experts: real estate column Thursday, January 14, 1999

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

"Where have all the flowers gone?" Who sang that song? Best guess around the office - Peter, Paul and Mary. Perhaps Robert Fawcett is singing it today in his corner office as the Secretary of the Real Estate Council of British Columbia.

By Marty Douglas

"Where have all the flowers gone?" Who sang that song? Best guess around the office - Peter, Paul and Mary. Perhaps Robert Fawcett is singing it today in his corner office as the Secretary of the Real Estate Council of British Columbia. And a few blocks over, Robin Hill, Executive Officer of the BC Real Estate Association is whimpering in his latte "Momma told me not to come". Three Dog Night. Three dog years is more like it.

That's about how long the licensee numbers in BC have been in a spin - loving the spin they're in - while industry leaders like Fawcett and Hill grapple with the reality of declining numbers. Less money to run the show.

Since early 1998, sixty-four offices and branches have closed, 124 of the most qualified brokers have left, and 1101 of the most experienced salespeople have turned in their parchment. The decline since the peak of enrollment in real estate in 1994 is over four thousand or about twenty per cent. That's six point something per cent a year. If the decline continues, by 2005 there will be around 11,000 licensees, close to half the number of the previous decade.

Some of us are OK with that. More of the pie for those of us still in the kitchen. But owners are starting to look around and realize it's been awhile since someone knocked on their door to enquire about a career in real estate sales. The only way to recruit has been to follow the Superintendent of Brokers' hit squad and offer positions to those whose commissions have escaped with the boss.

And the bureaucrats - they hate it when you call them that - have a cash crunch. About one and a half million dollars in annual fees, not including those paid to local real estate boards, have just gone away, leaving infrastructure in place that was created for the management of larger numbers.

Over at the University of British Columbia, the provider of pre-licensing courses for the industry, there are more nudes on Wreck Beach in winter than students enrolled in the current training courses. One year ago, the University downgraded its estimate of annual enrollment to 1600 from as high as 3000 in the glory days. Their estimates were no better than the industry's. By the close of the last course in 1998, the total student enrollment stood at 846. Considering that as few as sixty per cent of those who first enroll actually emerge with a license - no wonder there's a line up to get to the window ledge.

Looking across the country doesn't offer much in the way of consolation. With BC's economy in the tank and likely to stay that way through 1999, one would expect low numbers at the new licensing counter. However, in the rest of Canada, where markets have ranged from brisk to way better than BC's, the numbers give no indication that a better market rejuvenates interest in the real estate profession.

So what? In my opinion, the results will be positive for those who recognize the reality and act accordingly. From broker to real estate board to provincial and national association, membership will be less. Members will be challenged with threats of raised dues. Sort of like medics going into the field of a recent battle to bayonet the survivors. "Over my dead body" may very well be the appropriate stance for the member. At the very least, dues driven organizations will be scrutinized for budget efficiencies and volunteer directors will endure pressure not mentioned in their "Welcome Aboard Kit".

Now would not be the time to be an executive officer bargaining for a new contract. Now would not be the time for a small board to cling to parochial pride and ignore the possibilities of economic partnerships, joint management, and yes, even merger. Now would not be the time to revolutionize the way real estate is bought and sold with a new franchise relying on desk fees.

Now - and for the next five years - is the time for individuals and brokerages of character and proven track records of customer satisfaction to emerge as the leaders of the next generation of real estate professionals. Bayonet wounds aside, the decline in licensee numbers will give strength to those who have been performing while the wailing of the dearly departed distracted the bureaucrats. From individual to niche independent to national franchise or corporation, the next few years present an opportunity to create a foundation of influence and profit that our profession once enjoyed and deserves again.

For those not in control, the words of Yogi Berra may be a consolation. "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up there."




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