Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Google won't win

At least not soon. has an interesting link to a Wall Street Journal article about how Google map-based open access listings may change the real estate transaction game.

I think they're over simplifying things just a tad too much. Essentially, the argument goes like this: MLS has map-based listings, Craigslist doesn't, enter Google who will, and suddenly real estate commissions are eroded by a technology-savvy generation and a bunch of HTML maps. If only.

As we've already discussed, the issue isn't the crappy website the CREA offers its customers. The issue is ownership of data. CREA and their member organizations (local real estate associations and agents) believe they own the data that you and I need to have access to in order to make educated decisions about general market conditions and individual market values simply because they've been able to collect it without outside interference for a generation. Can you think of any other market dealing with comparable valuations without any arms-length data transparency oversight or regulation?

They rent this data to us by way of a pseudo-monopolistic need to use a real estate agent in order to gain equitable access to 95% or more of the real estate marketplace. Essentially, and we've never seen a credible argument denying this, the CREA's claim to the data is "finders keepers."

I have no doubt that Google's real estate site will kick's a$$. This isn't because Google is the sh&t when it comes to web design and functionality. It's because uses Bing, which sucks more than, and because sucks period--on purpose.

Let me be very clear here: CREA doesn't want you and I to be empowered as real estate listing searchers. The opposite is true. CREA wants you and I to be so frustrated with the experience that we simply toss our hands in the air, give up and quit, and then call one of their members so they can rent an income.

Somewhere deep down inside that archaic industry association is a group of power-people still pissed that we aren't required to come into their office during bankers hours to flip through their three ring binder of listings--steadfastly refusing to adapt to a changing world where freedom of information is a given, rather than a "paid for"--doing everything in their power to prevent the game from changing.

So what's next? Google will get in the game, it's part of their Cyberdyne-like plan to take over the world. But the rules won't change. YET. Give it a decade.

Once Google has captured enough of the market transaction data (ten years worth should do it) and you and I are free to see the transaction history of listings at the click of a button without a rent-seeker getting in the way, the game will change. When that happens, the 1100 or so ambulance-chasing agents in this town will be reduced to the 300 or so who are actually worth their full commission because they give a damn, "get it", adapt to changing times, work their asses off, and care about their clients enough to be honest about the true state of the market rather than chasing their next commission without concern for their client's long-term financial security.

That day will be monumental. Perhaps it can be in February. We'll name it rent-freedom day and forever enshrine it with the distinction of being the event that leads our society to a stat holiday every month.


Mr.4AM said...

Speaking of Google, they launched google street view for Victoria a couple of weeks ago. Be sure to check it out. It's a very big improvement over the Google Maps satellite pictures or even what you could get in the quasi-3D rendering from Google Earth.

Check out this screenshot I just took of a house for sale on Cook St.

Just think of the gas savings in people driving around for real estate ;-) You can "walk" around an entire neighbourhood of a property you are interested from the comfort of your home. I can't even imagine all the possibilities yet.

Go Google! :-)


omc said...

just a couple of thoughts'

1st - I am beginnng to suspect B&F isn't a real person, but someone is posting under this name to liven things up. I can't believe anyone is really as dumb as B&F.

2nd - The BoC/Govt is supposed to make a statement concerning the real estate market today. I am hoping for something like the fraser institute suggested yesterday. I would like to see 15-20% minimum as a deposit. If you can't come up with it, you aren't ready to own a house.

Vic said...

I have met many Bubbles types,they are ignorant and self centered. Carney just rattled their little world today:

"The Bank of Canada warned Thursday that growing household debt is now the biggest risk to the country's financial system, and repeated a plea for borrowers and lenders to remember that the current era of superlow interest rates won't last."

Skeptic said...

More on today's BOC comments.

Canadians' rising debt worries Bank

OTTAWA -- Rising levels of household debt and deteriorating budget balances in a number of countries will emerge as the most prominent risks to the Canadian financial system over the next few years, the Bank of Canada said Thursday.

Nevertheless, it acknowledged that ratio of household debt to income has climbed to “historically” high levels, of over 140%.

