A Federal Court judge on Sept. 25 allowed a class-action lawsuit alleging home sellers in the Toronto area have been forced to pay artificially inflated commissions for years. The lawsuit alleges major brokers and real estate organizations in Toronto implemented rules that essentially stifled competition for buyer brokerage services, leading to higher prices. But what exactly is buyer brokerage and what is its role in the potentially landmark lawsuit? The Financial Post’s Shantaé Campbell explains.
Barbie is everywhere. Thanks to the hyperactive PR machine of Greta Gerwig’s new movie (talk about Kenergy), she’s inspired Barbified suitcases, pool floaties, rollerblades, hairdriers, rugs, Nike sneakers, Crocs and more. She also has a growing real estate portfolio, which now includes an IRL mansion in Malibu. Since Barbie’s birth, in 1959, she’s lived in over 20 iconic Dreamhouses, all awash in her signature pink. But, while Barbieland may have an abundance of luxury homes up for grabs, in Toronto’s red-hot real estate market, dreams come at a cost. So we asked three real estate agents to estimate how much ten of Barbie’s properties would go for if they were being listed in Toronto neighbourhoods today.
1962 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: Over the decades, Barbie’s tastes have skewed toward luxury, but in 1962 she didn’t even own a hot plate (not that she has much of a reputation as a foodie). This studio barely fits a single bed and a microscopic living room, but it’s jam-packed with trendy decor.
Price of the toy: $400 on eBay
Theoretical neighbourhood: Liberty Village/Fort York
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: Between $425,000 and $450,000. “The tile is a little bit dated, and I don’t know if the yellow walls will be for everyone,” says Kylie Walters, a realtor with the Richards Group. “However, we do have a lot of artistic personalities in Liberty Village who might appreciate that kind of vintage. Still, I’d say it would list for slightly below average.”
Comparable real-life property: This small studio on King Street West is listed for $499,000.
1979 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: By 1979, Barbie had ditched cardboard in favour of her plastic-is-fantastic era. She did keep her single bed—despite the fact that Ken was created in 1961. (Sorry, Ryan Gosling.) Who has time for a live-in partner when they’re balancing careers as an astronaut, a surgeon and an Olympic gold medallist? Her multiple income streams afforded her a small A-frame property with skylights and a Juliet balcony.
Price of the toy: $327 on eBay
Theoretical neighbourhood: Little Italy
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $1 million. “Detached homes are very rare in Little Italy—only six have sold this year, for an average of over $3 million,” says Miranda Caldwell of Core Assets Real Estate. “People want that separation, and Barbie is aspirational in that sense. But, because it’s a one-bedroom, it would go for significantly below that median.”
Comparable real-life property: This two-bedroom, one-bath home on Euclid Avenue is listed for $898,000.
1984 Barbie Dream Cottage
The house: At the intersection of Barbie-core and cottage-core, we find Barbie’s Dream Cottage, complete with a rooftop deck and a barbecue. It may be sans guest room, but sometimes a doll’s got to ditch Skipper and Scooter and invest in some me time.
Price of the toy: $276 on eBay
Theoretical neighbourhood: Muskoka
Estimated cost if listed in cottage country: $1.5 million. “I’m assuming a good interior condition, probably a waterfront property,” says Caldwell. “It’s small, but it’s got a kitschy, well-designed look, which gets people emotionally invested.” Plus its Instagrammable, making it a good option for an Airbnb.
Comparable real-life property: This three-bedroom cottage on Lake Muskoka is listed for $1,795,900.
2008 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: Once Barbie became both a former presidential candidate and a bona fide fashion icon (regularly styled by the likes of Oscar de la Renta), her homes naturally became more opulent. This three-storey property features a spiral staircase, a third-floor listening room and a built-in washer and drier.
Price of the toy: $290 on eBay
Theoretical neighbourhood: Parkdale
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $1.45 million. “A similar property sold in May for about that price,” says Susan Gucci of Susan Gucci Realty. “The spiral staircase is unique for the area, which would add value for sure. It’s also got nice Parkdale touches like the double-door entry and the big, airy windows.”
Comparable real-life property: This three-storey house on King West features old-school touches and is listed for $1,698,000.
2009 Barbie Dream Townhouse
The house: Barbie’s first non-detached property doubles down on her signature colour and is packed with luxury features, including a third-floor hot tub and an ornate elevator—much easier on the permanently heeled foot than stairs.
