Toronto-area homebuyers could be forgiven in 2016 for assuming the doors had been thrown open to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s sales data in the wake of a landmark ruling by the Competition Tribunal.
After appeals by TRREB to overturn the ruling — which found that the board’s restrictions on data use were anti-competitive — were turned down by the Federal Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada, Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell wrote in 2018 that Toronto homebuyers should soon have access to a more transparent market via websites with historical sales data, online tools and innovations like heat maps to track trends by neighbourhood or condo building.
However, after more than two years Toronto’s real estate industry is still struggling to navigate TRREB’s data sharing requirements, with some brokers and third-party operators finding themselves in the board’s compliance crosshairs.
Real estate listings site Bungol fell afoul of TRREB in August over an alleged breach of the board’s data rules. The home listings search engine said in a Nov. 4 blog post it had lost 95 per cent of its web traffic after TRREB suspended its data access, and now says its future is in “the hands of fate” as it awaits the results of a Dec. 14 professional standards hearing.
Bungol’s website, which used to feature the slogan “15 years of data, updated every 30 minutes,” has not been updated since early August.
TRREB sent a memo on Nov. 25 to websites such as Realosophy, Zoocasa and HouseSigma, warning that it was undertaking a “comprehensive review” of members’ password-protected websites after it discovered that certain web development companies were being given unauthorized data from brokers, or obtaining the data by misleading means.
The memo states that brokers caught releasing the board’s data for unauthorized purposes would face fines of up to $50,000.
Despite the tribunal’s 2016 ruling, it’s clear that the fight over TRREB’s data is far from over, says Subrata Bhattacharjee, a lawyer at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
“You have this skirmishing between the commissioner and TRREB,” he says. “Equally vigorously, the local brokers on the other side are trying to figure out the limitations of what the outcome of the litigation actually is. It’s not surprising that the parties are threatening loggerheads, even now.”
According to lawyer Brian Facey, who represents TRREB and acted for the board on its competition case, the current climate is a result of unrealistic expectations.
“There was a thought at the beginning of all of this that all of the data that TRREB has would be just available for everybody to use, and give away, and monetize, and sell to third parties and use for advertising and all sorts other purposes,” he says. “It’s been one of those things that from day one has been so complex, that the public’s tried to understand it, media’s tried to understand it, the parties have tried to understand it and sort of work through it. It’s not surprising that issues arise from time to time.”
After TRREB’s November memo, some brokers pushed back over what they perceived as threats of severe punishment for a rule they had never heard of.
TRREB issued an update on Nov. 30 which clarified that two-year-old data can be on password-protected websites, but must be requested specifically by brokers providing services to real estate clients. John Pasalis, founder and president of Realosophy Realty, says his brokerage is able to comply with the rest of the corrected warning letter.
“If the home you want to buy has sold five times in the past seven years, would that be something the average buyer would want to know? Likely. That was the only problem,” says Pasalis, “I was not entirely surprised, TRREB does things like this every now and again. I pushed back on their legal argument last week and they ultimately changed course.”
Zoocasa’s chief executive, Lauren Haw, says her brokers were in compliance with TRREB, but that it’s not a broker’s role to withhold information that might help a homebuyer make an informed decision.
Although brokers seem to be at peace with the most recent resolution from TRREB, Toronto real estate agent Scott Ingram said the board’s heavy-handed behaviour is considered a bit embarrassing and old-school in the industry, and projects a sense of secrecy to homebuyers.
“It’s kind of like saying the only place you can buy liquor is if you go to a bar,” says Ingram. “Or you have to go to sign up to a website, instead of having anybody go to the LCBO or the Beer Store. Now they are saying, ‘Oh, you can have stuff at home, since the courts made us. But you can only have Molson Canadian.’”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020.
Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press
Home buyers face higher costs after Dye & Durham hikes real estate software prices 400%, lawyers warn – The Globe and Mail
Stock market darling Dye & Durham Ltd. (DND-T) is facing an outcry from Ontario lawyers after hiking prices charged to them by the Toronto technology company’s most recent acquisition.
