Former CREB® president Jerry Roberts said the Winter Olympics in 1988 represented a turning point for Calgary and its real estate industry. Photo by Michelle Hofer/For CREB®Now

55 Years of Calgary Real Estate: 1988 CREB® President Jerry Roberts

1988 CREB® president Jerry Roberts recalls Winter Olympics arriving at the right time for Calgarians

Like many Calgarians, the first thing Jerry Roberts remembers about 1988 was the Winter Olympics.

The international sporting event transformed Calgary, as 1,423 athletes from 57 nations competed in 46 events over 16 days in February 1988.

But perhaps more importantly, it put Calgary, then a city of 675,000 and the first Canadian city to host a Winter Olympic Games, on the world map, said Roberts, who was president of CREB® that year.

“It was good for the city and good for the real estate business,” he said. “Everything that year was running as smooth as it could.”

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By year’s end, total MLS® sales reached a new record of $1.72 billion, beating the previous record set in 1981 of $1.48 billon. Sales volume increased year-over-year by 11 per cent to 15,928, and then another 20 per cent the year after.

The city’s average price in 1988, meanwhile, jumped eight per cent from 1987 to $100,687, and then another
12 per cent annual by 1989.

The atmosphere during that Olympic year was a stark contrast to the gloom that hung over previous years following fallout from the National Energy Program. Instead, Roberts said the Games showcased the city’s strong spirit of volunteerism and renewed a sense of community for many Calgarians.

“Things were looking up in 1988,” Roberts said. “The market went to pot after 1981, and it was a tough market through to 1985 and 1986.”

Sweeping changes came to the real estate industry that year, too, after the federal court approved an agreement between the Canadian Real Estate Association and the federal government that prohibited commission-fixing by real estate agents.

The agreement followed months of negotiations and an 18-month investigation by the Consumer and Corporate Affairs Department’s Bureau of Competition Policy. It came to a head following complaints from homeowners and real estate agents about industry practices restricting competition.

Change, regulatory or otherwise, wasn’t new to Roberts though. In fact, he learned early on in his 34-year real estate career that change and adapting to it was the difference between success and failure.

Roberts entered the real estate industry in 1960 after finishing high school, spending some time working on oil rigs before deciding it wasn’t the future he wanted.

“When I was going into high school, I wanted to become a millionaire,” he said, thinking at the time that real estate seemed lucrative.

But from the beginning, Roberts remembered the challenges that came with being a real estate rookie.

“I almost starved to death,” he said. “At that time, there was no training course to get into real estate. You learned the hard way. You learned as you went.”

Roberts did find success, eventually going on to form his own company, Roberts Real Estate, in the 1970s. And when the market shifted in the 1980s, Roberts saw an opportunity to begin buying and managing properties.

“People had to sell their houses. They had no equity. They wanted someone to take it over and pay their mortgage,” he said.

Roberts continued to run Roberts Real Estate until his retirement in 1994. Today, he still owns some of the properties he purchased in the 1980s, and splits his time between Calgary and Phoenix.

In his decades in the industry, Roberts witnessed many changes. When he started, Calgary’s first skyscraper, the 20-storey Elveden Centre, was completed. And for many years, just a few builders existed in the city.

One of the biggest shifts he saw was the education of real estate professionals.

“The real estate board got more involved in training,” he said. “The industry just progressed.”

Some things, however, remained the same. Having worked through previous ups and downs in Calgary’s cyclical market, Roberts quickly learned a key lesson.

“You just make your money and save it for the downturn,” he said.

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