End of an era: Elton Ash bids farewell after 43 years in real estate

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After 43 years and assorted prestigious awards recognizing him as one of the most influential people in real estate, Elton Ash, Re/Max Canada’s executive vice president, will retire at the end of October this year.

Says the organization’s president, Christopher Alexander: “Elton is the definition of an iconic real estate leader. He has achieved more in his career than most people can fathom and is an incredible person, too. While we will miss him dearly at Re/Max, I am excited for him and his next chapter. Thank you, Elton, for all of your wisdom and guidance throughout our many years of working together. Re/Max Canada is privileged to continue to build on your incredible legacy.”

It’s said that a new broom sweeps clean. But thanks to Ash’s bequest, as well as foresight on Re/Max’s part, it seems that a new broom won’t be necessary. Instead, as president, Alexander will assume the leadership of Ash’s role and will delegate where needed. 

“Re/Max is in good hands with Christopher,” states Ash. “You don’t go for a walk in the snow to think about retirement as Pierre Trudeau did in 1984. This succession plan has taken a lot of thought and planning. Christopher and team will be taking on my role.”

Humble beginnings

 

It’s a position that brought Ash further than he ever imagined as a Saskatchewan farm boy entering the business in 1980 with “absolutely no concept” of what he was getting into. “I went for an interview,” he recalls. “I had a blazer. I bought a tie and a nice white shirt, and in I went with my cowboy boots.”

It was a very different business back then. Male-dominated, chauvinistic (“like the movie Tin Men,” notes Ash) and with agents having no other option than to split their earnings 50/50 with the brokerage and be taxed as employees. Ash — who has a degree in agriculture — was hesitant to become a real estate agent because of the industry’s then-sketchy reputation. But he liked that he could set his own hours.

He had a tough first year. But by year three, he was rocking. “I was newly married to my wife Jayne, and we had four girls in six years,” he explains. “I was motivated.”

He points out that Re/Max was the “original disruptor” in the industry, introducing the concept of 100 per cent commission with a monthly flat fee. In 1984, Ash joined Re/Max as a sales associate in Saskatoon. By 1990, he was a broker/owner in British Columbia, then four years later joined Re/Max Western Canada in Kelowna, B.C., as part of the management team, helping new franchises grow. 

He progressed through the ranks, moving to the States for a while to help Re/Max founders Dave and Gail Liniger grow the commercial side of the business. Eventually, he landed in his current position, based in western Canada, where he’s remained.

 

Evolution and challenges in real estate

 

Besides technology (“We used to have cell phones so big they were in their own suitcase. We were cool dudes,” he laughs) and the resultant improved access to information, one of the biggest changes he’s witnessed in the field over the years is a huge leap in professionalism. A “terrific job” has been done improving the industry’s reputation, he’s happy to note. 

As in B.C.’s case, sometimes this has been pushed by the provincial regulator with much realtor “kicking and screaming,” he adds. While he understands the need for absolute professionalism in legalities and fiduciary responsibilities, there’s concern that “a few bad apples” are responsible for rules being imposed that impact everyone, he observes.  

In February 2011, Ash graced the cover of Real Estate Magazine and discussed the ongoing complexity and ambiguity in the industry at the time, especially with the emergence of new business models and regulatory changes.

 

 

Today, Ash is less impressed with current training in basic sales skills than he is with the industry’s revamped reputation. In his opinion, “People don’t know how to close a deal. It’s why we see such a high turnover rate in this business.”       

He also has concerns around affordability and the lack of housing supply. “Buying a first home is far more challenging than ever before. Twenty years down the road, will we become more like Europe, where if you haven’t inherited it, you won’t be able to own a home?” he wonders. “I hope that’s not the case – that the government reacts to this supply issue.” 

The market is starting to ease in some regions, bringing much-needed relief from sky-high prices, Ash has observed. And there’s also “a bit of saving grace for our children and grandchildren,” he notes, in that “the bank of Mom and Dad is alive and well… with the greatest transfer of wealth ever, from boomers down through to millennials and Generation Z.”

 

Future endeavors

 

Overall, Ash is “excited and positive” about the future of real estate and Re/Max’s role in it. “It’s a great time to be a realtor.” 

What will he do now, out of the business, a social guy with over 10,000 names in his customer relations management software? For starters, there’s a winter residence in Antigua, non-profits to assist, as well as the regional hospital foundation and various boards. And let’s not forget teaching the grandkids to sail.

Even so, Ash has acknowledged that he’s leaving the industry with mixed feelings.” I told Christopher to keep me on speed dial,” he confesses. 

 

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