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Ontario looks at revamping real estate rules around brokers

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Should consumers have the right to see competing offers on the same property. Should a realtor represent both the buyer and seller in the same transaction?

Those are some of the issues the province is considering in a modernization of the 2002 rules governing Ontario’s real estate industry, known as the Real Estate Business Brokers Act (REBBA).

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is gathering ideas for boosting consumer protection and enhancing the industry’s professionalism through an online survey to close March 15.

“One of the biggest things we’re going to do as individuals or families is buy a home. We want to make sure we’re with the times. We want to make sure we listen to both the consumer and the professional and make sure we have legislation that reflects today’s economy and today’s world,” said Minister Bill Walker.

The REBBA update began under the previous Liberal government, which amended the legislation to allow the regulatory agency, the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), to double the fines for agents and brokers that violated the code of ethics.

But the Liberals were voted out of office before the nuts and bolts around industry education, professional practices, language and disclosures were decided.

A consultation paper released by the province’s Progressive Conservative government puts beefed-up powers for RECO on the table, suggesting tougher penalties for rule-breaking, unethical realtors.

“Right now RECO’s disciplinary proceedings are archaic. Consumers making a complaint can wait years for resolution,” said Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) CEO Tim Hudak, a former leader of the Ontario PC party. RECO should be able to fine rule-breaking realtors and force them to surrender their commissions which can exceed the penalties, he said.

“The average price (of a home in 2002) was $275,000. You couldn’t buy a shack in somebody’s back yard today for that price,” said Hudak.

Changes to some practices, including the privacy surrounding competing offers, will be difficult, say some agents.

  • Multiple offers: Keeping multiple offers confidential among competing buyers has been criticized for driving up prices in hot markets.

Elli Davis of Royal LePage doesn’t want to see it change. “I think a buyer has the opportunity to make their very best offer. They will know if they’re in competition. They will know how many offers there are in total and I think that’s enough to know. I don’t think it’s right that someone sees the private offer of another buyer,” she said.

John Pasalis of Toronto’s Realosophy brokerage said he can’t see how offer details don’t warrant the same confidentiality as other business dealings.

But he acknowledged the system is problematic. “You sometimes end up getting this one buyer who pays $50,000 to $100,000 more than he needed to because it’s a blind auction,” although the highest price offer doesn’t always win, said Pasalis. Sometimes sellers want different conditions rather than more money.

Offers should be disclosed only with the consent of all the parties, starting with the seller, who would have the ultimate say in whether it’s an open bidding process, said RECO registrar Joe Richer. He notes that it’s in the seller’s interest to keep the bids private.

“What is this solving in the broader public interest? You’re going to reduce the risk of the opportunity for somebody to blow everybody out of the water with a $50,000 (bid) over the next best offer. You’re not going to have that because everyone’s going to see everything. As a seller, I might say, ‘I want a chance at that landslide offer,’ ” said Richer.

Nothing prohibits the kind of open bid auction that is standard in Australia, he said. “The thing is, in North America, it’s seen as a fire sale. You’re not going there expecting to pay the highest price; you’re going expecting to pay the cheapest price,” said Richer.

  • Double-ending: Properly known as “dual agency,” where one agent represents the buyer and seller in a single transaction, needs to end in Ontario just as British Columbia has prohibited the practice, says RECO. It supports a system called Mandatory Designated Representation that allows a brokerage to handle both ends of a deal but a different agent must represent each client and the brokerage has to ensure that the two agents don’t share client information.

There would be exceptions for remote areas with limited real estate services or circumstances such as the handling of a family estate.

That the act permits realtors to act on behalf of clients while serving another individual known as a “customer” is “bordering on unethical,” said Richer. The realtor is acting in the interest of a client. They may provide service to the customer, but they do not owe that person the same fiduciary duty.

OREA has said that that, as is the case in Alberta, buyers and sellers should be required to sign a form declaring they understand they are using the same agent. But the realtor would not be permitted to share any confidential information.

Davis says she has sold many of the houses she lists to her own clients. “If you hire me to sell a property and I get a lead and I bring … (it), that should be construed as a good thing, not a bad thing, as long as I disclose I could be on both sides of the transaction, I don’t see any problem (with) it,” she said.

There are about 82,000 real estate agents and brokers in Ontario. RECO fined 69 individuals and six brokers a total of $712,950 in 2017. Among the 2,926 complaints the agency received that year, handling of competing offers and competent services was among the most common. It represented 9 per cent and 8 per cent of the totals, respectively.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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