Ellyn Mendham credits teaching background to industry leadership
Ellyn Mendham describes her entry into real estate as a “fluke.”
Originally an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, then Nova Scotia, Mendham’s credentials did not immediately transfer when she moved to Alberta.
“I needed to work and produce an income, and at the time I thought I would go back to teaching later,” said Mendham. “By fluke, I got into real estate.”
But after making her first sale – a home that went for $42,000 in 1975 – she quickly realized she loved the industry.
In 1993, Mendham became CREB®’s 50th president and was just the third woman to hold the position, after Barbara Watson, in 1983 and Dorothy Larson, in 1987. (The CREB® board of directors first included a woman in 1975 when Grace Turley joined).
Mendham was also different from many of her predecessors, as she was an associate, not a broker.
“When you look at what technology has done for us, the differences are dramatic.”
While media coverage at the time emphasized her gender, Mendham was focused on the job ahead.
The market that year was “nice and normal,” she remembers, following much turmoil in the late 1980s due to the economy and challenges with the Competition Bureau. Low interest rates and a federal five-per-cent down payment program for first-time buyers, introduced the year before, spurred sales. According to CREB®, sales in 1993 were relatively steady when compared to the previous year at 14,515, as was the average sales price of $136,130.
During the fall of 1993, the Canadian Real Estate Association hosted its annual conference in Calgary, with much involvement from Mendham and CREB®. Mendham still laughs when she recalls doing a presentation for the event at the Stampede Grounds, which involved being kidnapped.
“There were some exciting adventures,” she said.
One of the biggest changes in 1993 was the new electronic lockbox system.
“I call it God’s gift to REALTORS®,” said Mendham, recalling how, prior to the system, keys had to be picked up from owners who may or may not have been home. An earlier lockbox system existed, but was problematic because of salesperson turnover and a flawed system of recovering key and credentials.
“When you look at what technology has done for us, the differences are dramatic,” said Mendham. In a 1993 news article, she spoke of the need for real estate professionals to “always have your beeper with you.”
Mendham has witnessed many other changes during her time in the industry, including how companies are structured and offers are presented to sellers.
“For a long time, I’d call the listing agent and present an offer in person and we’d work together,” she said. “Now everyone wants to email it … This is a people job. You need to talk to others.”
Real estate in the city has also changed, most notably for Mendham in the number of condominium buildings that now exist, as well as the variety.
“There are apartment-style condos and conventional condos and townhomes. It’s a whole different area, and you have to educate the public because most people don’t understand,” she said, noting that her teaching background has helped her because it’s about, “teaching, one couple at a time.”
“Single-family homes are single-family homes, but condos are more complicated.”
More than 40 years into her career, Mendham continues to educate herself and others.
“It keeps me learning and involved,” she said. “Otherwise I would be bored.”
And while others around her are considering retirement, Mendham’s not.
“My dad retired at 85. I’m planning to continue as long as I’m healthy and enjoying it,” she said.