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Current as of 08/12/16 05:59AM NZST

Trade Me data grab hits a snag in Stratford

By Ilona Hanne -
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The mayor of Stratford doesn't want people to know how much properties are selling for. Photo / File
The mayor of Stratford doesn't want people to know how much properties are selling for. Photo / File

Stratford District mayor Neil Volzke doesn't want to know what you have paid for your house, nor does he want you to know what he paid for his.

An attempt by Trade Me to collect all property sales data in the country hit a snag in the Taranaki district when the mayor and the majority of his councillors ruled such detail was no one else's business.

Sixty-one councils around New Zealand said yes before Stratford - with it's population just over 9000 - said no.

The availability of the information was debated in Tuesday's Policy and Services meeting at Stratford District Council following a request from Trade Me for all rating and sales information.

Director of corporate services, Mark Weidenbohm, told councillors he felt the decision to release sales data to Trade Me was an ethical one which needed to made by elected members rather than council staff.

A letter from Brendon Wright, commercial manager for Trade Me, was included in the agenda, and Wright was also at the meeting to answer any questions.

In his letter, Wright said Trade Me wanted the property and sales data in order to provide to customers as part of a yet to be released new service on the Trade Me Property website.

"The purchase of a property is a private agreement between two people, it should not be anyone else's business."
Stratford mayor Neil Volzke

Weidenbohm told councillors Stratford was one of only six councils to have not agreed to provide the information to Trade Me. He said both South Taranaki District Council and New Plymouth District Council had already agreed .

Councillor Graham Kelly asked why - given the majority of councils were on board - Stratford District Council shouldn't.

Wright responded saying 97 per cent of councils had already signed up.

Mayor Neil Volzke said he was not in favour of selling sales data to a commercial operator and moved that council reject the request.

"The purchase of a property is a private agreement between two people, it should not be anyone else's business."

Councillors then voted 9 to 1 supporting the mayor. The one opposing vote was from councillor Kelly.

Speaking after the meeting, councillor Kelly said he would have liked the decision to be put off for a month.

"I voted against the decision to refuse Trade Me's request, in part because I am relying on the integrity of the 61 councils who have already agreed to sell this data."

Councillor Kelly said elected members would have had more time to consider the decision if the decision been adjourned.

"I don't feel were were well informed, we didn't have all the information at the table at that meeting.

"Everyone is on Trade Me, it is a huge selling tool and people want to be able to see sales information on property. Especially when buyers might not be in the region but further afield or even overseas."

Councillor Kelly had some reservations about selling the data however. "Obviously the director of corporate services did which is why he brought it to us, and that is why I wanted more time to consider the topic."

It will be available to anyone, whether they are interested in purchasing the property, or simply want to see what a friend, neighbour, colleague or even ex-partner has paid for their house, by one click of the mouse.
Stratford mayor Neil Volzke

Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford said the company was "surprised and a bit disappointed," by the decision.

"We think providing New Zealanders with transparent, easy and open access to property data is a good thing."

The Stratford decision will not affect the coming changes to the website however he said.

"We have data and rating valuation from a raft of councils onsite already. We'd love to have Stratford's in there too, but the success of our product is not contingent on this data being there, comprising roughly 0.2 per cent of the national data set."

Ford said the company was also "still optimistic" it could find a way to include Stratford's data.

Stratford ratepayers were missing out by not having their information included, he said.

"Not just ratepayers and property owners, but also anyone interested in buying or investing in the district."

Ford said Trade Me were not asking for access to any data which contained personal information and therefore publishing the data would not be a breach of privacy.

He said the information was already provided to two other third parties.

Director of corporate services, Mark Weidenbohm, said the council did make this specific sales information available to one other party, rather than two. "[But the figures] are not then made freely available to the general public".

Weidenbohm said the contract was being renegotiated, "in light of Tuesday's decision by elected members".

Mayor Neil Volzke said he was pleased the decision was brought to elected members.

"When the director of corporate services raised his concern, I agreed with his stance and thought it appropriate it was discussed at a council meeting".

Volzke said many people "go to great lengths to protect their privacy, and I feel the details of how much you paid for your home should be private".

He tested his stance in what he terms "the morning tea test".

"I asked a group of people at morning tea to tell me what they had paid for their house. No-one did. Everyone present said it was none of my business, and I agree. It isn't anyone else's business."

The purchase of a house or other property or land is, says Volzke, "for most people the single largest purchase they will make in their lifetime, and there is no reason for other people to be privy to the financial details of that purchase. The only people who need to know are the buyer and the seller".

In his letter to the council, Brendon Wright said the information was already available to other customers.

Ford said this was correct but the way the information was then made available to the general public was different.

"The way TradeMe want to use the information means it will be available to anyone, whether they are interested in purchasing the property, or simply want to see what a friend, neighbour, colleague or even ex-partner has paid for their house, by one click of the mouse," Volzke said.

He believed the council decided in the best interests of ratepayers.

"I do not believe it is council's role to make sales information as public as this request wanted it to be."

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