Did that headline get your attention? It’s not something we’re used to seeing. Typically, if “REALTOR®” appears in a newspaper headline, it’s something like “REALTOR® found guilty of fraud” or “REALTOR® fined for misconduct”. At Information Technology Systems Ontario (ITSO), we’re tired of the media painting all REALTORS® in a bad light and tarnishing the REALTOR® brand because of the actions of only a few. We’re doing something to change the industry.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit. ITSO was born out of a simple concept – putting the needs of REALTORS® first. We did this by bringing real estate associations together to share a single MLS® System and consequently eliminating the arbitrary jurisdictional barriers of trading areas. We started in 2011 with three neighbouring associations and have quickly grown to where we are today with 18 Member Associations and more than 24,000 users of our MLS® System.
The need for access to MLS® data is what brought these Member Associations together. At ITSO, we believe that all Ontario REALTORS® must have access to all Ontario MLS® listings – full stop. This is not about empowering REALTORS® to trade in other areas but ensuring that local REALTORS® have all of the information they need to fulfill their fiduciary duties to their clients. This is why ITSO’s Member Associations share their MLS® data and why we also have agreements with non-member associations to provide access to even more MLS® data. Users of the ITSO MLS® System gain access to the data from 24 real estate boards and associations in Ontario through a single association membership.
However, increasing access to data was just the beginning. The question from there was what experience should REALTORS® have when using our MLS® System?
We designed the system so that when a REALTOR® from any Member Association logged in, they would all have the exact same duties, obligations, and expectations. This required one set of data, the same mandatory fields, one set of forms, and one set of MLS® Rules and policies. The mandatory fields and MLS® rules are critical here, as ITSO prides itself on having high standards for data integrity that our users can rely on. Our MLS® data is comprehensive and accurate, which helps the REALTORS® using our MLS® System to serve their clients.
That said, having a robust system is one thing - having a solid framework to support it is equally critical. ITSO has built a regional professional standards, discipline, and arbitration regime for its Member Associations and users. We did this because we know an MLS® System is not just a database – it is a cooperative system that includes data integrity, professionalism, and cooperation. In order to ensure that the data integrity is high, and that there is professionalism and cooperation, there has to be active enforcement of the MLS® Rules and the REALTOR® Code. That is what ITSO is doing.
After a couple of years of this regime being in place, I can report that ITSO’s committees have found evidence of unethical conduct. Let me give you a few examples. Our committees feel it is unethical for REALTORS® to receive and present pre-emptive offers without notifying all interested parties and updating the listing with the new offer process. They feel it is unacceptable to steal property pictures and descriptions and reuse them in new listings. Our committees take issue with misleading advertising, including ‘coming soon to REALTOR.ca' ads if the property is not placed on the MLS® System in line with consumer expectations. Most of all, however, ITSO simply will not tolerate conduct that is unprofessional and unbecoming of a REALTOR®. By this, I mean harassment of Member Associations’ staff, blatant disregard for the MLS® Rules, making disparaging remarks about other REALTORS®, and bullying of other REALTORS®.
We know REALTORS® have a higher standard and expect more from each other than the regulator expects of them. We cannot wait for anyone else to solve our problems for us, as that will invite additional regulatory oversight. This is why ITSO has taken on the challenge of increasing professionalism through our enforcement efforts.
The foundational belief of ITSO is one of continuous improvement. We know we have
made some mistakes, but we remain committed to doing better. We also have no desire to be “the provincial MLS® System” of Ontario, and in fact, we have never marketed our services to any other association – we have simply responded to their
requests and our professional standards regime is something that sets us apart from operators of other MLS® Systems in Ontario.
ITSO remains open and willing to work with other associations across Ontario to find fair and equitable solutions to resolving access to data and professionalism issues. While there may be a variety of boards and associations across Ontario, at the end of the day, they are all led by REALTORS®, and we need to figure out how to best serve their needs.
In the meantime, ITSO’s committees will continue to do their good work addressing unethical conduct in this industry one REALTOR® at a time.