Price of the toy: Reportedly between $296 and $594
Theoretical neighbourhood: Leslieville
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $1.3 million. “This would be above average for Leslieville, partially because elevators are so rare in this neck of the woods,” says Walters. “It adds somewhere around $45,000 in value. Plus the rooftop hot tub is pretty awesome.”
Comparable real-life property: This two-bedroom townhouse on Alton Avenue is listed for $1,149,000.
2011 Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse
The house: Barbie is, at her core, a California girl, so it was only a matter of time before she added a coastal home to her portfolio. The 2011 Dreamhouse features a stunning ocean view and a small rooftop deck—perfect for looking at the stars and dreaming up another couple decades worth of world domination.
Price of the toy: Reportedly between $275 and $300
Theoretical neighbourhood: The Beaches
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $2.2 million. “I’d assume that Barbie’s house would be right near the actual beach on Woodbine, with a view of the lake,” says Caldwell. “So I’d say north of $2 million, even though it’s only a one-bedroom.”
Comparable real-life property: This colourful property on Woodbine Avenue is listed for $1,649,000.
2013 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: In Barbieland, anything goes, so it makes perfect sense to put an elevator directly in the middle of your home and use your third bedroom as a walk-in closet. Barbie’s three-storey 2013 property also features a built-in fireplace and multiple small balconies.
Price of the toy: $220 on eBay
Theoretical neighbourhood: Rosedale
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $3 million. “Rosedale is a prestigious neighbourhood, and finding a three-storey home is rare in that area,” says Gucci. “The average price is $3.75 million, but in this case you’d probably take a bit of a hit because the elevator divides up the space.”
Comparable real-life property: This three-bedroom home on Edgewood Crescent is listed for $2,099,999.
2016 Hello Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: Introducing Barbie’s first smart home. The elevator and front door are voice-operated and so are the stairs, which turn into a slide. Plus, it’s got a small home office and a cozy reading nook.
Price of the toy: $395 at Walmart
Theoretical neighbourhood: The Annex
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $1.7 million. “You would need someone who’s not your normal buyer and is interested in unconventional features,” says Gucci. One of Toronto’s many tech entrepreneurs might bite. “On the other hand, everyone wants a home office these days.”
Comparable real-life property: This three-plus-one bedroom on Walmer Road features modern finishings and is listed for $2,590,000.
2020 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: Ah yes, the slide that goes directly into the pool—Margot Robbie’s favourite. This three-storey dream home also features an outdoor elevator and a parking garage for Barbie’s scooter.
Price of the toy: $298 on Amazon
Theoretical neighbourhood: Kensington Market
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $3 million. “A detached three-storey home is hard to come by in Kensington,” says Walters. “Never mind homes with elevators and slides. Plus the feature that is most exciting for Toronto homeowners is parking. So it would definitely go for higher than the average property.”
Comparable real-life property: This three-storey townhouse on Oxford Street is listed for $1,799,000.
2021 Barbie Dreamhouse
The house: In her 60-plus years as a real estate investor, Barbie has developed some clear preferences. This house has all her hallmarks: the elevator (now wheelchair accessible), the slide, the ocean view and, obviously, pink everything. It also includes a pool that can migrate from the deck to the front yard and an open-concept third floor that’s being used as a party space. Let’s go, Barbie.
Price of the toy: $289 on mattel.com
Theoretical neighbourhood: Cabbagetown
Estimated cost if listed in Toronto: $1.8 million. “I’d put this below the average price because it’s small for the area,” says Caldwell. “A pool is a rare feature, which can be a bonus for some buyers. But it can also be a liability for families, and you have to stay on top of maintaining it, which gets expensive.”
Comparable real-life property: This 2.5-storey property on Laurier Avenue is listed for $1,929,000.
Donald Trump's real estate fraud trial begins in New York: What you missed. – USA TODAY
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Hong Kong shares drop 3%, dragged down by real estate and energy
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped more than 3% Tuesday, dragged by its real estate and energy sectors.
The benchmark index’s loss of over 500 points is a significant decline, Everbright Securities’ Kenny Ng told CNBC via e-mail.
“On one hand, this was driven by profit-taking following a 400-point rise last Friday,” the securities strategist explained. “Additionally, the US dollar index has remained relatively strong, exerting downward pressure on the Hong Kong stock market.”
The index was last trading down 3.16% after coming back from a holiday on Monday.
Ng highlighted how property stocks were among the largest decliners Tuesday, given the high-interest environment.
