‘Bad things happening’ in Ontario real estate market as homebuyer complaints surge

When Carla Vanderdeen-Fenech started buying a house in Hamilton, she knew it would be competitive.

What she didn’t expect was to live in a friend’s basement for five months despite a healthy down payment and a $ 1.1 million bid for a house. And her family wouldn’t be in a basement, she says, if the agents didn’t break the rules to milk as much money as possible from buyers.

The 40-year-old says she uses her experience to warn others as the real estate market continues to tighten during the pandemic.

“If we weren’t robbed of a house someone else was … so I said to my husband, ‘We have to get in touch, we have to file a complaint because that’s wrong,'” said Vanderdeen-Fenech.

Vanderdeen-Fenech filed a complaint with the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) earlier this year when it said a local listing agent broke the rules by sharing the price of a competing bid.

Philip Fenech and his wife, Carla Vanderdeen-Fenech, say a listing agent shared too much information about a competing offer. They filed a complaint with the Ontario Real Estate Council. (Bobby Hristova / CBC)

The family had their eye on a $ 1.1 million home on Hamilton Mountain, a brick and stone house with a fireplace, a two-car garage, and plenty of space for their three children, including two with special needs.

Vanderdeen-Fenech and her husband offered $ 1,100,017 in early February for a 9 a.m. notice, she said in her RECO complaint. She said there were 23 other listings in the house that were listed at around $ 900,000 and it took the listing agent 48 hours to select one.

Vanderdeen-Fenech says the real estate agent called her agent two hours after her listing ended at noon and said hers was “one of the top 5 and we had the biggest deposit”. But there was a bid for an additional $ 80,000, the listing agent said, so Vanderdeen-Fenech had to do better.

WATCH: The economic dangers of skyrocketing house prices

Housing sales and prices in the greater Toronto area hit record highs year over year, and experts warn that this is a dangerous pattern nationwide that threatens the overall economy. 2:04

The listing agent encouraged her to bid higher in the hope that the competing bidders would use his son as a buyer. But the competing bidders used someone else instead.

“If they divulge information that it shouldn’t be, someone is being robbed of a home,” said Vanderdeen-Fenech.

Sold for less than the higher bid

“If he had an offer at 9:00 a.m. that was $ 80,000 more than ours when all the offers were tabled, why didn’t he take it? Why is he calling us five hours later?”

The listing agent also assumed she was from Toronto, she said, and said to her, “You guys in Toronto have all the money.”

Vanderdeen-Fenech did not increase their bid. In the end, the house didn’t even sell for $ 80,000 more than their listing.

In many cases, complaints like Vanderdeen-Fenech’s are becoming more common. Brian Buchan, a RECO spokesman, says given the hot housing market, complaints of all kinds are at an all-time high.

From that time last year to the first quarter of 2021, home buyer complaints rose 38 percent in “one of the biggest leaps we’ve seen.”

The number of disciplinary measures has not increased. Of these complaints, 38 percent resulted in administrative action (such as paying a fine by an agent and attending educational courses), while five percent resulted in law enforcement (such as loss of license).

“Bad things” happen in the housing market

“In a hot market there are more people involved, more room for complaint, whether it is disappointed people in a bidding war or undesirable behavior,” said Buchan. “We want to be in a place where only five percent of the complaints actually have serious consequences.”

However, Rob Golfi, a representative for ReMax Escarpment Golfi Realty Inc., says what happened to Vanderdeen-Fenech is not an isolated incident.

“I see that … they say, ‘OK, do better.’ Do we have to do better? “He said in a telephone interview.

“Lots of bad things are happening out there, but it’s hard to prove.”

The listing agent in the Vanderdeen-Fenech case declined to be interviewed, but his office hopes the review will show he is “100 percent innocent.” The Vanderdeen-Fenech buyer also declined to comment.

If so, the agent could lose the license

Buchan said the council is studying the allegations and is in a “determination and discovery phase”. RECO then decides whether an investigation is necessary.

But if the claims are true, Buchan said, it is “clearly” a violation of the rules.

The code of ethics states that an agent can disclose the number of offers, but not the content of the offer or who makes the offer.

If the listing agent has broken the rules, the possible outcomes range from a resolution with the complainant to the agent losing the license.

Donna Bacher, president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington (RAHB), said in a written statement that the board had not heard or received any complaints about similar behavior by its members.

Home buyers don’t know all of the rules

Vanderdeen-Fenech hopes that their experience will help others. Her family has already sold their old house, she said, so they live in a friend’s basement.

“Some buyers really don’t know what’s allowed and what’s not,” she said.

“That’s unacceptable and … maybe listing agents who have acted this way will say, ‘I’d better turn it off before I get complaints against me.’ “”

The von Vanderdeen-Fenech family eventually found a home.

They are expected to move in at the end of April.

Attention Home Buyers, Sellers, and Brokers: We Want To Hear From You!

We hope you will use this form to tell us about your experience in the real estate market and any urgent issues in Hamilton, Niagara, St. Catharines and Burlington.