“The medium-term risk to financial stability arising from the household sector is judged to have increased,” it said. “This judgment is predicated on concerns that the sustained growth of household debt in the context of rising interest rates will increase the vulnerability of households to an adverse shock over the medium term.”

Bubble 'n Fizz(le) said...

I am beginnng to suspect B&F isn't a real person, but someone is posting under this name to liven things up.

Er, it's true it's not my "real" name. You were labouring under the impression it was until recently?

I can't believe anyone is really as dumb as B&F.

See above!

Tim said...

Do you need a generation's worth of data to know what to pay for a specific house though?

Alaso, CREA isn't the only one who tracks sales data. BC Assessment has a database of sale prices. They don't allow commercial use, but that doesn't mean a partnership couldn't happen someday. (Although perhaps for privacy reasons, it might.)

Bubble 'n Fizz(le) said...

I realize you bears don't enjoy reading contrary points of view, but here's one from Garth's doom blog: calgary kid.

Interesting that Garth has mostly stopped his sneering at contrarian views posted on his blog. Even my comment that perhaps the Ottawa RE boom showed him to be on the wrong side of the facts went unanswered. Until yesterday, Ottawa was cited by Garth as a paragon of RE virtue, but no more! They too have the mania. (Note to omc: "paragon" means "an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept").

Skeptic said...

Bubbles said:

Interesting that Garth has mostly stopped his sneering at contrarian views posted on his blog. Even my comment that perhaps the Ottawa RE boom showed him to be on the wrong side of the facts went unanswered.

Garth has no patience for trolls and ignores their drivel. HHV is a bit more tolerant because you provide comic relief.

HouseHuntVictoria said...

How do you know I'm not B&F?

Maybe I'm injecting drivel to get you folks talking?

Vic said...

I wouldn't go down that road HHV,last time the possibility came up many gave you the benefit of the doubt that you wouldn't lower yourself. Playing into it now may have just cost you some major readership.

Bubble 'n Fizz(le) said...

Garth has no patience for trolls and ignores their drivel. HHV is a bit more tolerant because you provide comic relief.

So anyone with a contrarian view is a troll?

Mr.4AM said...

B&F, let's be clear: being contrary to the contrarions, doesn't make you a contrarion - it makes you part of the sheeple herd (and a noisy sheep at that); unless of course, you actually backup your future projections with a logical argument ideally backed up by historic precedence & credible unbiased expert sources. I would welcome such posts from you or anybody else.

As for Garth, he has almost no patience - period. I also don't have much respect for his excessive arrogance, especially when he's been wrong multiple times now, even though his overall thesis is correct.


jesse said...

Here's a silly question for you: do previous sales prices even matter? How would the fact that some fool payed some God-awful sum for a house in any way affect what you're willing to pay?

Or do people not know what ultimately determines house prices in the first place?

omc said...

I was actually very, very disapointed with the BoC's release today. It is blatently obvious what is going on, even the realtors are trying to take the focus off the market. "Nothing to see hear folks, move along". I guess most governments will not deal with issues that effect them more than a year or two in the future.

omc said...


Knowing what similar houses have sold for in the present market is crucial. Most sellers think their homes are worth far too much and have to be shown. It also works in a decreasing market to give you an idea of the trend, so it isn't just a one way thing. Bc assesment doesn't do this and I don't find assessed values to be true much of the time.

Vic said...

From the Globe :

"Separately, Gluskin Sheff + Associates chief economist David Rosenberg warned today that Canada's housing market appears to be in a bubble. "

Skeptic said...

Bubbles said:

So anyone with a contrarian view is a troll?

NO. There are several posters here that are bullish on real estate and backup their statements with facts. They are not considered trolls.

You, on the other hand, try to provoke readers in order to get an emotional response which is the definition of a troll

For example:

-- I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but if you can't afford to buy now, you will never be able to.

-- Same as it is now, and that includes NOT being any of the bears here because they will forever be waiting for the fabled crash and 50% price correction.

Clicking on your blogger name gives us this...

About Me

Pointing at the obvious signs the Victoria real estate party is over.

Seems like you don't know what to believe!