In December, D&D acquired DoProcess, Canada’s largest provider of real estate practice-management software, from Teranet Inc. On Jan. 11, D&D informed real estate lawyers across Ontario it would raise prices a week later on The Conveyancer (which D&D has renamed Unity), a DoProcess program law firms use to process transactions, by more than 400 per cent – to $129 per deal, from $25.
That caused an immediate uproar. The Globe interviewed six industry participants who said the move would force higher costs on nearly every home buyer in the province. “I actually called them because I thought [the size of the increase] was a typo,” said Katlyn Purdon, an administrative assistant at Purdon Law in Mississauga. Ms. Purdon estimates The Conveyancer has a 90 per cent market share in Ontario
Ms. Purdon said the Law Society of Ontario requires law firms to pass on transaction fees to their clients, which means the price increase will hit the wallets of anyone buying, selling or refinancing a home in Ontario. She estimated that total fees charged by her firm for using The Conveyancer would balloon to $65,000 per year from $10,000.
Ron Butler, a Toronto-based mortgage broker, said “Ontario consumers have had enough of a beating for the last year” as home prices rose. “They don’t need another cash grab … particularly at a time like this. It’s simply vile to increase the price by five times.”
Adam Peeler, a spokesman for Dye & Durham, said in an e-mailed statement: “The company believes that its software is priced appropriately to reflect the significant value that it provides to its customers.”
The price increase has pushed some lawyers to seek other options, but moving to another system presents challenges, particularly for small firms that lack IT departments. Toronto lawyer Avi Charney said there is a competitor, LawyerDoneDeal Corp., but he considers its Realtiweb conveyancing product to be inferior, and he has built his practice on DoProcess.
The price hike prompted the Federation of Ontario Law Associations to ask DoProcess in a Jan 18 letter to “reconsider this drastic measure,” after it heard from “a very large number of our members … expressing frustration and outrage.”
In fact, price hikes are a core part of D&D’s growth-by-acquisition strategy.
Customers contacted by The Globe and Mail say sharp price increases followed D&D’s purchases of companies such as B.C.-based ESI Software, which sells the ESILaw practice-management and accounting software platform for lawyers, corporate search and registration provider Cyberbahn and registration services provider KVP Registration Services of Alberta.
In September, 2019, for example, KVP told customers it would increase prices the following week, including an 80 per cent hike for court filings – to $18 per filing from $10. Almost immediately, clients contacted rival Eldor-Wal Registrations looking to switch, said Luke Manca, Eldor-Wal’s managing partner. Since then, Eldor-Wal’s client base has increased by 10 per cent “within certain service streams” as KVP clients moved over, he said
D&D’s strategy is to buy companies that provide critical software-based services to law firms – and that have little competition and high switching costs – and then hike prices, which the firms then pass on to clients. That “reduces the likelihood that customers seek out new vendors once the solutions have been implemented, regardless of cost,” the company stated in its prospectus last year.
Julia Ibanescu, a family lawyer in Red Deer, Alta., was using ESILaw, until D&D, which acquired it in August, 2018, and announced a price increase last spring. She said her ESILaw costs would increase 42 per cent, and the company gave her 30 days to sign a three-year contract.
Ms. Ibanescu said D&D’s customer support team wouldn’t answer her questions, but D&D CEO Matthew Proud replied to her LinkedIn post complaining about the price hike.
“ESILAW is by far the most feature rich Canadian focused accounting product in the market,” he wrote. “Most important, ESI STILL HAS CHEAPER PRICING than [rivals] Cosmolex and Clio. We’re just asking for a fair (and cheaper] price for the best product in the Canadian market.”
Ms. Ibanescu wasn’t satisfied and switched to another service. “Every single transaction that we have is recorded in ESILaw,” she said. “To change from one program to the other was Titanic.”
BMO Capital Markets analyst Thanos Moschopoulos said there’s little customers can do as D&D “seems to have significant pricing power in many of its market segments.” He noted after D&D bought a similar e-conveyance software company in B.C. and jacked up prices, lawyers “grumbled … but ultimately the pricing stuck. I think the same will hold true with DoProcess.”
