Andy Johnson, CTVNews.ca Staff
Property value information that was once jealously guarded by real estate agents is now being provided free to anyone with an Internet connection who cares to know what their home, or their neighbour's, is worth.
Zoocasa.com, a real estate search site, has partnered with Centract Settlement Services which has one of the "largest national databases of residential real estate prices and information in Canada," according to a news release.
The service went live earlier this month.
Users can plug in a street address, the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, style of home and the year it was built, and Zoocasa comes up with a "Zoopraisal" for the property.
Zoocasa uses Centract's database of real estate sales information to provide home price estimates based on factors such as size, neighourhood and sales history in the area.
"Knowing the current price of your home is the kick-off point for many Canadians as they consider making their next move," said Butch Langlois, president of Zoocasa in a news release.
The estimate also offers additional data such as detailed neighbourhood demographics.
What it doesn't take into account is the thousands of dollars in new windows a homeowner may have installed last year, for instance, or those prized granite countertops or new cedar shakes -- factors that can vastly improve the value and marketability of a home.
Still, the new service could represent a game changer for real estate agents who have traditionally had a corner on such information.
Andrew la Fleur, a real estate agent with Re/Max in Toronto, said the new service is part of the "ongoing evolution of real estate in Canada." He said a similar service has been available in the U.S. for about five years.
"Quite frankly I'm shocked it took this long to come here," he told CTVNews.ca, adding that real estate agents will have to adapt, just as they have to other recent changes to their profession.
"In the end I don't think it's going to hurt the real estate agents who are professional and who are expert in their area but I think it will force some of the part-time agents or discount brokers to re-evaluate their business models," he said.
"It will overall give the consumer more choices and more options and that's a good thing."
Last year, federal Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken successfully fought to give private home sellers access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is the primary service through which homes are bought and sold in Canada.
Real estate agents have had to adjust, with many now offering a flat fee service for helping a homeowner list their property on MLS, with the homeowner then handling showings and the actual sale of the home. Traditionally, selling and buying agents split a commission of 5 per cent of the sale price.
Zoocasa's business model is built on advertising, with real estate agents and mortgage brokers paying to have their ads posted on the website. The appraisal service is provided free of charge.
Centract, which provides the data used to make the estimate, is an appraisal company owned by Brookfield Residential Property services.
The service is designed to give people a better idea of a property's value, rather than replace the work of a professional appraiser, Centract said.
In a sophisticated urban market like Toronto, where la Fleur said people are "obsessed" with the value of properties in their neighbourhood, most people likely already have a good grasp of what their home is worth, or what they'll have to pay to get into their dream home, regardless of what a computer-generated estimate tells them.
"I think most people here are more sophisticated than a computer model," he said