experts: real estate column Friday, August 27, 2004

Facing Down Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Is it because of the relatively high turnover in real estate that we so readily forget the boogiemen of the past?

By Marty Douglas

As published in REM - independent news and opinion for Canada's real estate industry.

An Inman News item coming out of the NAR conference in San Francisco caught my eye. It referred to our industry's favourite sport, on both sides of the 49th - fear mongering - and introduced a new (new to me at least) acronym FUD, for fear, uncertainty, doubt.

Here's an excerpt. "In the middle 1990s, AOL and newspapers were the alleged 'lion coming over the hill' that was going to steal the lucrative real estate franchise from brokers and agents. Then came the software boys from Redmond, Wash., - Microsoft Corp. - who briefly set their eyes on real estate with millions of dollars but marginal success. In the last two years, the banks have moved into the top make-Realtors-panic spot ... Of course, some trade associations thrive on fear because they believe it mobilizes their membership and gives the industry a higher purpose than the daily chore of selling real estate."

Shades of disintermediation. Is it because of the relatively high turnover in real estate that we so readily forget the boogiemen of the past and fail to recognize the same old ghost in a new bed sheet who emerges in a poltergeist-like cyclical event, usually to a standing ovation from some circuit speaker at one of our conventions?

The flavour of the month in Canada is competition, and this Canuck monster is Hydra headed with images of FSBOs, VOWS, and privacy, any of which can be whipped into a frenzy by our associations just when we street workers are concentrating on getting a listing or selling a house.

It's as though somewhere in the bowels of CREA, some bureaucrat is thinking: "Our members are making too much money and having fun. How can I fix that?" It's the same affliction politicians on Parliament Hill come down with, resulting in things like the Firearms Registry and the Privacy Commissioner.

Before you strip me of my membership in CREA, I don't mean to make light of the underlying issues of competition or privacy. They should be encased in our ongoing mandatory education programs in all jurisdictions. It's the crap that comes along with the problem, the bureaucracy established to deal with the reams of paper, the real dollar cost to support the programs developed - all pandering to the most recently gored ox.

Case in point: fuel tanks. Someone decided we should have a brochure, and a dandy one it is. You can get any number of them from CREA. They should be in every Realtor's tool kit. But when the rubber meets the road and we go to our local fire department in a smaller community, a fire department with one or two full-time staff and a gaggle of volunteers, the effort of removal and environmental protection falls apart.

The fire department will supervise the removal from a "fire hazard" point of view. The contractor will dig up and haul away the offending lump of metal. But there isn't anyone who will give any sort of certification on the removal, other than to say it's gone. We have no certified removal contractor in our community of 70,000 souls. Somewhere in our community - I don't want to know where are the residual fuel and the tanks.

Years ago, urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was a big deal in our business. A specialized removal trade developed, along with no end of scam artists, to test for and replace the offending foam. Then we were told not to worry, it was an over reaction. One that cost the industry and a lot of homeowners a great deal of money.

If you think these panics are not political, answer this question. Why is radon gas, one of the biggest disclosure concerns in the U.S. housing industry, not given the same preferential treatment in Canada? Is our radon - and we have plenty - different? Safer? And why is mould suddenly a coast-to-coast item of concern? On the Wet Coast - get it? Wet? - we invented the leaky condo and its accompanying algae decades ago. Suddenly we need a brochure and probably, coming soon to a neighbourhood near you, a mould registry.

Problems? Sure. New ones? Not likely. Worrisome? Of course, but know enough to deal with it in the contract when and if it arises. Don't let it be a barrier to your success in what is a very simple business. See the people. Show them houses. Ask them if they'd like to buy.

Marty Douglas is the sales manager for Coast Realty Group (Comox Valley) Ltd., one of nine Coast Realty Group offices on Vancouver Island. He is a past chair of the Real Estate Errors and Omissions Corporation of B.C., the Real Estate Council of B.C., the B.C. Real Estate Association and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board. 1 800 715 3999; fax 250 897 3933. Email mdouglas@island.net.




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