D&D’s consolidation play is part of an industry trend that has played out “repeatedly over the last five years,” led by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners and Australia’s LEAP, said Jack Newton, CEO of Burnaby-based legal practice-management software provider Clio, which competes with ESI Law.
“With each acquisition we see a pretty common playbook, which typically involves dramatically scaling back customer support, research and development investment – and therefore meaningful product updates – while increasing prices in a hyper-aggressive way,” Mr. Newton said. ”I think the grim calculus these companies often make is that they can get away with aggressive pricing increases. These are difficult products to switch away from.”
He added industry consolidation “has benefited Clio in a material way,” as 25 per cent of new customers came from legacy providers.
Mr. Proud and his brother, Tyler, acquired D&D in 2016 through their online real estate conveyance software company, OneMove Technologies. Their company assumed the Dye & Durham name and proceeded to buy another 14 real estate software firms.
D&D halted its original plan to go public in fall 2018, but met with a warm response last year during its second run at the public markets last year as tech stocks took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $150-million IPO last July was 13 times oversubscribed and the stock nearly doubled its issue price of $7.50 a share on its first day of trading. The stock climbed to $40 last month on news of the DoProcess acquisition, but fell 7 per cent on Tuesday to $39.41.
D&D follows a long line of Canadian industry consolidators that have won Bay Street’s support. Some have thrived, including retail giant Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., while others, such as drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals Internatlonal Inc. (now Bausch Health Cos. Inc.) have foundered.
The tech sector’s consolidators have generally fared well. Constellation Software Inc., Open Text Corp. and Lightspeed POS Inc. rank among Canada’s most valuable companies.
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In fact, price hikes are a core part of D&D’s growth-by-acquisition strategy.
Canadian Real Estate Sentiment Survey: Confidence wanes in Q4 | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange
After plummeting in the second quarter and improving in Q3, confidence in the Canadian real estate market waned slightly heading into year-end, according to the Q4 2020 REALPAC/FPL Canadian Real Estate Sentiment Survey.
The survey captured the thoughts of a variety of industry leaders, including chief executive officers, presidents, board members and executives from a broad set of sectors, including owners and asset managers, financial services providers, and operators and related service providers.
The quarterly survey measures executives’ current and future outlooks on overall real estate conditions, access to capital markets and real estate asset pricing. Survey respondents represent the retail, office, industrial, hotel, multifamily, residential and senior residential asset classes.
Data was collected in October 2020 and the report includes anonymous excerpts from interviews with participants as well as the survey data.
When asked to compare current market conditions to the situation a year earlier, 32 per cent of Canadian respondents believed they were much worse.
Forty-two per cent said they were somewhat worse, 10 per cent thought they were about the same, 14 per cent offered that they were somewhat better and two per cent opined they were much better.
The sentiment in the United States wasn’t far off from that.
The Canadian results to the same question in the third quarter showed: much worse 13 per cent, somewhat worse 60 per cent, about the same 15 per cent, somewhat better 10 per cent and much better two per cent.
General market condition sentiment
Uncertainty remained in the Canadian real estate market moving into 2021, though there was some optimism about vaccines reducing COVID-19 concerns.
Three per cent of Canadian respondents thought general real estate market conditions will be much worse in a year.
Twenty-four per cent said it will be somewhat worse, 18 per cent responded it will be about the same, 47 per cent believed it will be somewhat better and eight per cent opined it will be much better. Those results are relatively close to those from the U.S.
A selection of quotes from respondents:
– “I would describe market conditions at a lower level in Q4 2020 versus 2019, but still stable and reasonable. There’s high liquidity in the marketplace for mortgage debt and refinance opportunities are very solid. We are seeing fewer transactions as there are not as many sales. Refinancing or repositioning financing and development financing are all quite strong.”
– “The next 12 months will see a tremendous number of small businesses fold and the result will be much higher vacancies, lower rents and higher cap rates. Overall, 2021 and 2022 will be very difficult for commercial real estate; however, the downturn will be good for transactions in the later part of 2021 and much of 2022.”
