The CREA president updates the Competition Bureau talks

ripplinger webDale Ripplinger holds the position of CREA president at a defining moment for the national association – trying to negotiate a settlement with the federal government’s Competition Bureau about access to CREA’s trademarked MLS system. Ripplinger spoke with REM Senior Editor Kathy Bevan a week before CREA’s scheduled December 11 meeting with board and association leaders, where CREA planned to present the results of their negotiations to date with the Competition Bureau.

While Ripplinger wasn’t able to share specific details of the settlement being negotiated, he did discuss some of the challenges of working with the bureau to try to resolve their differences and reach an agreement that CREA and its 96,000 members – as well as the bureau – can live with.

REM: What can you tell me at this point about the settlement you’re working on with the Competition Bureau?

RIPPLINGER: We’re still in the process of trying to negotiate a settlement with the bureau. They think they’re right, we think we’re right, but we certainly don’t agree with their position that we’re doing anything anti-competitive, because we certainly aren’t. But the reality remains, that problem is there and we have to deal with it.

The boards and associations will go back to their members and determine how their members feel about the settlement we’re proposing. From there we’ll either reach an agreement with the bureau or it’ll have to go to the Tribunal.

Whatever CREA does, it has to be with membership approval. We have 96,000 members and all of them deserve to be heard, however we accomplish that. We’re not in a position as an executive or as a board of directors to obligate our members to any kind of a settlement without their input. We have to present to them as much information as we can, so they can make an informed decision.

REM: When do you expect to have a formal response back from your membership?

RIPPLINGER: Ultimately, if we’re going to have our members decide, that can only be done in the context of a general meeting. We have a general meeting called for the end of March in Ottawa – that would be the time where we would anticipate making a final decision on the acceptability of any settlement that the bureau would present.

The problem the bureau has is that, yes, they would like it done quicker. And quite frankly, if there was a possibility for us to do it more quickly, I’d like to be done with it too. But we have to work within the context of our bylaws and it just doesn’t allow for an organization like ours to properly get feedback from that many people and convene a properly called meeting much sooner than that.

REM: How much room to manoeuvre does CREA have in trying to negotiate with the Competition Bureau, versus having to accept some things that might not be very palatable for your executive and your members?

RIPPLINGER: The reality is the bureau ultimately will decide whether it goes to a Tribunal or not. They can decide tomorrow they’re not interested in negotiating. To their credit, they have given us an opportunity to speak. There are certain of our rules that they take exception to, whether we agree with them or not. We’re going to try to find some common ground that both they and our members can live with. The bureau has been quite co-operative.

REM: Some aspects of what the Competition Bureau is proposing a Realtor’s role should be in real estate transactions appear to contradict what FINTRAC requires Realtors to do for “know your client” due diligence – has that come up in your negotiations with the bureau?

RIPPLINGER: When we first started talking with the bureau, it wasn’t until a meeting or two in that we realized there was going to be some conflict to some degree between what FINTRAC says a Realtor should do and what the Competition Bureau says we can’t tell a Realtor to do. There is a bit of a conflict there and I’m not sure how we’re going to resolve that. It is annoying when we have one arm of the government saying, “you should be doing this” and another arm of the government saying, “no, you have to do that”.

REM: The language used by some of your predecessors when discussing a potential confrontation with the Competition Bureau over MLS was somewhat combative – that doesn’t appear to be your stance now. Has CREA’s executive changed its mind about using a legal forum to confront the bureau?

RIPPLINGER: We still think we’re right and ultimately, if it goes to a Tribunal, we know we’ve got a very strong case. But when you’re faced with having to go to the Tribunal or working out a compromise that’s acceptable, it’s just good business to look at the compromise.

Even if CREA may not agree with what the bureau is saying, if they’re willing to give us some leeway and if we can live with what they’re willing to accept, it just seems like the logical thing to do. We’re just making the best business decision we can on behalf of our members.

REM: Do you have a sense of what Realtors at the grassroots level are thinking about the MLS policy changes the Competition Bureau is asking CREA to make?

RIPPLINGER: If we had taken the bureau’s initial position to the members, I’m fairly certain that they would not have been accepted. At this point, as we negotiate and try to soften the impact on our members, I don’t really know. There will always be those who just want to fight and think our industry has been pushed around long enough. And there will be others who are going to say, you know what, go ahead and change the rules, it doesn’t really matter to me, I’ve got my business model, I’ve got my clients, nothing for me is going to change so I don’t really care. I think the vast majority of our members are waiting to see what’s going to be said.

REM: What is the best scenario you can see emerging from your negotiations with the Competition Bureau?

RIPPLINGER: The best situation would be that we could negotiate a settlement that would be acceptable to our members. That’s certainly my preference. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not – it may have to change.

But I’ll tell you one thing, this issue with the bureau has demonstrated to me that we’re going to have to do a better job, right from the Realtor on the street right up to CREA, on educating everyone about the value of a Realtor.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion and lack of understanding about the work Realtors do and what’s on Realtors get you on the best real estate website in the world – sure, that’s one thing Realtors do. But we’re also involved in negotiations, from pricing the house right through to doing the marketing and negotiating the sale and sale follow-up. There is so much a Realtor does that is so much more than just putting a house on a website.

The lack of understanding of our industry has become tremendously apparent to me through this whole bureau process – we have to do a better job of letting the public know the value of a Realtor and the value of the MLS system.

Maybe it’s just too complicated a business, maybe people just won’t accept that there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes. We have to be more active or adamant about explaining this to our own clients and it’s got to start at the grassroots, with us doing a better job of educating our own members about educating the public. We have to say to Realtors, “you tell people what you’re doing”, because most of what a Realtor does, even their own clients don’t know.

 Photo: GJ Photo, Regina

Posted: 2009-12-21 07:22:43

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