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Canadians in the housing market will pay less in realty commissions and fees if the federal Competition Bureau has its way.

In a landmark investigation, the bureau has concluded the Canadian Real Estate Association has anti-competitive rules and must change its ways, according to documents obtained by the Star.

Details of a settlement have yet to be decided, but the bureau’s findings are expected to have a profound impact on the real estate industry – by permitting more innovative discount brokers into the market while allowing sellers to list their properties less expensively on the Multiple Listing Service.

With a membership of more than 96,000, Ottawa-based CREA is the largest real estate organization in Canada and represents the majority of the nation’s realtors.

“The Bureau is concerned that CREA’s rules have restricted consumer choice and limited the scope of alternative business models,” says an internal memo by CREA president Dale Ripplinger. “Unfortunately, the Bureau seems to believe that CREA’s rules … create restrictions and barriers.”

The bureau launched its investigation in 2007. Consumers have complained in the past about high realty fees and the need for more affordable services. The vendor of an average-priced $400,000 home in Toronto can pay a commission of as much as 5 per cent, or $20,000.

“This is absolute, total vindication,” says Lawrence Dale, an owner of now-defunct Realtysellers, a Toronto-based discount broker that closed in 2006. “Once they’ve reached their settlement it means that the average guy on the street will be able to choose their real estate services and pay less for them.”

CREA executives met with the bureau on Oct. 23 to hear the long-anticipated results, according to the letter. “At that meeting the Bureau set out the conclusions of their inquiry and their proposed remedy,” says Ripplinger. “The Bureau’s position is that if CREA does not remove these restrictions, the Commissioner of Competiton will initiate an application before the Competition Tribunal.”

Ripplinger says CREA decided not to go before the tribunal, which can administer penalties, but is pursuing a settlement.

According to Ripplinger, CREA rules the bureau wants changed include those that say the listing realtor must act as the agent of the seller and receive and present all offers to the seller, and property information cannot be posted on the Multiple Listing Service without an agent representing the seller.

Changes to these rules would mean offers could be sent directly to the seller without the involvement of the listing agent. Consumers could likely have their listings posted on the MLS for a small fee.

Dale and partner Stephen Moranis claim they were forced to shut down their company because of rules implemented in 2007 by the realtor’s association. Realtysellers offered services such as allowing consumers to post listings for a few hundred dollars on the MLS website, where more than 90 per cent of all home sales are made. The company is suing CREA and the Toronto Real Estate Board.

CREA owns the rights to the MLS.

In a separate lawsuit against TREB, Fraser Beach, another Toronto realtor, alleges the organization terminated his MLS access because he launched a discount brokerage service. A decision by Ontario Superior Court of Ontario Justice David Brown is expected soon.

TREB has argued it didn’t block his access to the MLS for competitive reasons, but simply because he did not follow membership rules.

Both CREA and TREB have denied all allegations. A Toronto Real Estate Board spokesperson says the board does not comment on ongoing legal matters. Officials of the Competition Bureau were not available for comment Sunday.

Although the real estate association has agreed to reach a settlement, Ripplinger stressed “CREA does not agree with the Bureau’s findings and conclusions, either as a matter of fact or as a matter of law.” The association has called an emergency meeting for all member boards in December to discuss rule changes demanded by the Bureau.


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