North America’s largest real estate board — the 31,000-member Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) — has published a proposed policy that would allow members to provide detailed listing data over the Internet via password-protected Virtual Office Websites, or VOWs.

TREB members will have 60 days to provide input and feedback on the proposed VOW policy, which board officials say has been in development since July 2010.

Canadian regulators sued TREB last month, saying that while real estate boards and associations in other jurisdictions, including Nova Scotia, allow members to provide VOW services, the Toronto board has "cultivated a reputation for shutting down any broker who develops an innovative service," including VOWs.

TREB officials said they had begun working on a VOW policy before the lawsuit was filed, and accused Canada’s Competition Bureau of political grandstanding. At the time the lawsuit was filed, TREB’s board of directors had signed off on the VOW concept, and a committee was drafting proposed rules.

The proposed VOW policy was drawn up with Canada’s privacy laws and laws around identification of financial transactions in mind, TREB officials said.

"The development of a comprehensive VOW policy is something TREB undertook independently in response to a changing business environment," said Richard Silver, TREB board member and president-elect, in a statement issued today. "Crafting a policy that ensures the safety of consumer information without restricting members’ ability to provide the highest level of service to their customers took great sensitivity and care."

VOW listings data rivals what brokers and agents see when they log in to their multiple listing service (MLS), allowing consumers to see previous listing and sale prices, historical prices for comparable properties in the area, and the amount of time a property has been on the market.

In the U.S., a 2008 settlement between the Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors protects the right of technology-based brokerages like ZipRealty and Redfin to provide consumers with access to comprehensive VOW listings data on password-protected sites.

TREB President William E. Johnston told Inman News last month that TREB’s VOW policy would be similar to the policy adopted by NAR under the terms of its settlement with the Justice Department.

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