By Marty Douglas

In the distant past, somewhere around the birth of rock and roll, Colonel T.G. Norris QC filed his report on real estate business in British Columbia following years of effort by the industry to establish the profession via a structure grounded in legislation – the Real Estate Act of 1958.

The Norris Report observed and recommended the public would be better served by licensees who were educated under the auspices of UBC, who were subject to a province-wide board and, among other things, had common forms for contracts and listings. Seems like only yesterday we were bitching about education, structure and standard contracts.

Hey, wait a minute!



As we approach the opportunity to effect change by expressing our opinion on the restructuring of real estate in B.C., I thought it might be useful to remind members of all boards and associations in B.C. of how far we have come in the past 60 years and to compliment those who led us through the seemingly difficult transitions of the past we take for granted today.

I won’t bore you with dark ages of the Vancouver Listing Exchange and the acceptance of women into the industry – the ʼ50s – the organizing of boundaries and territories for the boards – the ʼ60s – the entry of franchises, wage and price controls, computers and, God help us, giving salesmen (as they were then officially known regardless of gender) the right to vote in industry affairs – the ʼ70s.

No, I’m going to start with the ʼ80s and a man you have never heard of – Jim Middlecamp. Mr. Middlecamp, an independent broker, objected to the yoke of restraint placed upon him by the members of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board. The subsequent legal action resulted in the Prohibition Order and brought the attention of all of Canada to the Competition Bureau and the power it wielded.

I was subpoenaed as a former president of BCREA, and offered bus fare from Courtenay to the Lower Mainland to testify. It was a national event, bringing all boards and CREA together. But we were hardly nimble. It took 10 years of post-settlement negotiation with the Competition Bureau by CREA and the provinces and boards to establish the guidelines we work under today. And it cost a lot of money.

The ʼ80s – ah! Who can forget 21 per cent mortgage interest and the then Disclosure of Interest in Trade, introduced by a right wing provincial government, serious about requiring licensees disclosing their interest when buying and selling real estate.

By the ʼ90, the Internet was peeping out. Online retail sales were threatening traditional department stores. Boycotts were planned against those retailers who lacked a “real” store. It didn’t turn out well. 1996 was a busy year. Realtylink.org was launched, the forerunner of mls.ca and Realtor.ca. A B.C. industry study commenced, Real Estate 2010, looking to the future.

Its recommendations followed a familiar theme – mandatory continuing education, a single license system, mentoring tied to licensing and a seamless data base for property information. In 1998, realtorlink arrived – our intranet. In 1999, the large real estate companies of Canada – Century 21, Re/Max and Royal LePage – challenged CREA for control of the national MLS. In the same year a national argument erupted over the inclusion of addresses on multiple listings – Calgary was opposed, Halifax/Dartmouth in favour. That same year five of the seven real estate boards in Nova Scotia merged into one with the provincial association. (Hey, there’s an idea!) CREA encouraged members across Canada to consider the efficiencies of restructuring.

Remember the introduction of buyer agency? 1995. Email? Got my first email server in 1996. The fax machine was headed to the same junk pile as the telegram and teletype I had used the decade before.

Today, we are being blamed for “shadow flipping”. In 1999, the Barrett Commission inquiring into leaky condos heard biased evidence that we, the industry, had known about leaky condos since 1991 and were complicit in failing to do anything about it. “Systemic corruption in the Realtor cartel” summarized the railings of one persistent critic. The ʼ90s saw the voluntary introduction of the Property Condition Disclosure Statement, first used as an experiment by Maple Ridge licensees and offered to the rest of the province when consumers were enthusiastic.

Rolling into the 21st Century, the two boards on Vancouver Island were seeking executive officers and my observation in a 2001 REM column was, “Will the directors of those boards have the courage . . . will they have the nerve to include Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Boards in a . . . Georgia Basin partnership?” Apparently not. In 2002 my board was restricting advertising of listings to the listing agent only. Hello! Can we spell reciprocity?

Rather than merge, B.C. became a sort of Balkanized European Common Market and around 2003, we invented the Pledge of Co-Operation as a passport for crossing the boundaries of neighbouring real estate boards. Then we discovered those “foreign” members did things like mere postings on properties in our territory. To the barricades! CREA and the Competition Bureau to the rescue.

Even though we had admitted women to the business and given salespeople a vote formerly held only by their broker, in the first decade of this century we were struggling with office staff and managing brokers having access to listing data. My admin staff couldn’t go online to order forms without using my password. And I couldn’t access the office listings to see how my sales team was doing. Both problems were resolved. In 10 years.

Privacy became a flavour of the month in 2003 and every member of CREA got a CD Privacy Toolkit. It made a great coaster. In 2004 we heard the first threat of “disintermediation”, the removal of the intermediary – us – from the transaction. America Online was the “lion coming over the hill”. AOL lost interest, distracted by making money in media.

In 2004, in REM I wrote, “I wish I were from Alberta. Or Ontario. Then I could proudly proclaim, ‘My province has mandatory education!’” Got it now though don’t we? Took about 10 years.

Which brings us to 2005. The new Real Estate Services Act. Disclosure of remuneration. Here’s an email I received: “Why? Is this some sort of April Fool’s joke, or what? Or is it some sort of socialistic-fascism being revisited here? Is this not an invasion of a Realtor’s privacy . . . How far can this idiotic bureaucracy go and get away with?” Apparently we got over the outrage.

Enough. No point in complaining that balancing competition barriers across provincial boundaries cost us the “no part-time salesmen rule” we had enjoyed since 1958. No need to mention FINTRAC and identifying clients. We have adjusted to the post 9/11 world, encasing us in the need for certainty in who we are dealing with. But it wasn’t an easy adjustment.

Change is constant. And in the words of columnist Gene Miller, “Change is horrible – unless it benefits you or you thought of it yourself.” We have to think outside of ourselves to the opportunities available to the industry as a whole by the proposed restructuring. Many of our current members have only a few years of history in our business. Many who vote on this issue will have moved on by the time the transition is complete.

The leaders of this change, the presidents of B.C.’s 11 real estate boards over two years, deserve our respect and thanks for their efforts. Yes, for many of us it will be a leap of faith to vote “in favour”. But think about those leaders, those men and women who we elected to lead our boards and then the province. We elected them because of their willingness to serve, because of their talent and the respect in which they are held. We elected them to govern. We elected them to make decisions. We entrusted them with our industry. They didn’t turn into idiots when they landed at YVR and breathed the Vancouver vapours. It’s time to respect and honour their recommendation.

I began this column with an old children’s nursery rhyme – one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go. Motivational speaker Rosita Perez said, “A lot of people die, stuck in ‘three to get ready’. Take the next step.”

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