The future of Realtor.ca was discussed, debated and questioned on October 18 at an SGM hosted by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).
In an email, CREA spokesperson Pierre Leduc expressed the national board was “encouraged by the number of participants who stepped up to ask questions, offer feedback and provide suggestions on the high-level plan and operational guiding principles prepared by the Realtor.ca task force.”
Task force member and chairperson of the Saskatchewan Realtors Association, Jeff Stewart, couldn’t agree more. “We felt like we had the trust of the room – it felt like a really uniting moment. This could potentially be a pivot where we can all work together,” he shares.
Presenting the ownership and governance pillar
Stewart presented the panel on Realtor.ca’s ownership and governance pillar, which asks if the new Realtor.ca company should be 100 per cent owned by realtors via membership to CREA. An overwhelming majority were in favour.
“Realtor.ca is not for sale now nor will it ever be for sale. We’re keenly aware of the importance of Realtor.ca and, with the platform, we’re the envy of organized real estate around the world.
We see ourselves as the stewards of that asset and want to see guardrails put in place to prevent anything (like a sale) from happening.”
When a member asked if it could still potentially be sold down the road, he responded, “Our goal is to pass on that asset better than we found it, (like) generational wealth. So, if something happens down the road it will require a membership vote, not (a decision made) unilaterally by anyone.”
Poll on guiding principles
Leduc explains that attendees were polled on three proposed guiding principles, which will act as operational guardrails for a new taxable entity.
Over 75 per cent agreed with each proposed principle.
Results have been shared with the CREA board of directors, along with feedback collected from earlier discussions and presentations.
The main issue: Selling and shareholder rights
When speaking about selling a stake in Realtor.ca, Stewart explains, “We’re very passionate about allowing any outside ownership … there’s danger (in selling) because of shareholder rights. If it’s for-profit, the CEO has a fiduciary obligation to all shareholders, not just majority shareholders. You can’t leverage what’s good for the majority above the smaller shareholders. (This is) similar to what happened in the US with Realtor.com and we have to do everything we can to avoid that.”
The Alberta Real Estate Association (AREA)’s CEO, Brad Mitchell, echoes these sentiments.
He points out his association’s only major concern was the potential sale of Realtor.ca, “whether it be a full sale, a partial sale, a sale to a minority shareholder or anything else … The problem with selling even a portion of Realtor.ca is you’re taking outside capital that needs a method of being paid back. That outside party will expect a return on their investment, but when you fund (the platform) yourself or by selling services, you’re not beholden to a third party.”
Now that CREA has affirmed they won’t be selling any portion of Realtor.ca, he feels the issue has been rectified. “The CREA board of directors has taken stock of what their stakeholders are saying and is making an effort to listen to them – AREA is pretty happy … it’s time to move on,” he expresses.
“We are CREA” – no more us vs them
Stewart points out that, leading up to the SGM, there has been a lot of background and stories about the platform’s ownership and governance future. While he admits there’s truth and merit to them, he also shares, “The biggest takeaway is that we had a really positive endorsement from the group – both for all three pillars and for the overarching question of supporting the work of the task force.”
In the past couple of years, he’s experienced a lot of politics involved in organized real estate boards and associations and shares, “Egos get in the way of doing really important work … it’s often “they” or “CREA” against “us”.”
Stewart would like to see the industry “get (its) egos out of the way and stop (making CREA) “they vs us” or “us vs them” – because we are CREA,” he emphasizes.
Indeed, the task force includes members of CREA’s board of directors.
“The amount of time we waste bickering over insignificant things is getting in the way of really important work that needs doing … and I’m not going to say I haven’t been guilty of doing this. It goes both ways – am I doing everything I can to communicate better with them? Communication is a two-way street.”
Stewart says he left there hopeful. “I think the group did (too). This is an inflection point for organized real estate in Canada and CREA’s membership. I’m really positive about moving forward.”
Mitchell shares similar sentiments. “I think CREA’s on the right track now and listened to stakeholders. The meeting was generally positive with lots of questions from members … The board now understands that stakeholder engagement is an important part of the process when a major decision like this is being made.”
Leduc confirms that a decision on next steps is expected soon.