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Agents told to brace for tough times

Industry meeting tries to put a positive spin on an expected downturn in home sales and prices

October 28, 2008

VAUGHAN, ONT. -- A crowd of more than 1,000 real estate agents and brokers, including many who joined in the boom and have yet to live through a downturn, gathered yesterday in Toronto for an industry pep talk. The message they got was to expect Canada's residential real estate market to be rocky in 2009, but that it would be followed by a brighter picture for 2010.

In the meantime, a lot of the talk at the Toronto Real Estate Board's (TREB) annual general meeting centred around what do to ride out the slowdown. In tough times, agents will drop out, brokerages will consolidate and cut costs, and everyone will have to make better use of technology, a panel of eight Canadian real estate company representatives said at the event.

Serious agents who stick out the downturn will have the opportunity to shine, they added, although their optimism appeared lost on some participants.

"They're basically saying that next year is a writeoff," one audience member said to colleagues at her table.

The downturn may have a silver lining, causing the industry to "raise the bar" on customer service, said panelist Michael Polzler, regional director at Re/Max.

"There are far too many agents out there who don't specialize, who do just two or three deals a year. Would you use a part-time lawyer or a part-time dentist? We need to raise the bar," Mr. Polzler said.

The average number of housing units sold per realtor each year in Canada is just 5.7, reflecting the number of part-timers, said Phil Soper, chief executive officer of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.

There were 95,000 realtors in Canada last year, up from 77,000 in 1987, Mr. Soper said. During that time yearly industry revenues rose from $30-billion to $160-billion, he added.

As the real estate pie shrinks over the next year, agents and brokers must listen to customers and become consultants rather than marketers, said panelists Gary Hockey, president of Coldwell Banker Canada and Kimberly Fleming, regional director at Prudential Real Estate Affiliates.

The meeting came on the heels of a midmonth report from TREB showing sales for the first half of October in the GTA plummeted 21 per cent from a year earlier, and the average resale home price declined by 15 per cent.

Sales and prices in other markets across the country, including Vancouver and Calgary, have also slumped. Depending on the region, the downturns have variously been attributed to lack of affordability, the economy, and taxes.

The negative effect of a land transfer tax that came into effect in February will be reflected in Toronto's sales numbers for October, which are due out next week, said TREB spokesman Von Palmer.

In Vancouver, agents with more experience are being asked to mentor those who haven't gone through a downturn before, said Dave Watt, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, in a telephone interview.

"We're also telling our members...we're well funded. Our biggest concern is that for the 90 per cent of our members that will remain in the business...all of our services and the products they rely on...will not be pulled back," Mr. Watt said.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 02:18PM by Registered CommenterElaine in | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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