficient market outcome.”
In Canada, a subscription to the premium version of Openn will cost about $50 per agent per month, but corporate deals or deals with brokerages are possible, Anderson says. It’s possible there will be a basic model with a lower price point.
The premium version will include in-depth analytics. “It would give you, as an agent, an edge. It would give an agent more access to leads than you otherwise would, and it would give you as an agency the ability to “really showcase yourself through the platform.”
According to Anderson, the platform delivers “a much more efficient market for sellers and buyers and therefore much more revenue-generating opportunities through commission for buying and selling agents.”
The potential for better decision-making at the policy level
Anderson says Openn has been working with Quebec real estate boards and that a French language version will be available in the medium term.
He says local boards can leverage data captured by Openn to drive better decision-making at the policy level with potentially major impacts on policymaking. “We think better decision-making at the policy level is good for consumers.”
In terms of data monetization, Anderson says the opportunity “is really biggest for consumers where we return the depth of market analytics back to the market.”
For example, he says Openn provides the opportunity to not only analyze what properties sold for but where buyers missed out, which provides policymakers and developers info about pent-up demand.
Danny Kucharsky is a contributing writer for REM.