By Mark Weisleder
Should you care whether someone knows how much you paid for your home?
Some people think that information should be made public, while others believe that constitutes an invasion of privacy. Why should a stranger have access to that kind of information?
This issue is a big bone of contention and now the basis of a lawsuit launched by Ottawa’s Commissioner of Competition against the Toronto Real Estate Board. The commissioner holds that anyone should be able to go onto a real estate brokerage’s website and see any price of a recently sold home in their neighbourhood. In Ontario, real estate agents can view prices through their local MLS system, but members of the public cannot. In Canada, only Nova Scotia lets everyone see this information, while in the United States, access is for the most part universal.
More of my clients are asking if there is a way to keep the price they paid for their home off the title records that are accessible by anyone. It can be done if you make arrangements to pay the land transfer tax before closing. This way you keep the price you paid off the title.
The competition commissioner believes that if sold prices were publicly available, buyers could figure out what to offer on a home themselves and would not need to employ a real estate agent. In my view, it wouldn’t change anything because there are many varied reasons why a home sells for a particular price. For example:
•Two houses on the same street, the same size, built by the same builder, may have different views and layouts, which can make a big difference in their curb appeal.
•The price is affected by seller motivations. One vendor may have to sell quickly because she has bought a house, or has had a change of life circumstance, whether through death, marriage breakup, or job relocation.
•A history of sewage backups could affect a selling price, or whether the house backs onto a park or ravine, or is close to a hydro tower.
•What about a wind farm that has just been announced as coming to your area, a crazy neighbour, or a halfway house located on the same block?
In the U.S., sold prices have been available for years. A study compiled by the National Association of Realtors found that 89 per cent of deals done in 2011 were handled by real estate agents. This figure was much higher than it had been before the Internet came into common use.
Before the lawyers make too much money fighting over privacy, my hope is that this issue can be settled amicably and that buyers and sellers continue to receive all the information they need, whichever way they might try to buy or sell a home.