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Saturday, January 22, 2022 2:04:56 AM UTC
Episode 22: Wes Hall – The Art of Negotiation

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME. I’m Erin Davis. Whether it’s our salaries or our family dinners, negotiating is part of our daily lives. For REALTORS®, it’s fundamental to your business. On episode 22 of REAL TIME brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, we’re joined by one of Canada’s most influential business leaders, the dynamic and very entertaining Wes Hall who brings us some practical knowledge.

With Mr. Hall, the newest member of CBC’s Dragons’ Den team, we’ll explore principles, best practices, and trends in negotiation, as well as key takeaways to help you as a REALTOR® to strengthen that skill. Look at you with the still new dragon glow to you. [chuckles] You said on a promo for CBC that everybody was going to love you and all the dragons were going to love you. How has that worked out so far, Wes?

Wes Hall: They still love me.

Erin: Oh, good.

Wes: That’s what happens when you’re a lovable person. Everybody is going to love you, right?

Erin: Oh, okay. All right. I’ll keep that in mind for our conversation here. It’s great to have you with us. Your story is unbelievable. You did, as you know, grow up living in a tin shack in Jamaica, and now here you are one of North America’s most influential power brokers, a hugely successful entrepreneur, an anti-racism activist, and of course, as we mentioned, the newest dragon in the den. Tell us if you can, Wes, here, and it will make a best-seller one day if it hasn’t already, your journey from such humble beginnings to where you are today. Would you, please?

Wes: It is indeed a journey. When people hear about this tin shack, they probably roll their eyes and go, “Of course, everybody is from a tin shack.” I literally was from that tin shack. It’s got the zinc roof. If you look it up on the internet Wes Hall’s tin shack, you probably will see it. Me and my grandmother in a picture standing looking at the shack and me saying to my grandmother at the time, “I’m going to get you out of this place one day.”

I have 14 brothers and sisters, by the way, a traditional Jamaican family where I have zero full brothers and sisters in that number. My mom and dad was never married. They had a one-off and I was that one-off. That’s why I’m so special because you just can’t replicate Wes Hall.

[laughter]

Erin: I wish you’d work on your self-confidence a bit.

Wes: I’ve tried. It’s just so hard.

[laughter]

Wes: It’s hard to be humble but I try.

Erin: You came to Canada in your teens.

Wes: September 27th, 1985, Friday. I came to live with my dad and I moved to Malvern. That’s where my dad was living at the time and he had five kids in Canada on his own. I came in to live as number six in that household. He had another daughter that was in Jamaica that came later on, but I was out of the house by that time. I was added to that household and it was the most amazing thing for me because it was my first time on an airplane, my first-time seeing traffic lights because I lived in literally the bush in Jamaica.

When I came here, I got off the airplane at Toronto International Airport, Pearson. I walked outside and I saw these people, my siblings, and my stepmom, and my dad waiting for me. Oh, man, it was just a euphoric moment. Then I got into their vehicle and I’m driving on a six-lane highway, the 401. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Then we landed at his house in Scarborough that the whole neighborhood was still under construction. It was mud and dirt but to me, that was paradise. I found paradise coming to Canada.

I kept that picture of me and my grandmother in that tin shack on my desk on Bay Street for two reasons. One is to remind me of where I came from and never to forget, and two, to celebrate this great country of ours. It’s only in a place like Canada – I hear about the American dream and so on. You never hear about the Canadian dream, but the Canadian dream is alive and well. For me having that picture, it’s really celebrating the Canadian dream, that you can come from a tin shack and you can end up at the top of corporate Canada on Bay Street.

Erin: It is an amazing story. The Canadian dream, as you say, we don’t tout it enough. It’s our nature to downplay stuff like that. Your grandmother who raised you and your brothers and sisters, what kind of an impact or influence did she have on the man that you are today?

Wes: Everything, every aspect of who I am today was architected by her. When you think about it, she didn’t sit me down and gave me lessons and say, “Here is how you become a man, Wes.” She used her example of industriousness to show me what I should be when I grow up. See, I was abandoned. My oldest sister, she was two years older than me, my younger brother who was a year younger than me, and I was 18 months at a time and we were left in a house by ourselves by our mother. A neighbor heard us crying and went to the plantation. My grandmother worked at a plantation. She worked in a plantation, banana plantation, a coconut plantation depending on the season.

The house that we were raised in was provided by the plantation owners for the workers to raise their family, so my grandmother had this two-room tin shack that she was given. She came and got us from the plantation and brought us to live with her. I was 18 months old and she wasn’t argumentative about it or was bitter about it. She was 60. Could you imagine at 60 years old, you have all these grandkids that you’re raising already and then you inherited three more and the three was all under five years old? You would have some resentment towards your children or your kid that did to you or towards your grandkids.

My grandmother, I never ever remembered her holding it against me as a child. She was working extremely hard to make sure that there’s food on the table for us, to make sure that we went to school. We didn’t have much. I didn’t wear shoes to go to school because we couldn’t afford it. There are times when I didn’t even have food to bring to school to have lunch. The fact of the matter is that she knew that education was important, and she made sure that we went to school. I grew up watching her, and as a result of watching her, it was instilled in me what I should be when I grow up and I wanted to be like her.

Erin: She taught you the art of negotiation, I understand too. As anyone who has been to a Jamaican market, as a tourist, I always go in there and I go. “Oh, I hate to haggle. I hate that bartering back and forth.” If you don’t know how to do that, you don’t belong there.

Wes: Listen, when you are poor, you have no choice. Just put it that way. If you think about my grandmother raising all these grandkids, and she has a finite amount of money to spend. If you think about what it’s like to work on a sugar cane plantation, you’re in the hot Jamaican sun, you’re bent over with a machete in your right hand and grabbing the stalks or sugarcane with your left hand and you’re chopping at the root. Then you chop the stalk at the top and then you put them in piles, and you do that for 10 hours a day. The only time you stop is to drink some water, wipe the sweat off your brow and have a little bit of a snack or something to eat quickly and you go back at it again.

When you get that paycheck, once a month they pay you, you have to stretch that money as far as you possibly can. When you go to the market to shop, you have to make sure that if they’re saying that tomatoes are $2 a pound, you try to make sure that you get that tomato for $0.50 a pound. That’s what I saw in my grandmother when she would take me to the market with her that not a single price that she was quoted she end up paying for that product. She always negotiated and she always got the price she wanted.

Erin: She was also someone who was selling her wares as well, so you sold from the other side.

Wes: Exactly. I saw the buying part and the selling part. When you’re buying, you want to get it as cheap as possible. When you’re selling, you want to get the most money as possible. One of the things that my grandmother would do is because she would sell puddings, for example, she would bake these amazing puddings and she would sell them. Her puddings were so good that she would be selling it for more than everybody else in the market. She’ll be sold out before everybody else. That would create this amazing word around the neighborhood that if you want to get the best pudding at the market, you have to go early because Mama Julia’s pudding is always sold out early.

When you’re creating that kind of demand for your product, it doesn’t matter what the competition is doing because you’re always going to get your price. Especially when you’re going to be sold out before everybody else, you can keep on marketing that up. That’s what my grandmother would do, that her pudding was the most expensive pudding in the market and it’s always the one to go first.

Erin: Before we leave Jamaica and head to Bay Street, which is where we’re speaking to you today, what became of your grandmother? Were you able to share some of your bounty with her before she left us?

Wes: You know what, thank you for that question because I never really got asked that question in the past and I really appreciate it. In that tin shack picture that you would see if you search on the internet, I was 22 years old and my grandmother was a very old woman at the time. I went back and I said to her, “Mama, I’m going to get you out of this tin shack one day. I’m going to work hard enough in Canada. I will continue to work hard to get you out to that tin shack.” I got my first big break on Bay Street, the first one I became a vice president on Bay Street, I’m like, “Finally, I’m ready to get my grandmother out to that tin shack,” and she died two weeks later.

