Chances are that as you are reading this, Gary Simonsen and his wife Kathy are basking in the sun in Thailand or taking in the sights in Singapore. Days after formally retiring from his duties as CEO of CREA, the couple got on a plane for a two-month tour of the far east.

“I think it’s important that when you make a change, you don’t just go home and say, ‘I’ll have a coffee and read the newspaper. That is going to last for a very short period,” says Simonsen.

He started his career in organized real estate in 1984 at the Winnipeg Real Estate Board and came to Ottawa to work at CREA in 1997. He became CEO of the organization in 2011.

A few weeks before turning over the reins to new CEO Michael Bourque, Simonsen sat down with REM editor Jim Adair to reflect on his term at CREA and the changes he has seen in organized real estate (ORE) and the Canadian real estate industry during his tenure.

“When I started, the manner in which brokers conducted business was kind of similar – now there is a real diversity of business models,” he says. For an association to serve all members with different priorities “becomes much more complex…to provide and deliver services – particularly because ORE is not just a typical association, it’s also a provider of very significant business services that members are using.”

He says evolving technology has had an obvious impact, “both in terms of the role of the Realtor and how ORE itself is using technology.” The evolution of social media has both good and bad implications, he says. “The ability to reach folks who were difficult to reach before” is good, but “it also enables somebody who’s got a crazy wild idea to simply provide misinformation about something. It creates this unnecessary churn because somebody has misinformed a bunch of other folks, and then you are trying to manage that by correcting the misinformation.

“In terms of being a forum for intelligent discussion and debate, it has at times undermined that. In the past you would provide a written document, you would send it out to everybody, they would provide a written response….”

Now, “people don’t want two written pages, they say just give me a tweet. And that is supposed to capture what can be a pretty complex issue.”

Simonsen says the business has also become more adversarial. “With the evolution of agency, where you have agents on either side of a transaction and they are representing different fiduciary responsibilities…. you see from a transaction perspective as well as sometimes from an association perspective, where it has become a little more adversarial.”

The increase in government regulations has also created tensions in the industry.

“So, from mortgage rules, FINTRAC rules, privacy rules, anti-spam rules, to the regulation of education, dual agency…to a whole bunch of simple things likes like the signage brokers can use in their community, municipal bylaws – all of a sudden, there are a plethora of regulations…You see all three levels of the government imposing new ways to regulate the industry.”

Within ORE itself, Simonsen says one of the most positive changes is that “there has become an awareness of the importance and impact of good governance – having directors who are well trained, who understand their roles and responsibilities, who can hold folks like me to account, but do so in an appropriate way.”

When Simonsen started at CREA, there were about 65,000 members. Now there are 124,000 and the numbers are still growing, although the association expects it to stabilize over the coming year.

Where does he see ORE in 20 years? Simonsen says advocating for the industry will continue to be the association’s raison d’être. “There is nobody else who can play that role on a national basis.

“On the technology front, that’s ever evolving. There has always been concern that, wow, does CREA have plans for a national MLS? Who knows, it may evolve to that at some point. Is that going to be in my lifetime?” he says, laughing. “Probably not! But there will continue to be changes to technology.”

Simonsen says one of the best parts of his job “was a unique opportunity to see the country one end to the other and lots of places in between.” He estimates that he took about 70 plane rides per year, including transfers. All the travel and meeting members made him proud to be a Canadian and to represent ORE. “The fact that we own the MLS trademark and the Realtor trademark, and how we are structured and organized here…we are the envy of countries around the world,” he says.

The volunteer members and peers he has worked with are an “outstanding group of individuals…people who are committed and care,” he says. The CREA staff is a “wonderful team” and their “care, compassion and dedication” were demonstrated when they sponsored a Syrian family to settle in Canada.

What won’t Simonsen miss about the job?

“To use the Spiro Agnew phrase, I won’t miss the negative nabobs – the naysayers, the doomsayers,” he says. “I won’t miss spending a lot of time in airports. And the nature of this job, and it’s partly self-imposed, but it’s 24/7. You are on call and dealing with stuff seven days a week.”

He and Kathy also own a home that’s 90 minutes away from Ottawa, which meant that Simonsen didn’t get home very often. “I’m looking forward to having one place to hunker down.”

