Forty years of progress for the Commercial Division

To explain the dramatic changes that have occurred in the Winnipeg real estate industry, Bill Burns  tells people how things were 40 years ago.

“In January 1960, when I  went to get my real estate licence at the Norquay Building, I slapped down $25 and was given a copy of the exam,” Burns explained in an interview.

“They told me I could take the exam whenever I thought I was ready!”

At the time, there was no distinction made between those who were selling commercial or residential real estate — they all paid the same fee and took the same exam.

“Boy, how things have changed,” added Burns.

Burns, along with Brian Aronovitch, Graeme Rowswell and Burt Minuk were recently acknowledged for being active members of the Commercial Division of the Winnipeg REALTORS® Association since its founding 40 years ago. They were presented with commemorative pins by division chair Ken Jones during a 40th anniversary celebration held at the Manitoba Club on April 17. 

When the Commercial Division was formed on April 10, 1968, “there weren’t that many commercial real estate agents in town,” said Rowswell. “You had a few large companies that basically controlled the business.”

“It was a struggle,” added Burns. “There was little acceptance of the advantages of a collective system. Commercial people were very much unto themselves — they were inclined to keep information to themselves.

“There was no formal arrangement,” Burns  said. “You had to convince people that they could prosper if fees and information were shared.”

Rowswell said it took a concerted effort from J.M. “Jim” Robb to convince other commercial REALTORS® that it was to their benefit to organize into a co-operative body, work together and share listings. 

Robb became the first chair of the Commercial Division of the Winnipeg Real Estate Board (now WinnipegREALTORS®), and was later a president of the WREB, the Manitoba Real Estate Association and the Canadian Real Estate Association. He also helped develop a commercial division for CREA.

Initially, commercial REALTORS® relied primarily on signage and word-of-mouth to promote listings.These methods were succeeded by the creation of a listing service, similar to the residential Multiple Listing Service®, mailed out to members. Co-operation and sharing of information was an evolving process for the Commercial Divison.

In 1981, commercial properties were included on the board’s Homer computer system and by June 1997, a database exclusive to commercial REALTORS® called CLS™ was developed. In September 2002, a new version of CLS™ was released known as cpix® that was designed to be 100 per cent

Internet-based and 100 per cent remote-listing loaded. In January 2003, CREA’s public website for commercial real estate was launched, which has since been upgraded as cpix® version 2 for Commercial Division members.

The desire to better serve clients and members resulted in the development of specific courses for commercial real estate.

“My feeling is that you can point to that and say that was the significant factor in the development of the membership of the Commercial Division,” said Burns.

“In the beginning, we struggled with a fairly small membership (only 29 members in 1968). Today, the Commercial Division has 187 members  and the REALTORS® are much better trained and better able to serve the public and themselves ... commercial REALTORS® are now more knowledgeable than their predecessors.”

By the mid-1980s, mandatory education was made a prerequisite for obtaining a real estate licence.

“That was a good move,” said Burns.

Today, all commercial listings — like MLS® — are prominently featured in the Winnipeg Real Estate News. In fact, this week the Commercial Division has a special section for its listings. In co-operation with WREN, the trice-yearly Commercial Real Estate magazine was launched last year by the division.

“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved as an organization and for the city as well,” said Jones.

Jones said the division has played a significant role on civic issues. Members of the division have served on numerous city task forces and committees dealing with such issues as bylaws, assessment, taxes and areas of interest to the commercial real estate industry.  

CREA Canadian Commercial Council chair Jim Gammer said during the 40th anniversary ceremony that the WinnipegREALTORS® Commercial Division is a national leader in providing products and services to its members and the public. 

As a trailblazer in commercial real estate, the division earlier received CREA’s Canadian Commercial Council Merit Award.

“The commercial real estate business was very difficult in 1968,” said Burns.  “The development of Winnipeg wasn’t going lickety-split.

“But, it’s a booming business today.”