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Regulating the real estate industry

Bill 70 features code of conduct, increased fines

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(DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES)

The Selinger government wants to establish a code of conduct for the province's real estate agents and substantially increase fines for those who break the rules.

Under a bill tabled Tuesday in the legislature, prospective homebuyers and home sellers would be able to check a website listing all real estate agents to confirm an agent is legitimate and learn whether they've been disciplined.

Bill 70 (The Real Estate Services Act) would also require that agreements between agents and clients explain the agent's role and set out the sales commission and fees up front.

The proposed legislation, if passed this year, would likely take effect in early 2015, said Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection Minister Ron Lemieux. He said the bill marks the first substantial changes to the law regulating real estate agents and brokers in 60 years.

"We're trying to move from the day of sending messages by carrier pigeon to using modern technology," Lemieux told a news briefing. "We believe that the consumer is going to be better protected than they ever have been with regard to purchasing or selling homes."

The new legislation would also require agents to inform home sellers of all offers on their home in multiple-offer situations. And it would require an agent representing a homebuyer and seller to inform both clients of the possible conflict of interest before a sale is finalized.

The new code of conduct would guide real estate services and avoid conflicts of interest, the province said. Advertising and marketing of homes for sale would have to be accurate and truthful, client information would have to be kept confidential and agents would be required to disclose to clients if they have a personal or family interest in a sale, the province said.

Maximum fines for agents and brokerages would soar to $100,000 and $500,000 respectively from the current rate of $1,000 for agents and $2,000 for brokerages. Agents could also face up to two years in jail for breaches of the act.

Don Murray, chairman of the Manitoba Securities Commission, which regulates the real estate industry, said the old law is antiquated.

"It predates modern technology and means of communication," he said, not to mention such marketing methods as collecting all offers on a property and examining them in a single day.

The commission receives about 60 formal complaints about real estate agents every year and has about 80 ongoing investigations on file, Murray said. Many complainants allege a purchase offer was not adequately explained or they were left in the dark about some aspect of a sale, he said.

"There seems to be a feeling out there -- not a general feeling, but a feeling among a good number of people -- that transparency and accountability have taken a downward turn in the operation of the real estate market. And this new legislation will allow us to address these concerns as regulators."

He said Bill 70 would give the securities commission the power to deal with complaints more quickly, beginning with mediation services between clients and agents or brokers.

"No agent is going to be allowed to give any kind of misleading information, not in an advertisement, not even word of mouth, and also cannot advise others to give misleading information," Murray said.

He said the commission will also have the authority to cap or amend commissions, although he stressed that would only be done in consultation with industry, the public and the government.

Brian Collie, CEO of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, which represents more than 1,600 agents in the province, said the industry supports the legislation.

"It will place a higher level of expectation on practitioners in the real estate industry, and I think it's a good thing for all," he said.

The government sought public input on the bill in December, receiving online responses from more than 500 Manitobans.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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