HouseHuntVictoria said...

Jesse, access to market data is so much more than just sales price history. If you ever get to see the realtor only MLS, you'd be amazed at the kinds of info contained there. My question is why should they be allowed to monopolize this data? They say it's because they collected it. I say it should be accessible to all, without having to access it through an agent, and that I'd be willing to pay a price for it.

omc said...

It really is starting to look like B&F is just someones attempt to bring a little humour to this blog.

Marko said...

Why do people feel that something needs to be done about the monopoly? THIS IS PURELY CUSTOMER DRIVEN! I think agents are pretty much useless and inadequately drained, I try to sell every single home I build privately, I think their comissions are not realistic etc....yet I really don't think the government should intervene.

I have very bad vision (- 5.0 & - 6.0 prescription). Up until 2 years ago I use to go to places like Iris, Pearle Vision, etc. and buy glasses. Due to my requirements for thin index lenses this would cost me anywhere from $600 to $800 a pop.

Two years ago a company based out of Vancouver called Coastal Contacts lunched sales of on-line glasses. I was skeptical at first, but decided to go ahead and ordered a pair. Two years later, I've bought 4 pairs from them, my entire extended family has bought glasses for them. I am buying the EXACT same frames with better high index lenses than what for less than $100 dollars shipped to my door. IRIS charges approximately $800 for the same glasses. We are talking authenic Nike, Gucci, Hugo Boss, etc.

Should the government shut down places like Iris? The majority of people still go and pay $400 to 800 for glasses, I pay less than $100.

If you want to use an agent, pay up. If you don't want to pay sell or buy privately. Really, how complicated does it get?

This monopoly is drive by fact that people are too lazy to do their research.

Is the information they have really that valuable? It is pretty easy to access sale prices of homes, what more do you really need? Their information is certainly not going to tell you what the condition of the house was etc.

My two cents.

omc said...

Thanks for the heads up on coastal contacts, I am going to be the first one in my family to have to use glasses. MY scotsman senses are tingling.

Reid said...

Marko, you are so correct in your statement that people are too lazy. If I am going to spend $600k+/- on a house you can bet I will know more about the real estate market than any agent out there before I buy because that is a sh**load of money, but experience has taught me I am a rarity. IMO if you have to ask your "agent" what a house you like is worth, then you are not ready to buy.

Unfortunately it is this laziness that will end up sinking a lot of these people in time as they are just as lazy or even lazier when it comes to understanding financial planning.

Anonymous said...

Marko said:

Why do people feel that something needs to be done about the monopoly?

As a builder/seller I can understand your viewpoint. But consider things from a buyer's perspective.

Here are my reasons for changing the rules for this monopoly.

1. If you want to pay market value for a property you need to know the sales history of comparable houses in the area of interest. The listing prices that you see on are only today's asking prices. Prudent buyers need the recent selling price history for a given area. In BC this data is only available from the 4 sources:

- Local real estate board that compiles and gathers data from MLS sales. Only released with realtor assistance.
- Land title office. Released for a fee on a per property basis
- BC Assessment. Limited availability on their site on a per property basis if last sale took place 6 to 18 months ago.
- Landcor Corp. Available for a fee on a specific property with a few comparables in the surrounding area.

In summary a buyer looking to purchase in an area like Langford, for example, without agent assistance will be making the biggest purchase of their life with minimal knowledge of area prices and market value of a given property. MLS data should be available at a reasonable fee.

2. If a buyer is well informed about prices in an area they will still be paying too much. The reason is due to the realtor practice of "double ending". If I approach the listing agent directly they will make double the commission. For what? An hour to prepare the offer document. Even if I have my lawyer make an offer to purchase and present it to them they still get double. Half the commission should be used to offset the purchase price.

3. Knowledgeable sellers and flat fee agents should be able to list a property on the site provided they pay a commission to a buyers agent. Selling agents will say sellers don't have the legal, negotiating and marketing skills. Many sellers can write their own marketing material, take their own photos and can use a lawyer. In BC lawyers can represent the buyer for house sales.

BTW - Stay tuned for tomorrows announcement by CREA on this issue.

