Former CREB® president Alan Tennant recalls 1998 as one with few challenges
Alan Tennant summarizes Calgary’s resale residential housing market in 1998 in one word: stable.
“I recall doing monthly statistic releases throughout the year, and trying to find new ways to state ‘stable,’” said Tennant, who was CREB®’s president that year. “I remember [the market] now more fondly than I did at the time. Back then, it seemed almost boring.”
He clarifies the market wasn’t stagnant – it just wasn’t experiencing growth at the pace many Calgarians had become accustomed to. According to CREB®, sales in 1998 were down a modest six per cent to 17,284 units, while the average price increased by 10 per cent to $161,496.
“The volume of activity was stable and prices weren’t changing dramatically – just gently climbing.”
“It was a pretty flat market environment, with not many big changes in interest rates,” said Tennant, referring to the one-year fixed rate, which hovered around 6.4 per cent for most of the year. “The volume of activity was stable and prices weren’t changing dramatically – just gently climbing.”
In that environment, few challenges existed. Tennant remembered toward the end of 1998, people started to focus on the new millennium.
“Concerns were starting to build about what would happen with computers on the switch over to the year 2000. We were a little ways out, but toward the end of my term, we started to think and talk about preparation,” he said.
“In some ways, it was kind of a scary time. We were starting to realize our reliance on computers and our ignorance about them.”
In 1998, telecommuting was also an emerging concept – the idea that real estate professionals could work on the fly.
“What that meant was a laptop. That was the big thing,” Tennant said.
To that end, CREB® introduced a laptop-leasing program to help local real estate professionals. “We thought it was important to make this affordable for members – to make this accessible; to convince them this was something they should be doing. The costs were prohibitive to buy these expensive little things.”
Another board initiative that year was to study the buyer brokerage model.
“We started to see the emergence of buyer brokerage, which was a different approach to the business. We struck up a task force to start to develop business rules around the new concept,” Tennant said.
In the years that followed his presidency, as the Internet became ubiquitous, Tennant said he’s seen homebuyers’ preferences evolve.
“We started to see the emergence of higher expectations from consumers, of buyers wanting to get more involved in the process and expecting more from their agent,” he said.
“They had a greater degree of sophistication, in terms of wanting to use the Internet more, and wanting to see more information online. This was all new territory for us, and we were certainly dealing with a savvier consumer and trying to get our head around that.”
Such technology has led the industry to change and adapt.
“There’s been a big shift from the REALTOR® being the gatekeeper of the information to being the curator and the guide – a real estate Sherpa – instead of doling out the information,” said Tennant. “It’s more of a case of being really well informed and playing more of a consultative role with the consumer.”
Part of filling that adviser role has also meant being better informed on the market itself – an ongoing test for real estate professionals given the evolution of housing products within the city.
“The biggest change in Calgary has been the shift in product mix to multi-family apartments and hi-rises,” said Tennant. “Those were a sector of the market we were quite under-supplied in, but there’s been a fantastic amount of growth in that sector.”
Since 2011, Tennant has served as CREB®’s CEO. While he described the situation Calgary currently faces as “a really challenging environment,” he also quickly focused on the positives.
“We’re in a very tough market right now, but I think what’s interesting about it is it brings out the best in our members,” he said. “It forces them to be creative and focused on fundamentals. It makes them expect more from us, as a service provider. That’s healthy.
“There’s a lot of suffering going on in the marketplace – some among our members and some among clients – but there’s also opportunity in there. We have to keep our eyes open to what that looks like: how we can get in there and do something about it? That’s the fun part of the job.”