– “(There are) more unknowns today than at any given time in the last 20 years. With the exception of hospitality and retail, private markets are slower to react as players in the market try to digest. (There’s a) slow realization that previously unassailable sectors like office and residential will be impacted, but the extent is a question mark. If unemployment remains where it is for a period of time, and government support ebbs, it will have an impact across the spectrum. The biggest factors in a recovery are treatments/vaccines for COVID-19 as well as continued government support and a subsequent stimulus/recovery plan.”
Asset values sentiment
Transaction volume remains low, resulting in inconclusive asset valuations. Distressed transaction activity has yet to emerge in Canada.
Six per cent of Canadian respondents believed asset values will be much lower in a year, 29 per cent said they will be somewhat lower, 26 per cent thought they will be about the same and 39 per cent stated they’ll be somewhat higher.
No respondents believed they will be much higher. All of those numbers closely mirror those from the U.S.
Here are some quotes from participants:
– “There is a bifurcation in real estate values. Residential and industrial are still doing well while retail and, to a lesser extent, office is struggling. This will not change as there are some systemic changes taking place in the use of real estate.”
– “At a macro level, rent rolls are being suppressed because businesses are uncertain. With that being said, if your rent is questionable, that’s going to have an impact on your asset value and it will spread a lot of cold water on transactions. Within retail, the pandemic is driving the impact. The bricks and mortar contest against online will continue. Tenants are in trouble as the pandemic accelerates asset devaluation in retail. On the commercial side, I think that it is a temporary issue. I see the watermark on operating expenses showing up right now. There’s not a lot of movement in assets so there’s not a lot of transactions to show if this is a true downturn. Depending on a company’s capital structure, organizations might get aggressive on devaluing assets to give themselves a bit of head room for the next couple years, but that’s more aggressive tax planning. There’s devaluation because of rent, and the watermark on operating expenses. This is where technology comes in and delivers. In a building that is not run efficiently, technology will offer operating costs on a fixed basis causing NOI to go up.”
Debt capital sentiment
Lenders remain active, though there’s an increased level of scrutiny during the due diligence process, with many less willing to engage in higher risk investments.
Four per cent of Canadian respondents said the availability of debt capital will be much worse in a year.
Twenty-two per cent thought it will be somewhat worse, 29 per cent believed it will be about the same, 39 per cent opined it will be somewhat better and six per cent responded it will be much better.
There was a wider discrepancy with the U.S. results in this category. There was less optimism south of the border, where the respective sentiment numbers were two, 15, 38, 40 and five per cent.
Here are some quotes from respondents:
– “The dichotomy among the lending community is staggering. Rates change so quickly.”
– “We prefer Tier 1 and Tier 2 banks. Tier 1 banks are most cautious while Tier 2 banks are more willing to have a conversation. Alternative lenders see this as an opportunity.”
Equity capital sentiment
While equity capital is available, investors are increasingly discerning when evaluating investment track records and leverage ratios.
Two per cent of Canadian respondents thought the availability of equity capital will be much worse in a year.
Six per cent said it will be somewhat worse, 36 per cent responded it will be about the same, 52 per cent believed it’ll be somewhat better and four per cent said it will be much better. Those numbers are pretty close to those from the U.S.
Some quotes from participants:
– “(Equity capital is) not as bad as we thought it would be. Alignment between objectives with investors is very important. We would not go on a road show right now.”
– “We have had groups express interest. Investors are looking for a history of being conservative with debt. There are more conversations around risk mitigation versus track records.”
– “People are looking for anywhere where they can find a decent level of risk-adjusted return. There is a lot of capital moving into the space in private markets in general, whether it’s equity or debt.”
REALPAC and Ferguson Partners
REALPAC is the national industry association dedicated to advancing the long-term vitality of Canada’s real property sector.
Its more than 120 members include publicly traded real estate companies, real estate investment trusts, private companies, pension funds, banks and life insurance companies with investment real estate in all asset classes.
Ferguson Partners compiled the sentiment survey in conjunction with REALPAC.
The boutique talent management firm is involved with executive and board recruitment as well as compensation, leadership and management consulting.
Canadian politicians struggle to come to grips with the global vaccine race – CBC.ca
Canadian politicians struggle to come to grips with the global vaccine race – CBC.ca
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