Realtor group fires back at watchdog

Realtor group fires back at watchdog

Garry Marr, Financial Post  Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Canadian Real Estate Association has accused Commissioner of Competition Melanie Aitken of tarnishing the reputation of CREA’s 98,000 members with her comments about the anti-competitiveness of the industry. Canwest News Service The Canadian Real Estate Association has accused Commissioner of Competition Melanie Aitken of tarnishing the reputation of CREA’s 98,000 members with her comments about the anti-competitiveness of …

The Canadian Real Estate Association has accused Commissioner of Competition Melanie Aitken of tarnishing the reputation of CREA’s 98,000 members with her comments about the anti-competitiveness of the industry, according to a letter obtained by the Financial Post.

In an increasing sign there is slim possibility of compromise between CREA and the Competition Bureau, the Ottawa-based association’s president Georges Pahud, Thursday fired off a two-page letter to Ms. Aitken warning her to stop talking to the media about the case.

“The unfounded allegations made by you tarnish the reputation not only of CREA and its member boards but of all Realtors. CREA’s 98,000 Realtor members compete vigorously every day to help Canadians buy and sell their homes,” wrote Mr. Pahud, who took over the top spot at the real estate group this past week.

CREA and Ms. Aitken have been in a war of words since February, when the federal watchdog filed an application with the Competition Tribunal, referring to CREA as anti-competitive.

The two sides have been battling over access to the Multiple Listing Service system, which is owned in Canada by CREA and responsible for about 90% of residential property sales. This past week, CREA passed new rules by an 87% margin that ultimately would give consumers some ability to decide how much they use a realtor on a deal and allow consumers to conduct parts of a transaction without using a realtor.

Following the announcement of the amendments, Ms. Aitken quickly shot down any idea that they would lead to compromise. Sources indicate a key sticking point is language in the rules that make them subject to local board regulations and future changes by CREA.

“As we explained to CREA as recently as last week in a letter to the president, their rule changes this week are inadequate because they explicitly leave open CREA’s ability at anytime to reinstate anti-competitive restrictions,” Ms. Aitken said, in a statement.

“We have always been interested in a negotiated resolution and that is why we engaged in six months of intensive good faith negotiations with CREA. However, we continue to believe a legally binding consent agreement or Competition Tribunal decision is necessary in order to achieve a lasting permanent solution that will ensure consumer choice and Realtor flexibility to offer innovative service and pricing options,” said Ms. Aitken.

The association has maintained that the amendments passed should be enough to appease the bureau, which has been investigating the real estate industry for three years and negotiating for a compromise since October. Mr. Pahud says in his letter that Ms. Aitken had reacted positively to “the thrust of these amendments” in previous meetings.

“CREA has made it very clear to its member boards that they are not only required to amend their rules as soon as practically possible to reflect the amendments, they also cannot have any rules or pass new rules that violate the principles in the amended interpretations and pillars,” said Mr. Pahud.

With the deadline Friday for CREA to file its defence with the tribunal over the bureau’s accusations, the letter says a compromise is still possible, but also issues a warning that the real estate group is prepared to fight the case.

“CREA is fully prepared to and would welcome the opportunity to deal with this case before the Competition Tribunal,” says Mr. Pahud. “What CREA is not prepared to do, however, is to litigate the case in the media. CREA asks that you refrain from doing so.”

gmarr@nationalpost.com

Posted via web from Toronto Real Estate News | Blog

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