On February 25, Sean Morrison was named the new president of the Ontario Real Estate Association. Prior to his election as president, Morrison, who is also broker and manager for Coldwell Banker Momentum Realty and a member of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, had served on OREA’s Board of Directors for four years, serving as a member and Chair on several OREA and RAHB committees.
He spoke to REP by phone on March 11. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Estate Professional: Congratulations on becoming president of OREA. How did you react when you first heard the news?
Sean Morrison: To get to be the spokesperson for your profession in Ontario is incredible. It’s a huge honour, a big responsibility and something we don’t take lightly. I’m thrilled to be able to speak for a profession that’s given me an amazing career for 15 years.
REP: Some people might be curious about the process you went through. How does a person become the president of OREA?
SM: First, you have to be elected by the membership to the Board of Directors, so all of the 37 real estate boards in Ontario representing our 80,000 members will vote on who they want as their representatives on the Board of Directors. From there, you have to spend some time on the Board, you have to get a set of criteria to match to even be able to run for president. Then you put your name forward to run for president and you’re elected by your peers on the Board of Directors.
REP: What’s it going to be like balancing the demands of being the president of OREA with your responsibilities as a broker?
SM: Thankfully I’ve got an amazing management team at Coldwell Banker that was more than prepared to take over before I even put my name forward. I spoke with them, and obviously my spouse as well, to make sure they were okay with the time commitments and to understand that my first priority would be to the Association moving forward. They were in great spirits on that. They were very supportive.
It's really a team effort over there. That will help our agents stay at the cutting edge of everything in my absence.
REP: What has being a part of organized real estate meant for your career – and for your life? Would you recommend it to most realtors to get involved.
SM: I would 100 percent recommend that people get involved.
And it can happen in various ways. You can get involved by attending your local [annual general meeting]. You can attend committee meetings. You can be on a committee. You can run for Board of Directors of your local association or your provincial association, like I have.
As far as what it does for your career, it really broadens your horizons. You’re in the loop when it comes to what is happening in our industry, or what calls for action are happening on the advocacy front to help with things like when we defeated the municipal land transfer tax, or the Trust in Real Estate Services Act, that’s all on the back of our grassroots advocacy, and by being part of organized real estate, you get those emails, you get the information surrounding that, so that you can be more active in your profession.
Aside from that you get to meet realtors from all over your chosen area, if you’re with your local board, the province or the country, depending on what level of organized real estate you’re involved with. From a realtor’s standpoint, it can help increase their network, but also give them a broader idea of what’s going on in the market, so I think you become a more professional realtor by being involved in organized real estate.
REP: What are some of the biggest issues facing Ontario realtors? What are your plans for dealing with them?
SM: One of the biggest was our ability to incorporate. The Trust in Real Estate Services Act has rectified that. They’ve brought forward [private real estate corporations] for the final vote and they have gone through, so that will happen at some point, I’m assuming, over the next year as we draft the regulations.
What that does is allow tax fairness for realtors, so they can incorporate their business and utilize some of the funds long-term for more advertising, for more infrastructure-building projects within their own business.
As far as the market goes, we have a supply-and-demand issue in the province. While the government is taking steps toward increasing supply, realtors have to navigate that on the street.
REP: What about homeowners, buyer and seller? What are the Association’s goals for helping them?
SM: We’ve seen, over the last few years, homeownership rates dropping in Canada for the first time since Confederation, so it’s always been a priority of OREA to lobby in ways that we can have pro-home ownership legislation coming out, like the More Homes, More Choice Act that the government launched earlier this year, and to work with them on innovative solutions like laneway housing, building additional rowhouses or townhouses so we can increase the density of the housing stock available so that it will help with affordability across the province.
It's very difficult to be a realtor without a consumer, so we have to have pro-home ownership policies coming out of OREA and supporting homeowners so we can keep that dream of home ownership alive.
REP: You’ve mentioned TRESA a few times already. How effective do you think it’s going to be in improving the experiences for consumers? What more can be done to protect them?
