O Canada! One great association event can beget many more

IMG_0166 Quebec City – night.

40-mile per hour winds blew mothball sized snow flakes, blasting the tiny slice of skin I left exposed under my lightweight winter clothing.

I elected to walk from the hotel to dinner where I was to join several dozen of Canada’s best and brightest real estate folks.

I was in town to speak at the CREA (Canadian Real Estate Association) conference — my second-to-last speaking trip of 2008.

Despite taking place two days before Thanksgiving, I chose to come for one simple reason: I see Canada as America’s attic, a place filled with great treasures. A place you climb up into to discover hidden gems you never knew where there. Once here, you find it’s a place you simply don’t want to come down from.

One central consumer facing Website site serves all the many different MLS’s and boards across Canada who feed this site with listings. (Thanks to Michael Wurzer and Brian Larson for adding clarity to this). You know that. But until you come here and get inside the Canadian real estate culture, you will never fully appreciate its implications.

But let’s put that aside as the merits of one national MLS will derail the point of this post, which was this association’s agenda for members and conference attendees. It was all about Web 2.0, which took center stage rather than some small meeting room far from the typical CE courses that have been hashed and rehashed for the last 10 years.

The heavily populated ballroom was filled to capacity. Mostly boomers. Most had no Facebook account. Most never shot video. Most never blogged. Most still have a dependency on print marketing and advertising.

But these folks were engaged, despite the long day of speakers and challenging topics. During one panel, the audience was taught how to use their smart phones to send tweets to a twitter account the moderator created for the session and projected on two screens – one in English and one in French. It appeared Twitter was a phenomenon only 2 out the 600 in attendance had experienced.

No magnet vendors here


I walked though the vendor area. No magnet booths. No sign booths. No jewelery. There were a handful of carefully selected technology vendors and, as you can see above, Apple. Chew on that.

Conversations at dinner


Pictured here is the 2-story, 300-year old building that houses the restaurant at which we had dinner. The entire party save myself and one other took a cab. We chose to walk through the cold. Strolling through the walled entry to the old city was worth the frostbite.

My table-mate was Sano Stante, a boutique broker out of Calgary. Throughout dinner we hashed out his vision for the virtual office he has been planning for the past year. Every bit was well thought out.

As he spoke, I wondered how many of his peers down in Silicon Valley have isolated their inefficiencies so well: The big offices, the empty cubicles, the Cat 5 cable connected to printers and copy machines. I wondered how many brokers in the US are planning their virtual play like this pioneer sitting next me.

I wondered how many associations in the USA are gathering their flocks into one place like CREA has done here where the cans of radical discussions and topics are popped open.

One Canadian summed it up gracefully. She said for every one stodgy old AE that fights change, there are ten young bucks with degrees looking for jobs in the Canadian real estate industry that believe change is paramount to survival. It’s got everyone on their toes.

What should 2009 look like for real estate associations?

For starters, all of you should be on your toes too. The new value you could be bringing to your members is urgently needed.

For starters, redo your websites. Most appear fluff-full of pleasantries. If I view one more association website where the front page features agents holding over-sized checks I’m going to wretch.

Focus your events for 2009 on topics that really matter for your members. Forget the award sessions and courses on how to become an expert witness, and wealth building secrets — the stuff that has been the standard fodder forever. Replace them with the things that matter right now: Foreclosures, global real estate, auditing your P&L, the virtual office, social media and social marketing and communications, understanding the Gen X&Y customer, and a session called “Good Vendor, Bad Vendor” which I personally want to host to help the throngs of agents and brokers learn how to discern between the snake oil salesmen and the real deal.

And let’s focus on eradicating the statement “I am computer illiterate” from this industry forever. Being computer literate, being able to write, report and broadcast must be viewed as part of the skill set of today’s agent.

Teach agents the 15 things they can be doing right now that will keep them from ever having to take out a newspaper ad again and show them how real and powerful social media marketing can be.

And bring in a few Canadians! First on my list is one of the most progressive agents in Toronto. Richard Silver uses all forms of Web 2.0 successfully garnered from his self-funded trips to Real Estate Connect for the past 10 years to make sure he stayed on the cutting edge. And it’s paid off. As Richard loves to remind people, he is a young 60.

Canadian front


I don’t take to the cold much. Living in California has softened me up. But the fresh blast of cold progressive Canadian air will stick with me as I think through the possibilities for real estate. As the days, weeks and months progress into 2009, the weak among us will exit and the cream of this business will rise. What will emerge can and should be a better, stronger, smarter, force of agents.

Associations, 2009 can be your year.
Seems pretty darn exciting to me.

Let’s rock, eh?