She never saw the ultimate success. See, I had three children. I was working hard. I was trying to provide for my family, and I was waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect timing to bring her over to show her my success. As a result of waiting for the perfect opportunity, she never saw any of it. I shouldn’t have waited. I should have brought her in here a lot sooner so that she can see what I saw when I came here at 16-years old, September 27th, 1985, because that impressed me, just being in this country impressed me. I know she would be impressed by this country and by what I was doing to work hard and to try to provide for myself and my family here.

She never saw it. She died in that tin shack. That’s one of the reasons why, Erin, I push myself as hard as I do because she deserved to be where I’m at, she deserved to appreciate the fruits of my labor because she was a big part of that and she never got it. I don’t really work for money anymore. Yes, I initially started by saying I want to make as much money as I possibly can, but now I try to change people’s lives by the wealth I’ve created for myself by working hard. If I can change people’s lives like my grandmother changed my life, this world will be so much a better place.

Erin: That is so beautiful. Thank you and I am so sorry. I’m so sorry for that regret for you, Wes.

Erin: Coming up, how Wes Hall just about let his biggest break slip away because he had to. It’s a great story. Love REAL TIME? Thanks for finding and supporting us. Subscribe to our channels on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher to stay up to date on future guests and stories, or visit CREA.ca/podcast for more details and to catch up on past episodes. They are all worth your time.

You referred to that job, that vice presidency that you got on Bay Street. Your first really big break, but you almost talked your way out to that one. I just love the lesson in here. Be prepared to lose, Don’t pick a fight with someone who’s got nothing to lose. Tell us that story, Wes, if you would, please.

Wes: I was living in a 1100 square foot house with my wife. We couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. We had three kids under three years old and I had this job offer to be director of business development for a US company and I was going to be business development director in Canada. I had this mindset that my next big break has to be a vice president position. I won’t accept anything less than that. This gentleman, the CEO of the company, offered me this opportunity to be director of business development and he told me what the salary was and so on.

I remember when he gave me the call, I was in the master bedroom with my wife. We didn’t really have enough money to afford a bed, so the box spring and the mattress was on the floor and that’s where we’re sleeping. I took this call and the gentleman says, “I have exciting news for you, Wes. After the job interview and everything, I’m offering it a position of direct to business development.” I said to the gentleman, “I really appreciate the offer, however, I would like to be a vice president.” He said to me, “I don’t have the authority to offer you a vice president position but director of business development is yours”. I said to him, “When you have the authority to offer me that job, give me a call”.

Erin: Oh.

Wes: He said, “Okay.” [chuckling] He hang up the phone, and that was it. My poor wife was laying on the mattress on the floor. She could not believe what just happened because we didn’t even have enough money to buy diapers for all the kids and I’m turning down this job not because of the money, but because of the title. She couldn’t believe it, but guess what happened. Two weeks later, I got a call from that gentleman and said, “I have the authority to give you what you want,” and I became a vice president on Bay Street.

Erin: Oh. Those were some tense two weeks with your wife, though, I’m going to guess.

Wes: [chuckles] We’ve been married for 30 years now and I can tell you if I didn’t get a job, it probably wouldn’t have made it to 30.

[laughter]

Erin: Wes, why is it so hard for us to negotiate fair compensation?

Wes: I think we’re afraid of losing out. When you think about it, that’s your value. That’s what’s going to create wealth for yourself and your family. That compensation is going to allow you to take nice vacations, live in a nice home, be able to do things for others philanthropically, and so on, but yet we find it very difficult to tell people this is how much I’m worth, this is what my value is to you. We go into companies and we create massive values for companies.

When I was working at this vice president level at this company, I was creating a ton of value. I was underpaid and I went into my boss’s office and I said, “Listen, I’m underpaid because here’s the value that I’m creating for you, and here’s where my compensation is. They don’t align with each other.” They fundamentally disagreed with me on it and I left to start Kingsdale. If they didn’t disagree with me, I would be still working for somebody else and I wouldn’t have started my own company, Kingsdale.

As a result of starting this company, I became one of the most successful person in the industry and become the person that I am on Bay Street today because I wasn’t getting fair compensation to begin with. I tried to do something about it, and when they refused to do something about it, I decided to go on my own and bet on myself. That’s the problem, a lot of people aren’t prepared to bet on themselves. When you think about it, would you prefer to invest in somebody else or would you prefer to invest in yourself because you know what you can do, you know what your limitations are, you know what your capabilities are as well?

Why not bet on yourself especially when you want to be an entrepreneur, but you go, “Man, I just don’t know if I can do it.” You need to get those doubts out of your mind, at least give it a shot. That’s why I decided to do, when I started this firm, I said, “I don’t want to be sitting here 20 years later regretting the opportunity that I’ve missed. I want to know that I’ve tried it, it didn’t work and I can pivot and figure something else out.”

Erin: Boy, have you ever made it work out for you? Let’s talk a little bit about high-stakes negotiation. How do you go about reading the room?

Wes: Every single negotiation we go into, we have to figure out who’s on the other side of that negotiation. Some people are prepared to pay more than others, some people are just not. When you are in a business where there’s no particular price list, for example, if you look in the real estate business and there’s typically if you go down a particular street in a particular neighborhood, every single house is not exactly priced the same.

There’s room there, wiggle room for your creativity, and for you to now determine to the market why your house should be more valued than the other houses in the neighborhood, and in sometimes, 20%, 30% higher. There may be features that you put into your house that others didn’t put into there. How do you value that? In terms of negotiating, you have to figure out how important are these things to the person buying my house?

Erin: How does a REALTOR® go about finding out what’s important? Just listen or what hints would you give, Wes?

Wes: I would say the questions that you ask. When you’re going through a showing, for example, you have to appreciate what are the things that are getting the person’s attention that you’re touring through the house. Sometimes, for example, we’re going through and we are just excited about, “Oh, I can’t wait to show them this part of the house,” but yet that person is still in the kitchen looking around the kitchen, but we want them to hurry up so they can show them the important part of the house. Guess what?

The reason why they’re in the kitchen, maybe he’s a chef and he loves to cook. He’s picturing himself in the kitchen cooking a beautiful meal and you’re trying to interrupt that by showing him the gym when he doesn’t care about the gym because the gym is so beautiful or the theater is so beautiful, but he doesn’t watch TV or he doesn’t watch movies, or he doesn’t really care about those things. We need to read the audience and to see what’s appealing to them and then focus on those moments.

One of the things that somebody said that I heard great about selling the house is that sometimes after you finish the showing, just sit in the living room or some great part of the house with the person and have a conversation with them because then they can visualize themselves living in that house, sitting in that room, maybe reading a book, maybe the fireplace is on and it’s snowing outside. All of a sudden, it changes their view on the place because they see themselves in it. Sometimes we miss those little part of getting things done. If we focus on those things and pay attention, we can close deals really quickly and we can actually get the prices that we are looking for.

Erin: So much of this is listening, isn’t it?

Wes: It is. One of the things that I tell my team when we’re negotiating, for example, and sometimes in real estate, you’re on the phone negotiating with the other side and you give them all the this is why this house is so great and everything, the feature sheets is all there and everything. Then you tell them, “Okay, but this is my price, $10 million.” Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we’re in the big leagues here, $10 million. This person on the other end, you convince them that this is the best house for them and you know you convinced them is the best house. Then when you put the $10 million on the table, again, you try to justify it still.

