Real estate board presidents throughout B.C. are watching with interest and caution to see if a deal can be forged between the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA) and its largest member, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) that might lead to contractual services to be offered to the boards or an amalgamation of the two entities.
“The BCREA board of directors agreed the best way forward would be to explore the concepts of contractual services and possible amalgamation with REBGV,” said a May 15th letter from BCREA president Jim Stewart.
The letter to member boards said BCREA “followed up with REBGV and have agreed to work together to simultaneously examine these two options. As we see it, contracted services could be implemented in the short term and independently of a future amalgamation.”
Shortly after the letter went out to boards, Stewart told REM, “It was to inform our member boards that we were given clear direction by the members of our board to work out our differences with Vancouver,” adding there is some duplication of services.
He says BCREA wanted to ensure that the concerns of Vancouver were addressed in moving forward with a relationship, but added he could not discuss those concerns.
Vancouver was chosen to initiate discussion because it is BCREA’s largest board, representing 60 per cent of the members. “They are the biggest influencer around the boardroom table,” Stewart says. In any amalgamation, BCREA would want to ensure that any concerns were addressed to ensure a smooth working arrangement, he says.
At a meeting on June 2. Stewart says, “We were in and out fairly fast”, adding that BCREA staff was asked to prepare reports on how the two organizations might better work together. He says that with summer and holidays, it is unlikely that any further meetings will be held until September. As well, he says, there is a regular meeting with the boards planned in the fall.
REBGV president Jill Oudil says conversations are on-going. “Unfortunately, I have nothing to tell you.” she says. “We are not making any changes right now.”
She says that “we are always having conversations on the structure” of the association to improve services. Asked whether the REBGV could deliver services more efficiently than BCREA in areas where there is duplication, Oudil was non-committal. “It is fair to say there is duplication between the two but that happens with many of the boards,” she says. “We are only talking about different scenarios; there is nothing that is going ahead.”
In 2016, a BCREA effort to amalgamate the province’s 11 real estate boards into one new organization failed. First the Victoria board opted out, citing a reluctance to turn its real estate holdings and assets over to a central association without assurances of the services it would receive and that Victoria’s member interests would be preserved.
Victoria was followed by four other boards that left for varying reasons, leaving only six to vote on the issue on Dec. 6.
Only three of them reached the required vote threshold either set out by their bylaws (75 per cent) or through B.C.’s new Societies Act (67 per cent). Four boards (representing 15,000 members) were needed to achieve the threshold for the amalgamation effort to move to a final BCREA board vote.
The three boards that reached the numbers needed for an amalgamation were the B.C. Northern Real Estate Board, REBGV and the South Okanagan Real Estate Board. Those failing to reach the threshold were the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, Kamloops & District Real Estate Association and the Okanagan Mainland Real Estate Board.
B.C. boards contacted by REM were aware of the discussions that are taking place between the Vancouver board and BCREA.
B.C. Northern Real Estate Board president John Evans says his board is waiting to see what comes out of the talks. “We have talked about it and we don’t know yet what we are going to do,” he says. But he is hopeful that what transpires will accrue benefits to the northern members, who had one of the highest votes in the province in favour of amalgamation.
“As a smaller board, there was a lot for us to gain,” he says. The failed amalgamation was a disappointment to northern members who were looking for improved services, he says.
Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board pulled out of the vote. Viewing what is happening now, president Greg Nord-Leth says, “It seems Vancouver is determined to do something. We recognize our position as a smaller board and we cannot do much.”
He says the Chilliwack members want a provincial entity but also a local voice. “Our members are passionate about staying independent,” he says. Nord-Leth is concerned that an amalgamation will impact that independence or that Vancouver’s presence will overrule the position of smaller boards that may have differing views.
“There is a need for a local association and the need for a provincial voice that speaks for everyone. It is awkward when you have a board that is bigger than everyone else. I don’t think that they (BCREA) always understand our frustration with that situation,” says Nord-Leth.
“Our concern is that the provincial voice will turn into the Vancouver voice and there is not enough time to deal with our issues when they come up.”
Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board president Tanis Read says her board is keeping the door open to change but at the same time looking at other options that may benefit members.
“We are trying to keep an open mind regarding the discussions that are going on,” she says, but the board is also trying to gauge how any new contractual services or amalgamation might work for the them.
For example, she says, the Vancouver board has a very strong education platform. “They have things that we as a smaller board could never hope to have,” Read says. “That is their strong attribute to us.”
She says her member vote fell short of amalgamation, but the issue was never about fees or services. “It was about professionalism; it was about advocacy, strong standards and enforcement and education and all of these things,” she says, adding she felt the vote got hung up by the “don’t know” factor as not enough information was forthcoming on the new organizational structure, including office location and control.
In the meantime, it is business as usual and her board is also talking to other boards to determine if there are services that can be shared or mutually supported.
The Powell River Sunshine Coast Real Estate Board, which opted out of the amalgamation vote, is also watching the talks with interest. “We are cautiously optimistic,” says president Neil Frost. He says his board executive was in favour of the talks going forward to see where they might lead.
The Victoria Real Estate Board, one of the staunch hold outs in the previous amalgamation discussions, had little to say about the talks. President Ara Balabanian says the talks are preliminary.
“It is just a concept with no details,” he says. “There are zero details.”