By Neil Sharma
Saskatchewan is on the cusp of amalgamating three of its real estate boards, and if successful, it will provide its members with superior services, says the chair of the Rationalization Taskforce.
Kevin Wouters says discussions about amalgamation go back about 15 years and that with membership levels and technology where they are today, conflating the boards into one association without redundancies makes more sense than ever.
He also says that the single association would offer its members better products, including education opportunities and services such as IT support. It would also hire a full-time government relations person to lobby on the industry’s behalf.
“Right now, one of the best things that will happen is we can, with one association versus four, eliminate a lot of redundancies,” said Wouters, who is broker/owner Century 21 Prestige Real Estate in Prince Albert and was the 2016 president of the Association of Saskatchewan Realtors (ASR).
“As far as governance and leadership, we can reinvest money back into the boards and provide more products and services to memberships, like a full-time GR person. We’d like to do that to increase lobbying efforts with government. We have a strong relationship with the provincial government, but want it to be stronger.”
Five boards, including the umbrella provincial association, will have to vote affirmatively for amalgamation to be realized, but only three of the four separate boards would join together. The Realtors Association of Lloydminster and District shares a border with Alberta, so while it must consent to amalgamation, it will retain its autonomy and be excluded should the others form a single association.
The Association of Regina Realtors, Saskatoon Region Association of Realtors and Prince Albert and District Association of Realtors would amalgamate with the ASR.
While the vote, slated for Sept. 26, could go either way, Wouters is confident amalgamation will be achieved. His taskforce has travelled the province making the case for amalgamation and he says there has not been much dissent.
“We set out a pretty strong communication plan as soon as we decided to go forward with it,” says Wouters. “We met with all association leaderships and got in front of all broker councils for those areas and we just wrapped up communication with membership all over the province. We have done our presentation for amalgamation 20 times. The membership seems mostly in favour of it.”
However, Wouters concedes some opposition exists, which he quickly characterized as being the consequence of misinformation campaigns.
“I think (the biggest impediment) is people getting hold of bad information,” he says, suggesting that “it’s somebody making something up. Once people understand the concept, they’re in favour of it, but there are some rumours out there about what’s going on and why, and that hasn’t been helpful to us.”
One theory bandied about among the membership is that the stronger boards will have to carry the weaker ones — which Wouters emphatically disputes, stating they’re all in strong financial shape. Another argument against amalgamation is that membership fees might be higher, which Wouters admits is true in some circumstances.
“We have a couple of rural areas that are going to see their fees increase, and nobody wants to see their fees increase, but looking at the big picture, better services will justify that,” he says. “In some cases, we’re talking about a fairly small portion. Some fees will double. For the vast majority of the membership, fees will stay the same.
“With regards to rural areas, they’re concerned that they’ll remain a little isolated, but with increased capacity we can provide higher levels of services for them. It will erase all geographic lines in the province and provide services equally to all corners of the province, like more education opportunities. It will include a lot of education for our rural areas. Saskatchewan is a pretty spread out province and we’d like to give cut-off people better access.”
British Columbia recently held an amalgamation vote that failed.
“We talk a lot with the B.C. folks, and they found that their biggest issue was they had a long period of time from (when) their information came out to when they voted and one issue was a lot of misinformation happened during that period,” says Wouters. “We’re trying to avoid that. We finished the initial communication with our membership on June 15. That was the last membership meeting and the vote is in September, but we want to allow enough time to get the information membership requires out there. We’re not waiting a long time like B.C.”
Rich Jeanneau, president of the Association of Saskatchewan Realtors, says the province has come a long way from the days when its real estate boards were in the double digits. Unlike B.C., most of Saskatchewan’s services are already streamlined for its 1,700 members.
“At one time, we had 13 boards in the province, then cut them down to nine and now there are four remaining,” says Jeanneau. “We’ve been working around this by putting technology together, we have shared services and common lock boxes. We’re at the point where we’ve scaled it to, ‘Why even have three separate boards?’
“British Columbia had a different situation. You have larger boards there and their services are not shared. They use different MLS systems, different lock systems; there was a lot more to put together. We’re already mostly there.”