Why? You’ve already convinced them that this is a house for them. Now you have to convince them that $10 million is a price that they need to pay in order for them to own it. Let them determine why it’s not worth $10 million. Sometimes we try to sell against ourselves. We tend to just oversell when we already have this person closed. Then we try to justify the price tag that we put on there.

We shouldn’t justify. If we list the house for $10 million, once you start to you put your feature sheet out and you start to bring people through it, $10 million is $10 million. You bring me an offer for $10 million, nothing less. You bring me something less, I’m going to have a conversation with my seller about it, but at the end of the day, this price is the price that you’re going to pay ultimately. You’re not going to get me to say it’s eight or seven because other come say this is unique, and these are the reasons why it’s unique. When you find that buyer that know that this place is unique, you got to close them.

Erin: Sometimes it’s listening to the seller too, the seller who maybe doesn’t want this house torn down for a replacement. That they want to be able to come by and see it again with their grandchildren one day and say, “This is your parents were born,” or something like that. There can be things to listen to in the seller’s story too. Can’t there?

Wes: Absolutely. I sold my first house for $200,000. Bought it for $112,000 and I sold it for $200,000. It’s over 30 years and every year, I go back to look at that house because I remembered when I was standing in the bedroom, when I got that job offer and I turned it down, I remember that I fixed that porch at the front. The porch was done by me, my hands. 

I take pictures of that house it’s important to me that I do that. Then I bring my kids by to say, “This is the way you were born.” If I now, let’s say, when I was selling that house and I had that emotional attachment to that place, and somebody said, “I’m going to rip it down and I’m going to this amazing building there and the house is going to be fantastic,” fine, that’s your dream, but you just took away something that’s really important to me because you’re going to demolish it.

As a result of that, I prefer to sell it to someone for less money who’s going to preserve it than somebody who’s going to destroy that memory. Sometimes if we don’t appreciate the seller’s motivation for selling, we could be leaving a lot of value on the table and we completely could be losing opportunities because we just didn’t listen to the reasons behind why this person is selling this house.

Erin: When we return to REAL TIME, our guest, Wes Hall, one of Canada’s top rank business negotiators looks at the things that hold us back, the barriers when it comes to negotiation. If you’re like me, you find the best coffee or tea is the one you’re enjoying at home, maybe right now, but the best content is at the CREA Cafe. Tap into the knowledge of REALTORS® across this country of ours. Share your own lessons and insights by visiting REALTORS® Corner on CREA Cafe, a hub of great content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®.

When we’re talking about negotiation, as you’ve pointed out so perfectly, it can come with a great range of emotions, especially in an industry like real estate where clients aren’t just buying and selling houses, they’re buying and selling homes. They’re buying and selling the place where your children came into the world and where you took that phone call and said, “No, I’m going to wait for VP.” Wes, what are common emotional barriers to negotiation? You’ve said there’s a thin line between arrogance and confidence. What are some of the most common emotional barriers?

Wes: I think sometimes it’s really not really understanding people’s motivation. When you think about the real estate transaction is one of the most important transaction that you’ll ever do in the business world. I buy and sell companies and so on, but that’s only a very small number of individuals that are in that category. Most people that own a home, at some point, they’re going to transact. At some point in their life, they’re going to sell that home, and then they have to make that decision very, very quickly. The longer you stay in that home, and the more improvements that you make to it, the more difficult it is to part with it.

You’re parting with your neighbors that you’ve built great relationship with over the years, you’re going to the unknown in the future. If you don’t understand the emotional attachment that people may have to that piece of asset that they’ve cherished for so long, that have built their value – My company, for example, that $112,000 home that I bought, for example, allowed me to a bigger home that allowed me to put a leverage on it to start my company, Kingsdale. That home created a value that I have and the wealth that I have today. It was an emotional attachment because it’s my future.

If you don’t appreciate it, that it’s my future, and don’t really treat it like that, then all of a sudden I don’t want to do business with you because doing any type of business, especially in that space, it’s about trust. I have to have trust and confidence in you that we’re going to have a good working relationship, you’re going to respect what I bring to the table, and I’m going to respect what you bring to the table.

When you give me the advice to say, “Wes, you should take this undervalued number or this price,” that I trust that you’re coming from the right place and that you just don’t want to turn me over because you have so many deals on the table and you have so many other clients, I have to be so special to you that I believe that I’m the only client that you have even though you may have hundreds. You have to give me the impression that I’m so important to you, that there’s nobody else that you’re paying attention to. My business, Kingsdale, when you think about what we do, we advise companies that are doing hostile takeovers and shareholder activism.

When I’m advising a CEO that’s under threat, somebody is saying that we’re going to replace you because you’re not competent. Then I’m talking to that CEO and I’m saying, “Wait a minute here, I’ll call you back because I have somebody else on the phone to talk to,” how do you think that person feels? In their mind, they’re the most important person on your list and you’re telling them that no, let me call you back because I have other things to do. We should make sure that we spend as much time.

If we look at it to say, “You’re not paying me as much as somebody else,” guess what? That person in the future could be paying you so much more because you’ve cultivated that relationship. Again, I spent $112,000 for my first home. Could you imagine had the real estate agent, who actually didn’t, treated me just like a sale? Then I bought my second house for double the price and then my third house and my fourth and my fifth to now I’m here in Dragons’ Den and I’m creating this wealth.

Could you imagine if that $112,000 relationship had been kept to this point how much more successful that relationship would be for that initial agent? We have to look at relationships as very, very long-term and thus forget about the price because people go through cycles in their career, and you want to follow them through that cycle. It’s all dependent on how you treat them from when they’re at the beginning of the cycle to all the way through the cycle.

Erin: In their career and in their families. You’re going to need more bedrooms, you’re going to need fewer bedrooms. You might want to buy a second home, if you’re able to, for your children to live in.

Wes: Exactly right.

Erin: All of these and the importance of building relationships. Just before we get off this particular part of the conversation, Wes, and we’re just loving having you here today, how do we cope with our own humanity? How do we cope with our emotions and not let that overrule the sense of a business decision?

Wes: When you’re successful, there’s a lot of pride and ego that comes with success, the reason being is because everybody’s telling you how great you are. Your staff’s telling you, “Wow, you’re number one in the city,” or you’re number one in the province or you’re number one in Canada. Then all of a sudden, there’s other things that start to come with that. Hubris comes with it and you need to have people around you, they’re just not buying it.

I always use the expression with my wife that we’ve been married for 30 years next year. We go for walks every morning and literally I say she carries a pin around with her so that when my head is getting too big and bloated, she just takes the pin out and just pop it. That keeps me grounded because I know that that person, she’s going to call me out. I want people around me to call me out because that’s the only way that you are levelheaded because sometimes we get ahead of ourselves, and even the people that like us hate us as a result of it.

[laughter]

Erin: I can’t imagine.

Wes: I know. The kids are like, “This is too much, he’s too much.” If that start to happen, that means that you just aren’t surrounding yourself with the right people or maybe you have them but you’re not taking their advice. I know some of the most successful leaders that I know today are people who have amazing people around them and they listen to them, and they get good counsel from them and it allows them to be grounded and still be very, very successful.

One of the things that I look at as well is, philanthropically, if you’re a successful person, do you give back? Because it takes a certain personality to go, “I’ve earned all this money, I’m going to give it to help certain causes,” or if you don’t have it financially yet, to donate your time to mentor maybe kids in underserved communities or people who want to be a part of your sector to be able to bring them in and give them that free advice and mentorship. If you do those things and you do a lot of them, they automatically keep you humble.

[music]

Erin: When we come back with negotiator extraordinaire and newest star of CDC’s Dragons’ Den, Wes Hall, does he ever get intimidated? And a tough message that Wes had to deliver that ended up being called the best advice the anxious recipient had ever gotten. 

