CREA president Gerry Thiessen has been a Realtor since 1977, first in the west coast port of Prince Rupert and then moving into B.C.’s interior community of Vanderhoof. Past-president of both the Cariboo Real Estate Board (now B.C. Northern REB) and the B.C. Real Estate Association, Thiessen was honoured as B.C. Northern’s Realtor of the Year in 2000.

Last month, Thiessen realized a career-long dream of becoming involved with finding solutions for housing needs around the world, when he was appointed as one of three founding directors of the newly created International Housing Coalition, a consortium of Habitat for Humanity, the National Association of Realtors and CREA. Thiessen met with REM Senior Editor Kathy Bevan as 2005 drew to a close, to discuss what 2006 holds in store for CREA and the Canadian real estate industry.

 

REM: What do you think you’ve brought to the national association and the initiatives CREA continues to undertake during your term as president?

 

THIESSEN: I hope that I’ve brought something to our communications efforts, whether that’s access to leadership or hearing from leaders. We’ve worked very hard over this past while on our communications. We feel we’re communicating much more effectively – and more cost-effectively too, through RealtorLink. We’re also looking at what we’ll do for our own premises, to purchase our own building. For the long-term growth of our association, we need to make sure that we’re in a place where we have long-term tenure, and we know what our costs are going to be.

There are other areas that are exciting to us for the long term, such as leadership. We’ve struck a leadership task force that’s out in the field, trying to identify grassroots people with leadership potential. I’ve tried to get lots of involvement and make sure there wasn’t over-involvement by a few people, while other people with good ideas struggled to find a place. A lot of younger people with some really good ideas are coming into our industry. We’re trying to identify those people, and get them involved in task forces, then onto local boards, provincial associations and the national association.

 

REM: At CREA’s assembly meeting in Regina in the fall, one of the decisions was to redesign the mls.ca site, rather than rename it as the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) had proposed. What’s the impact on CREA when such a large part of your membership puts forward a proposal that is turned down at your assembly meeting?

 

THIESSEN: With a membership as large as CREA’s, at no time is everyone totally satisfied with a decision that comes about. We need to make sure that people are communicated with – that boards, no matter how small or large, are listened to.

TREB had a really good idea. They brought up a concern that they were absolutely correct on, that the public really didn’t understand the difference between MLS and mls.ca. We spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand the entire issue. After all the analysis, we received the recommendation that we should spend more time in public education, but continue with the brand name of the mls.ca.

I was very encouraged by the leadership of TREB. Even though they felt very passionately that they were on the right track, they were willing, for the common good and the strength of our industry in Canada, to accept that decision and to be there to help us along as we go through this education process. I hope they’ll continue to keep us accountable for the decisions that we make. This may in future require re-assessment as to how our education is being done.

But I believe that, with the information we currently have, we’re on the right track. Not everyone agrees with it, but I’m sure that everyone understands the value of working together, and that’s the part I enjoy most about an association like CREA.

 

REM:  REM’s 2006 look-ahead survey question this year deals with Canada’s regulatory environment.  The real estate industry in the U.S. has been experiencing some heavy handed regulation of late – is that likely to happen here?

 

THIESSEN:  With a lot of things happening in the U.S., the same circumstances and concerns aren’t here in Canada.  We’ve seen that with the whole issue of VOWs.  In the U.S. there were mandatory rules; here in Canada, we sent recommendations of the rules we wanted to have to the boards and associations for their approval.  And before we sent those to the boards and associations, we sent them to the Competition Bureau, so that they knew what our recommendations were.  We’ve tried to be very open and very careful with those kinds of issues.

In the area of regulation though, I believe there is always a tendency for governments to want to regulate an industry more and more, especially an industry that is successful.  We’ve seen that in our interactions with the Competition Bureau, and with concerns that are now being raised with FINTRAC, and with privacy issues – those are all issues that have brought regulation to our industry.  That’s what our purpose really is, that’s why we’re there in Ottawa – to be a voice for our industry, and for the consumer who wants to purchase their own home to live in.  We want to ensure a consumer who wants to purchase or sell a home, can do so with as much freedom possible, and have the transaction go very quickly and very smoothly.  That’s a benefit for everybody:  it’s a benefit for consumers, for our country and for our industry.

 

REM: Do you think we’re likely to see more mergers of real estate boards in Canada, with smaller boards deciding they do have a future without their own MLS systems?

 

THIESSEN: I think we’ll continue to see mergers of boards where it makes sense, where transportation, interaction and communication is accessible to allow them to get together with other members – that’s where we’ll see mergers.

But there are areas where it just doesn’t make sense – where the location of a board is physically isolated, and it’s a struggle for anyone to bring services in. Those are areas where new models may be brought into effect. Perhaps there will be some way of allowing these boards to use services of other boards for certain things, while still providing other services on their own.

I think that yes, we’ll see more mergers in future – we’re continuing to see them occur on a fairly regular scale across Canada. But this is happening in a very thoughtful, organized process. As far as “life without MLS”, I think boards that merge are looking at that as a strong point. They understand that what they really need to protect for their membership are services such as enforcing the code of ethics, working with good business practices, and Realtor education. These are all very important to individual Realtors, services they need and want to have good access to.

For our future as an industry, we’re excited about the good numbers of new, young people coming in as Realtors. They’re not coming in the same way I did, back in 1977, but rather as people well versed in technology, with a lot of education, and with a business plan. That’s the exciting part of where I see our industry going in future.

  

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