This has been perhaps the most tumultuous year ever for organized real estate in Canada.
Record setting sales and prices in Vancouver led to dozens of negative headlines about the shady practices of real estate salespeople, ultimately resulting in the industry’s loss of self-regulation in that province. A bid to amalgamate B.C. real estate boards and the provincial association was rejected by members.
The country’s other hot real estate market, Southern Ontario, saw the Toronto Real Estate Board lose and then appeal its long-running battle with the Competition Bureau.
In Alberta, two major real estate brokerages closed, raising questions about the sustainability of the traditional real estate brokerage model in a softer market.
In Ottawa, a nervous government implemented new regulations for insured mortgages in an effort to slow down the Vancouver and Toronto markets — and came under fire from Realtors in places like Saskatoon, where the local real estate association says the new regulations have seriously hurt would-be home buyers.
Despite the controversy and questions facing the industry, the Canadian Real Estate Association’s membership is at an all-time high – 117,188 members at last count.
This year’s CREA president is Cliff Iverson, a Realtor at Re/Max Crown Real Estate North in Regina. He has been in the industry since 1978 and has spent most of his career volunteering in organized real estate at the local, provincial and federal levels. Recently REM editor Jim Adair interviewed Iverson, along with CREA CEO Gary Simonsen.
REM: At REM we are conducting a survey of readers, and their main concern about the industry is the negative image of Realtors. What is CREA doing about that?
Iverson: We’ve been watching the situation closely and we certainly don’t endorse the conduct of any of the Realtors who have been deemed as bad apples in their marketplace. We have our Realtor Code in place but every province has their own regulatory regime and it’s up to the provincial associations and local boards to enforce the rules. We’re here to be a resource if any of these local boards or associations require our assistance.
REM: Should CREA set some kind of national standards or exams for new Realtors?
Simonsen: At one point we had a requirement that everyone had to take a course on the Realtor Code of Ethics, but there were many jurisdictions that were duplicating that.
A few months ago we started a Realtor Code Task Force and we are reviewing the effectiveness of the Realtor Code today. What is the relevance of the code, is there something that we could or should be doing to enhance its effectiveness?
Iverson: We would encourage dialogue between the various provincial associations to see how they can increase professionalism through the education and training a Realtor receives. Then you get into the area of the broker’s responsibility. I think there could be more dialogue between the provinces when instituting training for their Realtors.
REM: Do you think we will see more proposals for board and association amalgamations like the one in B.C.?
Iverson: In my home province of Saskatchewan there is a task force that is looking at the same thing. More boards and associations are sharing services such as MLS systems. Changes like this are not bottom down, they are coming from the grass roots. We could be considered a resource if people are looking at amalgamations.
Simonsen: Our Futures Project looked at this a few years back. Folks are looking at ways to improve their efficiency and effectiveness, whether it is shared services or board mergers. There are a number of boards in Ontario that have come together to create a common MLS system and I believe there are other boards looking at participating in some of those ventures.
REM: In the area of government relations, what is CREA working on?
Iverson: One of the major concerns is the change to the mortgage rules. We are monitoring what is happening in the local marketplaces and we are also affiliating with a number of other organizations to see what kind of effect (the rules) are going to have on the consumer. How many first-time buyers may step back from buying a home because of the changes that were announced?
Simonsen: When (the government) makes these changes, which are obviously being impacted by larger markets, what may serve in one area may have negative effects in other marketplaces. Real estate is local. We want to make sure there is some sensitivity to that.
There is also a lot of speculation in the B.C. market about the impact of out of country buyers and there’s really a lack of data about it. So we think there’s an opportunity to work with other organizations to assess what information is available and to provide as much information as possible to assist the federal government in making these decisions, so they are not just based on speculation.
Iverson: We are also talking to them about the Home Buyer’s Plan – tying it to inflation and life changes such as a move or employment, marriage breakdown, life changes. The Liberals and the Conservatives both had it in their election platforms but it has not occurred yet.
REM: If TREB ultimately loses the case with the Competition Bureau, there are a lot of third parties that are ready to pounce on the newly released data. How will this impact Realtor.ca?
Iverson: Realtor.ca is the No. 1 site in Canada and we had a record month this year, with 23,400,000 visitors. We continue to work on it and provide enhancements.
Simonsen: We think we have done a good job in sustaining Realtor.ca. But one of the tools we have is that we make information available to third-party sites.
REM: On a personal level, how have you enjoyed being president this year?
Iverson: It has been an interesting year, to say the least. Would I do it again? In a minute. Absolutely.
I’ve been very well received across the country. One of my goals has been to continue to build communications with members through the CREA Open Houses that we do.
One of the most fulfilling moments I get as president is when somebody comes up to me and says, “CREA gets it.” Our communication is so much better now. Up until January of 2014 we were not able to communicate directly with the members. Now it’s great when people come up and say we are doing a good job.