Every day, more and more Canadians are discovering the joy of house hunting, apartment searching, and all kinds of real estate finds from the comfort of their own home. In fact, there were 1.6 million searches for REALTORS® on REALTOR.ca last year alone. You can make the most of those visits with the REALTOR.ca tools we provide as part of your membership, REALTOR.ca. 

Now back to Wes Hall on REAL TIME. As somebody who leads shareholder activist campaigns, what strategies have you used for approaching sensitive or difficult negotiations because you are involved, you are giving back, you are being the person that little Wes in bare feet going to school needed at that time other than your dear grandmother? What strategies have you used? What do you keep in your heart while you’re doing this?

Wes: First of all, I’m never intimidated by people. I remember I was advising the CEO of a very large company; it was a hostile takeover and a proxy contest. I was brought in on the file pretty late. I was in my late 30s and this was a very big transaction. The CEO made a lot of fundamental mistakes in communicating to the market and strategic decisions that he made. These shareholders came out and said, “We want him fired.” The board and the CEO hired me to defend them. After analyzing the situation, I decided to set a meeting with the CEO, and I went into his office. His office was massive, massive, massive office. It took me like five minutes to walk to his desk from the door.

I sat there in front of him and I said to him, “I am really good at what I do, but there’s so many mistakes that were made I can’t help you and you’re going to lose this fight. My recommendation is for you to get into the boardroom and negotiate an exit package with the current board because we’re going to lose this fight and you’re going to have a hostile board coming in. It’s either negotiate with friends now or enemies later. Which do you prefer?” That’s a tough message because at the time, this gentleman was making a few million dollars a year in compensation and he had a great life. I told him there to go resign tomorrow.

The next day he actually resigned. Still today he’s like, “The best decision, best advice I’ve ever been given.” If I was intimidated by the size of his office, how much his compensation was, that I’m just this 30 something-year-old Black guy walking into this accomplished person’s office to give him this piece of advice, he wouldn’t have gotten the right advice because of me being intimidated and me being afraid to do the right thing and say the right thing because of how he was going to respond to it. We have to always appreciate that integrity first, that matters.

Sometimes we’re giving people advice that they don’t want to hear because we’re intimidated by them. If we allow that to stop us from giving the right advice, I don’t think we’re being good advocates, I don’t think we’re being good advisors. In the real estate business, that’s what you are, you’re an advisor. You’re going to walk into somebody’s home and you’re going to tell them, “I know you think this house is worth $10 million, but it actually doesn’t. It’s worth 5 and there’s a reason why f5 is a good price for it.” You’re going to sit there and go, “Well, you know.”

If you were intimidated to have that conversation with that person, you’re going to take it at 10, you’re going to try to sell at 10 and you realize that you can’t execute at 10. You’re going to bring them an offer for 5, which you know is the right offer, but then all of a sudden, your credibility is out the window because you weren’t upfront and you weren’t transparent in the beginning.

Always be transparent because at the end of the day, after giving that CEO the advice, if he didn’t resign and we lose and he loses everything because all of a sudden, the new guy’s coming in going, “I’m not going to negotiate your compensation package with you, I’m firing you right now and you have to sue me to get what you’re entitled to.” He would have been worse off in that situation. I would feel bad that I didn’t give him the right advice, to begin with, because I was intimidated or was afraid of what he was going to say. We always have to think about our integrity when we give advice, is this the right advice, and why? If the client doesn’t want to take it, you’re not going to have any regrets.

Erin: When we wrap up our talk today with Wes Hall, how to navigate the waters when you’re working with family, don’t miss it. 

In our previous REAL TIME episode, you heard about homelesshub.ca and so many more valuable links as part of our REALTORSCare® Week. REALTORSCare® is all about bringing you information to help you help others, a national guiding principle celebrating the great work done by the Canadian Realtor Community. You can help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to your heart by sharing your story. Just use #realtorscare on your favorite social media platforms. 

Now back to our guest. He’s a master negotiator even when it comes to family, Wes Hall. I can’t imagine what it was like growing up one of your five children with a master negotiator. Did anybody ever get a raise in their allowance or how did you move your negotiating prowess into parenthood, or was this something that you left mom to do? How did that all work out, Wes?

Wes: First of all, two of my boys are working with me. One is working with me very, very closely. Last week, he said to me, “I know we’re on compensation season, so I just wanted to know what’s going to happen with my comp?” I said, “How much are you making?” He told me and I said, “Why do you need more than that? I’m paying your rent, you’re living with me at home, I’m buying your food. The only thing that you have to worry about is the clothes that you wear. Why do you need more money than that?”

[laughter]

Erin: Not fair.

Wes: That’s a reasonable response to it. He started to stutter a little bit because he didn’t really know how to respond to that. I said, “Plus, the work that you’re putting in, you’re going to inherit in the future anyways. Why do you need money now? You’re fine.”

[chuckling]

Wes: I said that in a sense that I want to see how he responded to it. He certainly held his own and justify why his compensation should be higher and he will get a higher compensation. What my wife said to me at times is that just remember that you were dad first and you’re their business person and the boss second. How you interact – When you’re working closely with your son or your daughter, especially in the real estate game where there’s a lot of families working together, sometimes we forget the fact that we’re just a parent first and the business will be fine.

I keep that in mind every time we’re having conversations, whether it’d be about tough conversations like compensation, conversation about discipline in terms of a work discipline, meaning that you messed up on this thing, and how do I respond to you? Do I respond to you as your boss or do I respond to you as your father? When I get home, do I have the boss hat on at home or do I have the dad hat on at home? I make sure that I’m very careful in terms of what hat I’m wearing when I’m having those conversations because it could ultimately affect our relationship in a very negative way if that’s not managed properly.

Erin: Is there a limit on how much shop-talk at home or over the dinner table?

Wes: [laughs] My wife manages that, Erin, very, very well. She’s very good about – We try to have dinner as a family at 6:00 PM every evening. Around the table, we talk about different things but we’re very balanced in terms of what we talk about. If I’m sitting on the couch reading a book or I’m watching a show, he doesn’t walk in and say, “Hey, by the way, that deal, here’s what’s going on,” and all that. He respects those boundaries.

If we’re having a five-minute conversation about something business at the dinner table, we do that but it’s not an hour conversation. It’s a very short conversation, but the rest of the conversation is about family, about us, and the business will come. We don’t overly focus ourselves on business, business, business, because that could be draining and there’s no time to unwind and there’s a lot of stress that comes with that.

To the extent that when I’m walking with my wife, for example, if I have something on my mind business-wise, that’s where it gets resolved because it’s amazing. When you’re talking to somebody who’s not in the sector that you’re in, they can see problems from a completely different perspective. I value that perspective because I would never have thought of the solution the way that she would think about it. I find that we solve a lot of problems in my business world by having those walks and having those conversations with her about challenges that I’m facing and coming up with a completely different way of thinking about it that I wouldn’t have.

Erin: You know, Wes, that once COVID’s over, you’re not going to be able to hide behind the mask and everybody’s going to be recognizing you from TV. Your wife’s going to need a bigger pin.

Wes: [laughs] It’s funny I was walking through the neighborhood, and this was when I was just announced on Dragons’ Den. This young lady walked by me and she turned around and said, “Are you Wes Hall?” My wife was with me, and I said, “Yes.” She’s like, “Oh, I love you. I can’t wait to watch you.” My wife after, she turned around, she looked at me and said, “Oh, man. I’m not going to live this down.”

[laughter]

Wes: I’m like, “See, I’m a big deal, honey. You got to treat me like a big deal.” She shaked her head and go, “Yes, never.” [laughs]

Erin: That’s great. Great, great, great. Thank you for helping us to talk about negotiating deals and everything that’s been a part of this, Wes. It’s been just such a pleasure, and you are a big deal.