Skeptic said...

Just remember you heard it first on HHV's blog. News Release - December 10

Federal Government Bureaucrats to Ration Home Buying In 2010

The proposed OSFI changes will significantly decrease access to affordable mortgage loans for first time Canadian home-buyers and apartment investors as the Canada Mortgage and Housing "(CMHC)" securitization program is curtailed by changes to the capital governance rules that will restrict a financial institution's ability to generate Government guaranteed loans or require an injection of capital (equity).

CMHC's current securitization program supports affordable housing by enabling banks and financial institutions to issue more Government guaranteed loan products, thus making it possible for these institutions to provide credit to Canadians at lower interest rates as the securitization frees up space on their balance sheets. This allows these institutions to meet the demand for more mortgage loans than they otherwise could if they had to hold all the loans on their balance sheets, which are subject to several restrictive regulatory capital leverage ratios.

The OSFI's proposed policy will effectively tighten the capital governance rules and reduce an institutions capacity to generate these government backed mortgages.

StargazerXL said...

I can't believe a "concerned citizen" would sit down and write a three page letter FOR the CMHC. Good grief.

HouseHuntVictoria said...

^ he obviously owns rental properties and bank stocks. His only "concern" is for his own asset portfolio.

Marko said...

"2. If a buyer is well informed about prices in an area they will still be paying too much. The reason is due to the realtor practice of "double ending". If I approach the listing agent directly they will make double the commission. For what? An hour to prepare the offer document. Even if I have my lawyer make an offer to purchase and present it to them they still get double. Half the commission should be used to offset the purchase price."

I am 40 years old, my wife and I bought our first Condo in our early twenties. I've entered into over 30 real estate transactions in Victoria (buying lots, homes, selling homes, etc.)

Dual agency IS THE ONLY way to go for the buyer if you have a pinch of common sense or anything above a highschool education. I've bought over 15 properties like this. Let me give you an example.

This occured last year. I was shopping for a lot in Langford for my next project. I saw a lot listed for $239,000 that I thought was solid value. I contacted the selling agent who directly met with me. He told me that the owners were getting divorced and wanted to sell the lot asap (smart agent eh?).

I offerred $205,000. They came back at $230,000. I said no because I found another lot in the meantime and just insisted on $205,000. I also gave the agent an estimate I wrote for a rockwall required on the lot for $20,000 (market value about $5,000) in an attempt to half-ass rationalize my low offer (I didn't think they would bite). Well they did, he didn't suggest to his clients that they get an independet estimate.

They offered $210,000 to witch I also said no to. Two days later they came back with $205,000. I had already bought another lot but couldn't pass this up. I sold it privately to another builder for $230,000 two months later. Could have easily got $215,000 the day after I bought it.

I eventually met the sellers. Turns out they didn't want to go below $210,000, the reason I got it for $205000 is because the agent took $5000 out of his comission. This would have never occurred if I had my own agent because they would be splitting a small comission.

THE LISTING REALTOR wants the full comission. THIS IS RARE, only 1 in 25 deals in Victoria are duel agency.

Think about it, if an agent is selling a home for $1 million his/her comission is $33,000 + GST! Do you think they would rather take $33,000 or $16,500?

In 20 years of buying real estate 90% of the time they will try to talk the seller into selling to the buyers advantage.

I could write a short book on how duel agency has worked in my favor for the last two decades buying houses and lots.

I really think duel agency screws the seller over and should be illegal, but I haven't bothered to express this to realtors' governing bodies :)


Art Vandelay said...

Real estate is massively regulated in B.C.
That you continue to believe otherwise discredits you as a believable commentator on this topic. In fact, you're just another whiner.

The guy who questioned whether past sales prices matter is correct. Only latent soviets think its relevant, because their animating force is "what's it worth" vis-a-vis "what did it cost to build." When, in fact, in a market-based economy, "what's it worth" is what the parties are willing to exchange it for. If I want to buy a shack for a million bucks and the owner is willing to take it, that's what the shack is worth.

Fundamental economics. Which some of you mini-Trotskys would do well to brush up on.