Hong Kong listed property stocks were firmly in the red. Country Garden Holdings plunged 7.67%, leading losses in the sector, while Longfor Group Holdings lost 4.82%. New World Development shed 6.69%, and Henderson Land Development traded 6.15% lower.
“Coupled with the relatively sluggish mainland Chinese real estate market, it is expected that this sector will continue to face downward pressure in the short term,” Ng added.
China’s property market has struggled with faltering consumer confidence, as property giants Evergrande and Country Garden were mired in debt problems.
Separately, beleaguered Chinese property giant Evergrande resumed trading in Hong Kong. Shares have been volatile since resuming trade in late August following a 17-month suspension. The stock rose 22% in early trade. The firm’s EV unit also halted trading Tuesday.
Toronto real estate class-action could affect billions of dollars in commissions
What does ‘buyer brokerage’ mean?
This transformation prompted the creation of specific legislations and regulations by provincial governments and real estate regulatory bodies in Canada, such as the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB).
These rules and protocols serve to formalize and oversee buyer brokerage relationships by instituting a framework governing duties, responsibilities, disclosure, consent and confidentiality.
Where do commissions come in?
Nationwide, commission structures for real estate agents and brokerages typically involve a percentage-based commission derived from a home’s sale price, but the rates vary.
For example, if a home sells for $1 million with a commission of five per cent, the total commission amounts to $50,000. This sum, paid by the seller, is generally shared equally between the seller’s and buyer’s agents, each receiving $25,000. However, the precise division can fluctuate, being contingent on the agreement established between the seller and their agent.
Why are commissions split this way?
According to CREA, the organization does not mandate a specific commission split or dictate how commission should be allocated between the listing and buyers’ realtors.
Rule 188.8.131.52 in CREA’s by-laws and rules states: “The listing realtor member agrees to pay to the co-operating (i.e. buyer’s) realtor member compensation for the cooperative selling of the property. An offer of compensation of zero is not acceptable.”
In an email, RECO said commission rates are not fixed. “Commission rates are not set or approved by the Real Estate Council of Ontario, government authorities, real estate associations or real estate boards,” it said.
The splitting of commission between the buyer’s and seller’s agents is nonetheless a well-established practice in real estate designed to promote cooperation, balance and fairness within the industry. The idea is that a shared commission incentivizes buyer agents to introduce more potential buyers to the home, leading to a faster and possibly more profitable sale.
Furthermore, the commission model serves to reduce potential conflicts of interest by eliminating the buyer’s direct financial obligation to their agent, preventing undue pressure on buyers and ensuring accessibility to agent services.
Why is this a problem?
The lawsuit lodged by plaintiff Mark Sunderland against defendants TRREB, CREA and various real estate brokerages contends that an arrangement known as the ‘buyer brokerage commission rule’ has been in effect since at least March 2010.
Sunderland’s lawsuit posits that this arrangement has impeded market competition, compelling sellers to incur costs they would not otherwise bear in the absence of such an agreement. Furthermore, it contends that this setup precludes the negotiation of price and quality of the service.
Barwick says that even without formal policies mandating uniform rates, brokers, reliant on peer co-operation to draw buyers to properties, can help uphold a standard commission rate locally, especially for buyers’ brokers.
Michael G. Osborne, an attorney who specializes in antitrust and competition law at Cozen O’Connor in Toronto, says that from a competition point of view, there is a potential issue pertaining to the mechanism wherein brokerages must become members of CREA and TRREB to operate. Essentially, though Broker A and Broker B have no direct written agreement between them, by aligning with an association’s rules they can be seen by the Competition Bureau to be operating under an indirect “hub and spoke” agreement.
How much is at stake in the lawsuit?
Kalloghlian Myers LLP is seeking compensation for anyone who has sold a home since 2010, though they have not yet put an overall dollar value on what they are seeking.
If every transaction covered by TRREB is affected, the sums involved could be substantial.
According to annual sales and average price figures on TRREB’s website, more than $880 billion in residential real estate changed hands between 2010 and 2022. Five per cent commission on those sales would amount to $44 billion, with as much as half going to buyer brokerages.
Can home sellers participate in the lawsuit?
In a class-action lawsuit, individuals who are similarly affected are generally automatically included, meaning there’s usually no need to actively “get in on” the lawsuit. If the ruling is in favour of the class, affected individuals will be notified about their entitlements. The duration of such lawsuits can vary widely, depending on the complexities involved and the legal pathways taken.
Should compensation be awarded, the distribution could take several years.
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