Wes: Erin, you know what? You’re so kind, you should be my PR person.

Erin: [laughs] Oh.

Wes: [chuckles] I probably can’t afford you for that.

Erin: Now that you’ve taught me how to negotiate.

[laughter]

Wes: That’s right.

Erin: Thank you.

Wes: Thank you, Erin.

Erin: Best of luck to you in everything. I can’t wait to read an autobiography about you, or I’ll write it with you.

Wes: It’s coming out next year so stay tuned.

Erin: Awesome. Thank you, Wes, so much.

Wes: Perfect. Thank you.

Erin: Thanks again to Wes Hall for joining us for this episode of REAL TIME brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. 

Remember to be sure to visit CREA.ca to access valuable resources and discover more fantastic real estate-related content. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button. Will you, please? REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead with Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Thank you for making the time to join us.

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Episode 21: Dr. Naheed Dosani – Approaching Homelessness from a Place of Empathy

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for and about REALTORS®. I’m your host, Erin Davis, and it’s great to have you sharing this time with us. We explore everything in this podcast from living green to marketing tips, design, and so much more. 

On episode 21 of REAL TIME today, we’re joined by Dr. Naheed Dosani to compliment REALTORS Care® Week 2021. Dr. Dosani, a Toronto-based physician and humanitarian, has been making headlines, and more importantly, a real difference while providing palliative care to the homeless and vulnerably housed since 2014.

In this episode, we’re going to explore Dr. Dosani’s perspective on the state of homelessness in Canada, the impacts of health and social system inequities. We’re going to talk about PEACH, and it stands for Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless and how Canadians, we, can seek humility and empathy in supporting marginalized people. Dr. Dosani, thank you so much for taking some of your precious time to be with us here today. It means a lot to our members and to me. Thank you for this.

Dr. Dosani: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Erin: You are amazing. As a physician, you must’ve always wanted to help people, but tell us about your journey in medicine, Doctor, and what drew you to caring for the homeless and vulnerably housed in particular.

Dr. Dosani: I’m the son of two refugees who came to Canada in the 1970s from a country called Uganda in Africa. My parents came to Canada as refugees with nothing, fleeing war and persecution. My upbringing was really focused on justice, community wellbeing, and what social change could really inspire. I originally wanted to pursue maybe journalism, maybe law, but then found myself in healthcare and in medicine.

It was a turning point for me working as a resident doctor at the University of Toronto in my training. In my first year of residency, actually, where I met a man named Terry who presented to the shelter I was working at, and he presented in pain crisis because he had a widespread head and neck cancer. He had been on the streets for over 15 years. He had a longstanding mental illness, schizophrenia, and he was actually diagnosed with his cancer a year before at a local cancer center. 

Unfortunately, due to his mental health, he wasn’t able to follow up for appointments. The tumor grew, and so he started to experience pain, and he did what any one of us would do. He went hospital to hospital, ER to ER, walk-in clinic to walk-in clinic, seeking the kind of pain control that anybody in this country should have access to.

Terry was denied access to pain medicines. I could read this in the medical notes and the charts. Maybe it was because of stigma. Maybe it was because of bias, but he’s found himself in our care on this day. I remember building a somewhat of a trust with him in the sense that he promised he’d start some pain medicines the next day. 

I got to the shelter early the next day to work with him, and I couldn’t find him anywhere, and I had found out that he had died. He had overdosed on a combination of alcohol and street drugs. He had turned to the best pain relief that he knew. It was too little too late. This was a life-changing event that showed me that people experiencing homelessness lack access to care, and particularly people who experience homelessness lack access to palliative care. It’s a human rights issue.

Erin: I think that what you said that jumped out to me there was that he went hospital to hospital, and right away, people thought that he was just a guy there trying to get a fix. Would that be a summary of his situation before something like PEACH could have intervened?

Dr. Dosani: Yes. This is a great question because many people listening might think, well, he had access to healthcare because we all have access to healthcare. It’s “universal” in Canada, but that’s actually a common misnomer in the sense that there are still biases, stigma, and discrimination that exists in our healthcare facilities and in our healthcare programs for people who are unhoused, people who use drugs, people with mental illness, racialized folks. 

I’m sure we’re going to talk about this throughout the conversation, but while you may all technically have equal access to healthcare, it doesn’t mean we have equitable access to healthcare, and Terry needed equitable, justice-based access to healthcare, and particularly palliative care.

Erin: Can you define the difference between equal and equitable perhaps in Terry’s case or in some example that can illustrate that for us, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: For sure. I love this contrast and comparison because I think it’s such a crucial pillar of understanding when it comes to why this kind of work is so important. Our healthcare system is pretty good at being equal. 

Most people in this country get the same things to be happy and healthy, but that doesn’t work for everybody, especially for people who might need more like someone who lives on the streets or in shelters or someone who lives in poverty. People like this need equitable care. They need a health system that gives people what they need to be happy and healthy.

In justice-based health systems, that takes us one step further where our systems are rearranged in a way that people are empowered and supported with the resources to make their own healthy lifestyle choices when they want, how they want, where they want. It’s an empowering way. 

We need to go from equality to equity to justice. Unfortunately, Terry didn’t have access to equity-based palliative care or justice-based palliative care. That’s why he died. His death has become – I carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s in my heart right now, Erin, and it’s a big reason we do the work we do.

Erin: His death and that brief ships in the night that you had with this man has turned into a catalyst for your life.

Dr. Dosani: Yes. A turning point, a life-changing event that led to me becoming really focused on the issue of homelessness and healthcare. I spent my entire residency learning more about the intersections of healthcare for people experiencing homelessness, and then later applied for a palliative medicine residency at the University of Toronto, where I spent my entire training program figuring out how we could make and inspire a change.

In July of 2014, with colleagues at the Inner City Health Associates in downtown Toronto, we developed the PEACH program, Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless, a mobile street and shelter-based palliative care program that provides healthcare for people, whether they’re under a bridge, on the street, in a shelter, so no person falls through the cracks. It started a very basic with myself and a street nurse named Namarig Ahmed driving around in a Honda Civic. I just actually got rid of that Honda Civic very recently. I had that for a long time.

The program has grown, and in 2021, we have a pretty robust program. We care for between 120 to 130 clients at any time. We have a health navigator on the team. We have a nurse coordinator, five palliative care physicians, a PEACH psychiatrist. We also have had iterations of peer workers, people with lived experiences on the program, and integration with our home and community care colleagues, including physiotherapy and PSW supports to really meet people where they’re at.

Erin: Incredible, and without being too precious, you literally grew PEACH from the pit, the whole, the deficit that was on the Toronto streets in terms of the state of palliative care for the homeless and vulnerability. How many other people were paying attention to this when the whole issue of Terry and your residency coincided, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: The issue of homelessness and healthcare – and particularly access to palliative care – has actually been written about around the world for quite some time. It’s not a new concept per se. A lot of people around the world have written editorials and commentaries and the literature and even popular media articles about the fact that we need to do better, but what was lacking was a real robust view of how we can clinically create models to make this happen.

In most jurisdictions across North America, Europe, and Australia, there is access to community-based palliative care; but what doesn’t actually happen is that those community-based programs orient themselves towards people who live in respite shelters, drop-ins, rooming houses, and really where unhoused populations reside; but also bringing it together with a trauma-informed approach to care, recognizing that many people who live on the streets and in shelters have experienced significant loss and trauma.