When he returns from his vacation, Simonsen will begin working with consulting firm TNG, dealing with associations and not-for-profit organizations, and “hopefully with clients in the real estate realm.” He will consult on matters such as strategic planning, facilitation and governance reviews.

Simonsen says he leaves CREA with “nothing but positive feelings and I hope that in my new role there is a way I can continue to contribute to the Realtor community.”



  1. Wow; I am stunned! This article appeared two days ago, and only two brave souls have bothered to congratulate Gary herein on his departure from CREA in pursuit of a new career. What does that say about the engagement factor of members of Organized Real Estate across Canada? I submitted a specified rebuke of your former leader, CREAcrats and Realtors, and this (Wes’s reply) is all that you have to say in rubuttal? Are Wes and Bill the only people—out of over one hundred thousand ORE members—willing to take two minutes to highlight/defend Gary’s reputation so far? I submitted my commentary for effect, and the effect is deafening. Can everybody spell “apathy”?

  2. Bill you are right, we need more “Gary’s” in this industry and the world.
    It was an absolute pleasure to work with Gary during his tenure in Winnipeg .
    All the very best in your well deserved retirement !!

  3. Interesting article.
    Being the CEO of CREA—the head CREAcrat—one would think that said CEO would know the meanings of all of the words that he would use in an interview to be published for public consumption. To wit: Simonsen says “…I won’t miss the negative nabobs—the naysayers, the doomsayers.”. Simonsen attributes these words to Spiro Agnew, but adopts them for himself. Thus, he assumes and promotes their meanings. There is one problem; he apparently does not know what a ‘nabob’ is, but nevertheless accepts Agnew’s interpretation without accessing a dictionary to corroborate. Careless CEO.
    nabob: a very rich man, especially one who made his fortune in India. (The Penguin Concise English Dictionary)
    Hmmm…apparently, in Simonsens’s world, the naysayers and doomsayers of whom he speaks are all very rich guys who got rich in India, but whom are also negative guys who don’t like the likes of top CREAcrats like himself who claim to look out first and foremost for the interests of their taxpayers but for whom in reality they look out first and foremost for their own interests within the structure of their cloistered fiefdom. We most all think of our own skins first when push comes to shove in the workplace; it’s human nature after all. Ain’t many like Mother Theresa amongst us. Why not simply say that “I did the best that I could in pursuit of fulfilling the requirements of my job description in order to keep my job.”? That would be closer to the truth don’t’cha think? Don’t tell us that you sacrificed yourself for the peons, that you did not like large parts of your job, but like a true soldier, you persevered for the common good. You loved this job, its perks and power base, ‘else you would have quit long ago…and forgone your cushy pension benefits paid by your here-today-gone-tomorrow cannon fodder taxpayers who do ‘not’ enjoy the same long-term perks. Being CREA’s CEO was a long-term well-protected very well paid ego trip.
    Now former-CEO Simonsen: You would have been better served by using the much more accurate term “nayboobs” methinks, because you have herein carelessly and ignorantly displayed your disdainful arrogant attitude for many who oppose your views, being many of your former income providers. You come across like Hillary Cllnton and her “basket of deplorables” comment with your “nabob-naysayers-doomsayers” put-down of a substantial percentage of CREA’s enforced membership.
    Yours truly,
    Yaybob: head nitpicker; former member of the nayboob peons.
    P.S.: Thanks for asking that question Jim.

      • Yes Jim, you are quite right; those are ‘my’ words. I extrapolated from Gary’s own words, being that he “…won’t miss…”…”…spending a lot of time in airports”…”the nature of this job”…”it’s 24/7″…”being on call and dealing with stuff seven days a week.” Not to be argumentative, but to my mind that all adds up to a large part of his job—time-wise/pain-in-the-ass-wise— and the fact that he mentioned those negatives suggests to me that in Gary’s mind they ‘were’ a large part of his job. But of course, I am open to being shown that I misinterpreted Gary’s words on that particular score.
        I like to think that the negative nabobs got me going, but actually, the devil made me do it.

  4. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gary on a variety of committees and groups, and he has always been the consummate professional. He viewed issues and challenges through the lens of simply what’s best for the REALTOR® on the street – full stop. The candor and objectivity he brought to bear was refreshing, and never once did I ever think that he put himself or his ego before that of his members. Frankly we need more “Gary’s” in this industry. I wish him all the best as he transitions into his consulting role where hopefully our paths will cross once again.

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