By Tim Syrianos, TREB President
REALTORS® in Ontario are governed by an important piece of legislation known as the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002 (REBBA). For the first time in over fifteen years, REBBA is being reviewed with the goal of making major updates, and TREB is participating in this process by advocating for changes to help modernize this legislation, improve industry practices, and strengthen consumer protection.
In order to help inform the review process, TREB tapped into the thoughts and opinions of both its 50,000 Members, and the public, through a combination of focus groups, information sessions and an online survey. Our Board of Directors was then able to rally around positions that are reflective of the thinking of our broader membership.
As the Ontario Government proceeds with mandatory designated representation, the industry is shifting into the second phase of the review process and is looking to address issues surrounding professional development, the Code of Ethics, enforcement and the regulator, registration matters, and more.
Real Estate Council of Ontario
Enforcement of REBBA is the responsibility of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). When it comes to enforcement, Member Realtors believe the current process must be reviewed, streamlined, and made more transparent.
These moves are critical to ensuring complaints can be assessed quicker, that fines are proportional to the level of infraction, and that the inefficient system whereby RECO can only issue proposals to suspend or revoke the license of a real estate professional is enhanced.
Along with a review of RECO’s enforcement role, the need for an industry ombudsman is also being called for by TREB. An ombudsman would help to increase oversight, and avoid situations which call for RECO to serve as both judge and enforcer. Other industries in Ontario such as insurance, mortgage lending, pension services, and even the real estate industry in British Columbia, have an ombudsman to allow for a recourse mechanism, which is the fair thing to do.
Recent legislation raising the fines for Code of Ethics violations is not a silver bullet to improve the profession’s image. Professionalism starts with the individual. However, modernizing the REBBA Code of Ethics is very important to TREB Members. There should also be consistency in enforcement and disclosure of fines and penalties. The vast majority of TREB Members are ethical and comply with REBBA.
TREB believes that adopting a proactive approach to investigating violations, rather than reacting to complaints, would be a more efficient way to ensure best practices in terms of rule compliance. Such an approach would need to be balanced, to ensure that the regulatory body does not possess too much pre-emptive power.
Along with other measures, these actions will help improve the profession’s image in the public eye, increase consumer confidence and raise professional standards.
Unlike other regulated professions and real estate professionals in other provinces, real estate professionals (other than the brokerage owner) such as salespeople and brokers in Ontario are not allowed to incorporate under current REBBA rules, and as a matter of fairness, we’re seeking to have that changed. Furthermore, allowing Ontario Realtors to incorporate will put them on a level playing field with other professionals who can invest more money into their business, allow for better retirement planning and support the economy as small businesses through hiring.
Professionalism and Continuing Education
TREB and its Members are advocating for the addition of in-class options and tougher courses for continuing Realtor education to replace the online-only curriculum currently in place. When we nurture professional development in this industry, it is important to remember that individuals have different learning styles and we should accommodate this diversity to achieve the best results.
Additionally, Members believe that non-licensees operating in the industry (such as real estate consultants, auctioneers, etc.) should be captured under REBBA if they provide similar services to those who trade in real estate. The list of current REBBA exemptions has to be reviewed to determine which categories should continue to be exempt. Consumer protection will be enhanced if all who trade in real estate are held to the same standard.
The marketing landscape has changed profoundly since 2002, and so too should the rules that govern it. With digital and social media marketing becoming key tools in a real estate professional’s repertoire, TREB believes advertising rules need to be updated to keep pace with technology.
Registration as a New Realtor
While a post-secondary degree may help individuals succeed in their real estate career, our membership doesn’t believe that possessing such a degree should be a requirement in order to register as a newly licensed Realtor.
Rather, it’s our Members’ belief that implementing tougher standardized exams focused on practical real-life experiences, as well as promoting better communication and comprehension skills, could be more effective avenues to strengthening professionalism.
There is not a clear consensus whether increasing the rigour of the current education system for aspiring real estate professionals requires simply adding courses or creating a new full-time diploma program. However, there is clear consensus around the fact that the standards of new Realtor education must be elevated.
Coordinated Industry Action Needed
I would be remiss not to mention that TREB serves on the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) REBBA Review Task Force to ensure we coordinate efforts as an industry and get it right. We are looking forward to continuing to work with OREA, the Real Estate Council of Ontario and the Ministry on all aspects of this, including raising educational standards and requirements