Also recognizing that people who live on the streets and in shelters also are people who use drugs, and a lot of the time, they don’t get access to palliative care because the requirement for access to palliative care is stopping the use of drugs. We know that doesn’t work. Abstinence doesn’t work, so we provide harm reduction palliative care. I think it’s the combination of those concepts that make PEACH unique.

Erin: Well, PEACH is unique, as a matter of fact, in all of humility. I really want you to blow your own horn here, Doctor, it has been brought to the attention of cities worldwide, has it not?

Dr. Dosani: Yes, we’re really lucky and feel honored to be part of a network of family of programs that exists in cities all around the world, right here in Canada. Colleagues in Victoria, Edmonton, and Calgary, to name a few, have developed programs that feature mobile supports and mobile programs for people who are in need of palliative care and provide palliative care for structurally vulnerable people. The model has actually been replicated in cities like Seattle and Brisbane, Australia, and even as far as ways as England as well. This really is a global health issue. It’s this intersection of the need for palliative care and the need for homeless healthcare intersecting together. It really makes a lot of sense.

I think it’s important for us to reflect on the fact that people who experience homelessness are 28 times more likely to have hepatitis C virus, five times more likely to have heart disease, four times more likely to have cancer. The average life expectancy for people who live on the streets and in shelters is actually 34 to 47 years old. When you look at the life expectancy of Canadians, that can range from between 77 and 82 years old. Homelessness cuts a person’s lifespan by half. It is a terminal diagnosis of the social determinants of health, how we live, learn, work, and play. This is really how we conceptualize the issue.

Erin: 34 to 47. That’s an incredible number just to stop and look at. It’s almost as though being unhoused or vulnerably housed in itself is a deadly disease.

Dr. Dosani: Totally. Then when you throw in the addition of a life-limiting illness, like cancer or end-stage kidney disease, or COPD, or liver failure, for example, you really see mortality go up. We recognize that to be on the streets, to live in a shelter is already taking years off of your life. Then when you have another medical illness, it’s clear why access to healthcare is key, of course, but access to palliative care is an important component of any approach that supports healthcare of people experiencing homelessness and focuses on human rights, and of course, people’s dignity and their quality of life.

Erin: Back with Dr. Naheed Dosani in a moment. He’s a man who, with his team, makes a difference on the streets of his city, throughout the country, and the world. We’re going to talk about that and so much more on this special edition of REAL TIME that comes while we’re marking REALTORS Care® Week. 

REALTORS Care® is a national guiding principle celebrating the great charitable work done by you as a member of the Canadian REALTOR® community. Help raise awareness for the causes closest to your heart and home by sharing your story. Using #REALTORSCare on your favorite social media platform. 

As we return now to our chat with Dr. Naheed Dosani, I asked him what impact this PEACH program has had and just what he has seen with his own eyes.

Dr. Dosani: It’s a fair question. What does the PEACH program really do? At the outside, it’s important to recognize that we provide medical care, and those pieces are key. We also, because we’re a palliative care program, prioritize people’s pain and symptom management, and particularly their quality of life, which is bread and butter for what palliative care and healthcare programs really do. It’s so much more than the medical model. It’s about meeting people where they’re at.

When I talked about trauma-informed care, that’s really supporting people and connecting with people. It’s allowing people to heal, even if they’re really sick, giving people a hand to hold or someone to talk to when no one else is around. It can also be very practical, particularly when working with this population. Palliative care is not just providing the medical care, it’s actually ensuring people have the basic necessities of life, like a roof over their heads, so finding housing is a huge part of what we do. Securing food for people. Ensuring people have money in their bank account. People have social supports and human connections when they need them.

There’s an aspect of this that’s psychological or even emotional or spiritual care in nature to recognize that there’s a higher power or something out there that’s driving our soul and our will so that people can heal. Each team member, depending on their discipline, leverages these different components of that holistic biopsychosocial-spiritual model to make this work.

Erin: You mentioned the spiritual aspect of it. How do you get up every morning knowing that this is what you’re going to be doing? Is it the hope or the difference that fuels you, or how do you do it, Dr. Dosani?

Dr. Dosani: I think that’s a very fair question too. At the outset of that question, I will say that a lot of the time I have difficulty, and I’m going to be just vulnerable with you for a second, Erin, to say that this is not easy. Our team sees a lot of suffering in different ways. Remember, we’re dealing with people who have fallen through the gaps again and again and again, and then towards the end of life, are fallen through the gaps again at a time when no one should ever fall through the gap.

If we can’t get the dying part right to help people, how are you going to work on the living part? It’s frustrating. It’s sad. It’s heavy at times, but on the flip side, what drives me is that in just a short amount of time, just a few years, a few people who care in healthcare and social services have come together to develop a model of care that inspires change, a new way of thinking, a new way of being, and we’re doing it. Then we’re doing it in a lot of cities across Canada now, and now people around the world are doing it. Like, what’s not to be inspired by?

The other thing that really drives me is that this work is not being done in isolation. It’s not like I’m doing my clinical work and then going home and hanging out, it’s tied to advocacy. I could never imagine doing this work in an isolated way. It’s connected to advocacy around anti-homelessness policies, around ending poverty, because a lot of Canadians don’t realize that homelessness is a human-made problem. It was created by humans, and it can be ended through policy choices, like housing first or housing for all, which actually saves the system a lot of money. 

I advocate in a systemic and structural way at a population level. That makes the clinical work make a lot more sense because you know you’re working on something better.

Erin: We’re going to get to that in terms of integrating it with our message here today for REALTORS Care® Week. Let me go back to the personal for a moment, and just as you open the door to vulnerability, which of course, shows such great courage, what kind of life does this leave you with? Do you have time for your own personal life?

Dr. Dosani: Balance is really important. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of these cases and you’re in it deep with people who are dealing with such strife, it’s hard to see that, but wellness and resilience is really important. We’re hot off the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re still in the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s be real right. More than ever before, health workers have been pushed in a way that we haven’t been pushed before. I don’t like calling it burnout because I think that places the blame on colleagues.

I think a lot of people, including folks who work on the PEACH team, including myself, are at times facing moral injury and even compassion fatigue, because this work is heavy, because it’s hard, we’re not getting breaks. Specifically for people who work on the front lines of homelessness because the policy solutions are not being put into place to prevent homelessness.

Our work and our services are being accessed more than ever before. That’s a scary thought, but I got to say that there’s hope. One of the things that we do as a team to support each other is to support our grief. We recognize very early on in this journey that people working in healthcare and in social services, providing a palliative care for people in the community needed help and support around their grief and their loss experiences, particularly when we were supporting clients who ended up dying.

We developed these things called grief circles. There are actually ceremonies that happen when a client dies. We will descend on a respite shelter or drop-in. We will hold a minute of silence. We will light a candle, and then we will cry together. We’ll laugh together. We’ll tell stories of what it was like to care for the person that we cared for. Then we’ll think about how to not just remember or reflect on that care, but how to renew and reinvest in each other. We call it the 4Rs, and then we’ll hold that moment of silence and put that candle out and go out and do it again.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had these grief circles virtually, and actually, the PEACH program got utilized in the city of Toronto to actually hold these grief circles for health workers working in the COVID recovery models, maybe not working in palliative care, but people who are working just in the healthcare models for people experiencing homelessness because of all the overdose deaths that we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I think grief circles are the answer to your question? No, it’s scratching at the surface, but we need to develop safe, structured ways for people to address their grief, and me having that space through the grief circles with the PEACH program helps a lot.

Erin: Good. It’s good to hear that there are ways to take care of you because we’ve all been so loud and rah, rah and banging the pots and pans, and it’s quieted down, and then you start wondering who is taking care of the caregivers.