SM: The Trust in Real Estate Services Act is ground-breaking legislation. We’ve been lobbying for this for over a decade. What the Act does is allow for increased consumer protection and holding the real estate professional to the highest standards in North America. It also has specialty certifications in it which will allow the consumer to identify, if you were buying a commercial property or a farm property, a realtor that has that specialization and experience so that they’re protected in their transaction.
REP: What can be done beyond what’s in TRESA?
SM: I think there’s always more that can be done, and we’re working with the provincial government to keep pro-homeownership policies front of mind. We’re always looking for ways that we can offer new tools, technology, training, research to our members so that they’re more informed and ready to go into the market, which helps the consumer by having a better realtor on the other side.
REP: With realtor education transferring to Humber College at the end of 2020, will OREA still have influence in determining what skills agents will be required to have?
SM: We will no longer be doing new agent intake training, but we do offer other services – leadership training, for instance – and we do put out a lot of research for our realtor members so they can continue to stay on the cutting edge and are informed on everything that is going on.
As far as specialty certifications go under TRESA, the policies for that haven’t been laid down around what that training will be, so OREA will be involved with [the Real Estate Council of Ontario] on that every step of the way to ensure that the new training that comes out for that will make our realtors better.
REP: How concerned is OREA with the presence of online companies like Properly and Zillow? Is there a fear that these technologies are going to disrupt the industry and take some market share from flesh-and-bone realtors?
SM: Obviously, a lot of those are our members as well. As they come in, they become members of organized real estate, so we welcome all business models to come in. I don’t think there is any real concern with the new players in the market. Our concern is adapting to the present conditions and to make sure that our realtors are informed about all the choices out there, and that the consumer is informed about all the choices out there as well, so that consumers can make an educated decision and realtors can help future-proof their business.
REP: What’s OREA’s position on Airbnb? The app is coming under increased criticism for the role its playing in housing shortages worldwide, but so many clients are buying properties to specifically used as Airbnb’s – which can come into conflict with local bylaws. Is there an official position?
SM: From the association, there’s no official position on that that I’m aware of. It’s not something we would really have a position on being that it’s more in the hotel space than in the homeownership space.
REP: Does OREA have much of a say in Ontario’s transit plans?
SM: OREA’s had a lot of discussions with the provincial government about transit-oriented neighbourhoods and density around transit. We recently did a research paper that came out in partnership with T360 that talked about how millennials are looking to live around transit-oriented neighbourhoods and what kind of housing they were looking for.
They want to live close to transit. We want to work with the government on innovative solutions to housing around transit areas because people want to be closer to work.
REP: Do you find that the government’s response to OREA’s recommendations has been favourable?
SM: This government is one that is very collaborative, in our opinion. We’ve been involved in the discussions, we’ve been involved in the roundtables, and going forward I think they understand what is coming out of this research, that they have to do something around transit.
REP: What about the cancellation of the Hamilton LRT? Did the Association have a position on that?
SM: That’s more for the local association, the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. Given our position on transit-oriented neighborhoods, it’s something that is concerning. Hopefully there are some additional transit plans in the Hamilton area, but we have no official position on the cancellation of the Hamilton LRT.
REP: With over 80,000 realtors operating in Ontario, and with so many of them only selling a house or two a year, are there too many people working as realtors in the province? Isn’t the number of realtors part of the reason behind why some agents behave less than ethically to maintain their business?
SM: We would never take a position to cap the number of realtors in the province. Healthy competition is always welcome within the real estate profession. I think what it comes down to is whether those people can make a living or not. That is a personal decision at that point. If people want to work either part-time or full-time in this industry, it’s certainly not something we’re going to put a barrier to entry on.
That being said, there’s a professionalism aspect to it. As long as each member out there is conducting themselves in a professional manner, then we have no issue with how many realtors are in the province. However, if you’re going to act in a non-professional way, that’s why we have RECO, and we support RECO. Under TRESA, we actually lobbied to have the powers of RECO increase as to being able to suspend and revoke licenses of bad offenders, because as realtors, we don’t want them in the profession.