…oh, the difference it would make!
I’m not sure which of the following better describes today’s blog post:
a) Opening a can of worms.
b) Opening Pandora’s box.
I’d like to think it’s the former, but when dealing with the topic of organized real estate and the governance therein, you just never know where the conversation is going to take you…
The concept along is just a fool’s errand, right?
Try to pick one thing about MLS that you could change.
One could literally lose their mind trying to narrow down from a list of six-hundred-something…
MLS is not perfect; far from it, in fact. What started as an absolutely ingenious invention, has now basically allowed modern technology to pass it by, through inactivity, indecision, and dare I say – fear of change.
I’m not here today to delve into a conversation about MLS and its ongoing legal battles, however. I simply want to take MLS as given, and discuss the one thing that bothers me the most about it, and the one thing I could change.
There are a lot of features we could add to MLS that would incorporate, that would provide a better user experience. That’s a whole other topic!
But there are so many changes we could implement on MLS, right now, virtually at the push of the button, that would immediately offer consumers, as well as agents, more information.
Case in point, when uploading “attachments” to MLS (ie. schedules, floor plans, surveys, financials, etc), we are capped at a mere 750 KB.
I mean, I understand the cap itself. TREB has thousands of listings, and I’m sure they can’t allow everybody to upload 1 gigabyte videos.
But why 750 KB? That’s such an insanely-small file size in 2018.
You can take a photo with your iPhone, and it’ll be 3 MB.
I know the attachments aren’t for photos; they’re for documents. But a high-resolution scan of a new survey for a freehold property could be 10 MB. Instead, we take the file, shrink it, reduce the quality, and offer that to people instead.
What the hell is the point of this?
Ask any member of TREB why we couldn’t increase the allowable uploads for attachments from 750 KB to 3MB, tomorrow, and you probably wouldn’t get a straight answer.
In my experience with TREB, they are very slow to implement change.
I served on exactly one committee at the Toronto Real Estate Board, and it was back in 2009-2010, I believe. It was called the “Ad Hoc Condo Committee,” or some such nonsense. Our mandate was to “provide recommendations to TREB,” which by description alone, tells you how little power we had.
Week after week, we’d meet, discuss problems, find solutions, and propose changes.
And all the while, there was no guarantee (or probability, in my opinion…) that those changes would be reviewed, adopted, and implemented by TREB.
When I was on the Condo Committee, the one thing that bothered me the most was how “square footage” was treated on listings for condos.
Back in 2010, the square footage “field” on MLS was not a mandatory field.
Imagine that, eh?
Imagine selling a condo, and not being required to say how large it was.
It boggles the mind.
Here’s a listing from 2006, and you can clearly see there is no requirement to fill in the “Sqft Range” field:
That’s right, just leave it blank!
Who cares how many square feet a condo is, right?
We know it has one bedroom, one bathroom, and beyond that, everything is basically the same…
My other issue with the square footage situation on MLS was that the ranges were too broad!
The old ranges were absurd.
Have a look at the following two listings, also from 2006:
One of the ranges was actually less than 700 sqft.
It’s like they grouped everything under 700 square feet together; no difference, nothing to see here, folks!
And as you climbed the ladder, it didn’t get much better.
700 – 1100 was a field. Think of how absurd that was! With condo prices around $800/sqft in the downtown core today, imagine not being able to narrow the search by any more than 400 square feet.
I believe the next field was 1100 – 1500, then 1500 – 2000, and I can’t recall after that.
I’m happy to say, and actually rather proud to report, that I spearheaded the change to this nonsense back in 2009, and we did bring about two important changes to MLS:
1) The square footage range became mandatory.
2) The square footage ranges were narrowed.
The fields as they stand today are:
But there was one more change I tried to bring about almost a decade ago, that was met with resistance: making EXACT square footage mandatory.
To me, it was a no-brainer. Why not make it mandatory?
Making the “range” field mandatory, and shrinking the ranges themselves, merely represented a good start.
But why stop there?
I failed to understand why we never required an exact number to begin with.
The argument, of course, is a legal one.
What constitutes exact square footage? Who’s the source? What liabilities are associated? What if there’s a discrepancy? And so on.
At the time, I fully understood why TREB didn’t go for the idea, and I support their decision.
But today, in 2018, I think it’s time we address this.
The concept of not having exact square footage on MLS is comical, if you compare it to other products or services.
Imagine buying a used car, but not knowing how many KM are on it?
Would you buy a “box” of donuts, not knowing if there were six, or two-dozen?
Shouldn’t we, as Realtors, hold ourselves to a higher standard than saying a condo is “600-699” square feet?
The solution, in my mind, is simple, and it comes from our trusted friends at the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.
MPAC has a database of essentially every condo in the city, and they have what’s called a “Residential Floor Area Report” for each unit.
MPAC is obviously in business to make money, and thus they offer this report to us at a fee of $5.00+HST, for each unit.
Having just done my 2017 taxes last week, I can tell you that I pulled 167 MPAC reports last year, at a cost of $943.55. Those reports were both for my own listings, as well as for properties I was looking at for buyers. And sometimes, when you just really need to know the square footage of a property (often it was for a Comparative Market Analysis for a prospective seller; looking up other comparable units in their building), you just splurge and spend the five bucks.
Here’s what your typical MPAC report looks like:
I’ve deleted the address, obviously, but you get the picture.
If this is available for virtually every condominium unit in the city, then why doesn’t TREB either make the exact square footage mandatory, and encourage Realtors to spend the whopping $5.00, or, maybe, just maybe, negotiate with MPAC directly for a package deal.
I don’t know what it would cost, or how a deal would look, but it’s too easy to ignore.
And the alternative – continuing to list condos for sale without exact square footage, is simply not an option in 2018.
I understand the liabilities, and I know that if MPAC says a unit is 885 square feet, and the original builder’s plan says the unit is 895 square feet, a discrepancy, and potential dispute, could arise.
But even if a discrepancy existed, at least you’d know what MPAC says. I’m sure some legalese could take care of the liability, and then we’d have a level playing field, across the board. Every unit on MLS has an exact square footage, from the same source.
For a closer look at the current ridiculous of the square footage field on MLS, and how it’s bastardized, read my 2012 blog post: “Square Footage Remarks on MLS.”
Instead of making up nonsense for the “source” of the square footage (as you’ll see in the blog post), like “seller,” or “measurements,” or even just an “XX” that avoids addressing the field altogether, maybe using MPAC as the source for all listings, and having the square footage sourced from the same place for every listing, makes sense.
For what its worth, when I list a condominium for sale, I upload the MPAC report as an attachment so buyer agents have not only an exact square footage, but also a source. It helps their buyers make an informed decision, and it costs me five goddam dollars.
I don’t know why all agents aren’t doing this.
But if I was at the helm of TREB for one day, or if I had the ability to wave a magic wand and change just one thing about the current MLS system, there’s no question – this would be it…