We’re so grateful to Dr. Dosani for sharing his passion and commitment today towards helping the most vulnerable among us. His chat with us is complimenting REALTORS Care® Week. There are incredible stories that you can access by following REALTORS Care® on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and using your own #REALTORSCare. Now, back to Dr. Naheed Dosani. 

Tell us, Doctor, how has the pandemic impacted Canada’s unhoused and vulnerably housed populations specifically? You mentioned the drug overdoses. In what other ways because so many of us have just been tied up with our own dramas and mourning and challenges during this time?

Dr. Dosani: People experiencing homelessness were hanging by a thread before the pandemic, and that thread essentially snapped. People were disconnected from their social and healthcare supports via their respite shelters or drop-ins, and many of these facilities and institutions that support people who are unhoused had to close or reduce services due to physical distancing. Remember, this was before we had a vaccine. This was very hard for people. We ended up seeing more people than ever before on the streets and in parks.

What we did see to be positive about things was an incredible response that was collaborated from our health facilities and health workers to social care agencies, to activists, to government agencies, to faith groups, who in different cities and towns across Canada said, “We need to respond to support people experiencing homelessness and to make this work to save lives.” We saw the development of hotels, and motels, recovery programs.

I had the distinct pleasure and continue to be the medical director for the Region of Peel’s COVID-19 Isolation Housing Program. The development of these programs that we saw spread up all across Canada. This was an amazing feat. It actually showed me that there’s a lot more ability for us to collaborate and make magic happen than we thought. Before COVID, it was always, “There aren’t resources, and we can’t make that happen.” Look, COVID showed we could do it. I always say, “COVID has proven we can cure homelessness if we really want to.” That’s really exciting.

On the flip side, and it’s more of a negative tone, I also saw the increase in criminalization of poverty through and through. In cities like Toronto, the people I care for used to maybe get ticketed if they were panhandling. Now, we saw actually violent encampment clearings by the City of Toronto and Toronto Police. This happened in many cities across Canada, where they were actually sending drones, horses, police, and militarized operations to remove people.

One report done by the media here in Toronto, they removed 60 people from parks in Toronto and spent $2 million. That equates to about $33,000 per person. Imagine if that money was just spent on housing. Well, in one way, we saw the rise of empathy, compassion, and collaboration is magic to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Our cities and police forces across Canada actually criminalize poverty in a way that I’ve never seen before. This should be concerning to people who are listening to this discussion.

Erin: Now that our eyes are open, what would you suggest we do so that we don’t see a clearing like we saw before, but that the city gets to reclaim the open spaces and safe spaces for families? Where’s the compromise? Where’s the common ground, Doctor? What would you have done?

Dr. Dosani: Well, I think we need to really ask ourselves about these incredible programs that have been developed across the country. These COVID recovery models are potentially new best practices that will allow us to help people off the street and give them a pathway and then provide social and healthcare supports for them. Then, of course, hopefully, support and empower them to be on a pathway towards housing from those sites.

Many of the leases on these COVID recovery models across Canada are actually ending very soon. I would be really disappointed if cities across Canada and our country said, “Yes, that was COVID. COVID’s over now. Go back to the streets and in shelters. Go back to how things were.” No, our legacy, the silver lining of a post-recovery world is that we can actually end homelessness.

I think we also need to really think about some of the assumptions we make when we’re having these conversations. Some of the politicians made statements that these people were making parks dangerous. Well, in actuality, there’s very few reports of that. When you look at the data, there was accusations that they were starting fires. There was, again, very little data to prove that. There’s a lot of bias and stigma and discrimination that comes into that.

The other thing is just to recognize that these are people with complex issues, complex feelings of hurt, and loss, and trauma, or sometimes mental illness, other physical illnesses. We need to build relationships with them. Of course, there is a desire to get people housed and connected, but if people don’t feel safe with their options, we need to listen to them.

Instead of putting the onus on people who are in encampments to find the solution, let’s put them back on our politicians who have to respond to these feelings and just say it’s their duty to make these spaces safe. That means increasing the amount of affordable housing supply in this country and making sure that this housing supply is high quality and safe for people because housing is a human right.

Erin: You’ve also said that housing is healthcare. Can you explain this and why you believe this, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: I think in 2021, we’re pretty much in agreement that the social factors that impact healthcare impact health outcomes. This includes people who don’t have a home, people who don’t have money, people who don’t have access to food, security, and so homelessness or houselessness, the state of being itself is a risk factor on health.

I shared some of these statistics earlier with you just to say that just not having a home itself is a serious and often life-limiting disease. It can take 50% of a person’s lifespan away, so when you actually provide housing, and then you also provide access to social and healthcare supports, people can dramatically heal from their mental health to their physical health, just feeling dignity in society and feeling a sense of purpose. You can really work to heal people, even if they’re really sick.

When we say housing is healthcare, we’re trying to really frame housing as a healthcare issue because it actually has impact on healthcare outcomes, not to mention the outcomes that it has on society. It saves money. We know through the Housing First study done called the At Home/Chez Soi demonstration project, which was a three-year study done in Canada between 2014 and 2017. We know that for every $1 that went into housing for people with severe mental illness, Canada got $1.87 back. Not only does it make people feel better, it saves us money in the long run. It has the potential to save us millions and even billions of dollars over the years. That’s what we mean when we answer that question.

Erin: Coming up, using social media to spread the word, and how the doctor uses various platforms to lift himself up and get his message out. You can do it too. When you volunteer your time, make a donation, or raise funds for a cause you truly believe in, you’re making a difference in your community. Post that inspiration and have an impact by sharing your story online using #REALTORSCare. 

Now, you’ve got a big following on social media, Doctor, which you use to help destigmatize homelessness and poverty. Do you think the message is getting through? How do we go about becoming better informed about these issues?

Dr. Dosani: I’m always honored to be supported by a community that just really cares. I’m actually blown away at the emails and messages and tweets I get and posts on Instagram and people commenting about how they believe in this issue too. They believe that health equity is crucial to a brighter future, but the reality is if you go and survey most Canadians, many people still believe that people who experience homelessness are lazy. Many people believe they did it to themselves. Many people believe people are choosing to be on the streets and in shelters.

Having cared for so many people over the years, I’ve never met one person who wanted to be in the situation that they’re in. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I care for may have made a bad decision, a decision you and I might not make perhaps, but really, there are structural factors at play that cause homelessness.

We need to destigmatize homelessness from “a person who did it to themselves” kind of view or blaming people for their situation and start looking at things structurally because we know that there is not enough affordable housing in this country to support people. We know that there has been a weakening social safety net at the federal, provincial, regional, and city levels over the last three decades around healthcare, social assistance, PharmaCare, social supports. This has led to this trajectory of people experiencing homelessness.

We’re seeing a growing trend of people who are older and frail, who are experiencing homelessness for the first time after the age of 50. This is a growing trend. This is one of the elements of capitalism on steroids. We really need to think about that. I hope that through my posts on social media, we’re able to send those messages across and sometimes telling a compassionate story that derives empathy from people. Sometimes it’s just using capital letters and yelling because you just think there’s no other response. There is no other way to respond. It depends on the day, maybe the hour.

Erin: Yes, right. Are you seeing progress in terms of people’s perspectives or willingness to help? I’m thinking, you don’t have to be a Dr. Dosani or a Nurse Ahmed or somebody with a degree in order to help you. Are you seeing more people saying, “What can I do? I want to dive in.”

Dr. Dosani: I think the COVID-19 pandemic shined the light on inequities in a way that we have not seen for quite some time. People are more aware of these issues. That might be a silver lining of what happened during COVID. The fact that despite the inequities we saw, we did see more focus on these discussions, and that is power in and of itself.

