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Technology Reinvents Canada's Real Estate Boards

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 15 June 1999 00:00

Technology is changing the face of Canadian Real Estate. From Halifax to Vancouver, real estate boards are amalgamating or forming interconnections over the Internet.

Technology has advanced so quickly that one computer system could serve all of Canada's approximately 70,000 REALTORS®. From wherever they practice in our huge country, Realtors are just seconds apart, thanks to the Internet. Now that physical barriers to amalgamation are essentially gone, the question Canadian Realtors face is "Should we?"

Real estate boards are professional trade associations which provide the Multiple Listing Service or MLS® to Realtors and answer to them. The board's mandate was to preserve exclusive use of the real estate information from their territory. These organizations traditionally put member interests first, making changes that could improve business opportunities and income for their members.

Computers are allowing real estate boards to cut costs and streamline their operations. Technology makes managing large pools of real estate information or databases across a wide area more cost effective than small, local databases.

For instance, the Nova Scotia Real Estate Association (NSREA) has about 1,100 board members. Halifax, the largest board, has approximately 600 members while the smallest board has 30. The practical solution would be one real estate board for Nova Scotia but criteria for amalgamation are complex.

Nova Scotia Realtors are not alone in struggling to resolve technology-initiated organizational issues. Real estate boards in Newfoundland, New Brunswick and other provinces are also debating varying degrees of amalgamation.

Real estate boards realize they cannot survive by putting up barriers to information transfer but inter-board data sharing goes against the original purpose of real estate boards, which was to preserve exclusive use of real estate data. Some boards and members do not want to lose autonomy. Being a big fish in a small pond has its advantages. Downsizing threatens jobs and member convenience. Since most consumers move within a real estate board's boundaries, Realtors do not necessarily want to be charged for access to listings outside their trading area. At the same time, many Realtors hesitate to make it easy for salespeople and brokers from other communities to encroach on their "turf."

While boards across Canada wrestle with the challenges of technology, Canada's three largest real estate boards decided to combine their resources and take a technological leap of faith into the next Millennium. The Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal real estate boards recently formed an alliance to develop technology that will bring e-commerce, or business transactions over the Internet, into real estate. The proposed "electronic real estate marketplace," will provide access to almost half of the Canadian real estate industry and about one-third of the country's real estate transactions.

The Internet has taught consumers and real estate professionals the power of information. They are acquiring software and skills that make transforming information into knowledge easier and easier.

Real estate data on solds and listings is no longer the exclusive domain of the real estate industry. Realtors still training for "the close" have not caught up with the shift in consumer thinking. Brokers and salespeople may not want to change the way they do business but technology may give them no option. The new services that emerge from this massive data sharing will redefine real estate and the role it plays in consumers' lives.

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PJ Wade

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