I was blown away to see the response when cities, like Halifax and Toronto and other cities, actually criminalized poverty and supported violent encampment clearings. We saw the public come out, actually step out to support their unhoused neighbors. We saw people tweeting, posting on social media. We saw outrage, so yes, I do believe there’s progress, and people’s perspectives are changing.

In terms of how Canadians can become better-informed, I think there’s often a desire to go out and act, and I’d say the first step is to become informed, so to listen first. I’d encourage people to visit homelesshub.ca, the York University Observatory on Homelessness, which is a great repository of information on homelessness, both social health and other spheres.

I’d also encourage people to check out the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, who is doing excellent work to advocate for strategies and pathways to ending homelessness through policy, through real change on the streets, in shelters, in our communities. Their website is a really great resource as well.

I think those two resources have been helpful for me. Also just seeking out locally, who are your local respite shelters, drop-ins? Who are the activists who are doing this work? Follow them, support them, support their causes in your local communities because they need your support to derive health equity in your community.

Erin: That may go hand-in-hand with this next question for you because, of course, as you know, this episode is complementing REALTORS Care® Week 2021. During this, real estate boards, associations, and their REALTOR® members are making a collective impact volunteering in supportive housing and shelter-related charities right across Canada. Your advice to any organization, institution, or individual, Doctor, looking to volunteer their time or resources, go to homelesshub.ca, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Anything else that you can recommend?

Dr. Dosani: Look, first, the REALTOR® community is a very special community. I’d first appeal to them by saying REALTORS® are as much or more than anyone else, a person who understands how much a home can mean to a person. There are thousands of Canadians who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses, the illnesses of not having a home, or what that means for them. You can play a real role. You can actually support the creation of new affordable housing. You can help on a policy level. Can you help local charities?

REALTORS® in Canada are often community leaders and influencers. Can you help to create and support community leaders who are working to end homelessness? Can you help to rally their communities, their communications, and their actions? REALTORS® are also respected voices on housing issues. When the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness or other institutions or organizations worked on policy, can you be powerful? Can you be influential? Can you join us in our campaigns?

Then finally, a lot of the time, the solution is really supporting people with resources. Many of the campaigns that we’re working on need money, need support, donations. There’s a bazillion REALTORS® in Canada, you guys are awesome. Your money and supports can really actually make a huge change. I think any opportunity to speak out around policies that will create a more affordable housing supply or directly support through in-kind support, these campaigns will make a huge difference, we need you.

Erin: What a great message. How do we go about ensuring, Doctor, that our support is meaningful for both parties? That we gain empathy and perspective as volunteers, not just showing up and getting that reward of making a difference? What’s your recommendation there to find that support meaningful for both sides?

Dr. Dosani: For sure. I reflect on two concepts here. The first is that sometimes when we go out to do good for communities that experience structural vulnerabilities, sometimes we project what we feel is the best thing for a community on that community. I’d ask you to not project what you think is best for people experiencing homelessness, but seek out the answer to that question, “What is it that the community I live in needs?” You’ll learn.

If you support your local shelters, respites, drop-ins, housing agencies, case management programs, they’ll tell you like, “We need money today because we are out of our compassionate funding,” or, “We’re doing a sock drive, people need socks, we need socks. We don’t need shirts, we need socks.” Very specifically. Listen to the communities that do this work and what they need, and they will guide you.

The second concept is reflect on your vulnerability. I will say that COVID-19 put us all in very unique situations where we all had this experience, where no matter – whether you lived in a home and felt very supportive, or you live on the street, or in a shelter, everyone felt vulnerable during this time. It was hard not to because of this virus and this pandemic.

I know people were thinking about what their mortality or their death might look like, people were thinking about like, “What if I go to hospital?” Tap into that vulnerability. I know that many people have moved on, and life is moving on, but don’t lose sight of what it was like to feel vulnerable, because if you tap into that, you have the potential to derive empathy and compassion for a community in Canada that does not have a home and do not have homes because of structural issues. Tap into that, tap into your empathy and compassion. I know you’ll find the way.

Erin: That’s amazing, it really is the strength and vulnerability. Many people just moved on from it, said, “Okay, what’s next? We’re going to be okay.” 

Remembering how we felt the most vulnerable, we felt most of us in our lives. Thank you for reminding us of that. As we wrap up our chat for today, Doctor, and thank you again so much for your time. It’s amazing to look at the calendar. It’s felt like the longest year, and yet it’s amazing that 2021 is almost done. What has been your biggest takeaway from this year of so many images? How are you hoping to finish it off?

Dr. Dosani: I learned that despite our best efforts in society, even in the midst of a serious pandemic like COVID-19, we may have tried to all be in it together, but we were not. Some of us were in yachts thriving through this pandemic, and others were in life rafts barely surviving. What I do appreciate is that we can have a conversation about this. I can say this to you, Erin, and this resonates, it’s hard to deny that that’s true. We saw the outcomes on people’s experience during COVID-19.

The silver lining for me is at least we’re having the conversation. At least inequity is on the radar for people. Look, we’re doing this recording. It shows me that we are moving towards a society where we are thinking about the impact of a lack of housing for social assistance rates, PharmaCare, and the need for PharmaCare for people. 

We’re thinking about food insecurity in unique ways and other kind of social inequities that really are impacting people in our communities. It’s everybody’s business. Everybody’s responsible to derive equity and justice for the people around you.

Erin: Do you think it’s possible?

Dr. Dosani: I do, I really do. There’s something called the spirit level, and there’s a famous book that was written about it that societies that are more equitable, people actually tend to be more happy, there’s less crime, the spirit level rises. 

Actually, I’m hopeful of the fact that people recognize that when we are more connected, when we are more socially supported, and when people are not marginalized, people do better in all aspects of the world and in society. If this little dive into the world of palliative care, and what it’s like to support people who experience homelessness gets us there or one step towards that place, then I think this was a good time. I think this was totally worth it.

Erin: Oh, what a great conversation. Thank you so much for honoring us with this. Thank you, Dr. Dosani, so much.

Dr. Dosani: Thank you, Erin, really appreciate it. To all the REALTORS® out there, thank you so much for everything you do, I appreciate your time.

Erin: As we do appreciate yours, Doctor, not that there’s a lot of it. 

Learn more about Dr. Naheed Dosani and how you can help him make a difference right across Canada, and as he stresses, locally, where you are. Again, that website he mentioned is homelesshub.ca, and check out the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

REAL TIME is a production of Alphabet® Creative, Real Family Productions, and Rob Whitehead. I’m Erin Davis. We invite you to join us for our next episode of REAL TIME, brought to you by The Canadian Real Estate Association when we’ll sit down with the incredible Stefan Swanepoel, a leading visionary of real estate trends. It promises to be exciting, and you don’t want to miss it, and so you don’t because we know you’re busy. Subscribe to our channels on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME. Thanks for coming by.

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Episode 20: Brad McCannell – The Positive Effects of Universal Design

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m Erin Davis and I think you’re really going to get a lot out of this episode of REAL TIME. According to StatsCan, nearly one in four Canadians aged 15 years and over or about 6.2 million individuals, has one or more physical disabilities. When we listen to our guest today, we can see that those numbers are only going to grow as we all continue to age.

While we can’t stop time, we can adjust to how we approach our futures at home. Universal design, or UD is an approach to creating spaces that are inclusive and equitable for those living with permanent or temporary physical disability. What are some of the misconceptions about universal design and how is the industry evolving and adapting to growing demand, especially from an aging population that wants to age at home?

In episode 20 of REAL TIME, we take a closer look at UD trends and opportunities. Joining us is Brad McCannell. Brad is vice-president of Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation, Brad, welcome. I think that first off, we should talk about what you have called the superpower of universal design. That is that it’s invisible.

Brad McCannell: It’s funny. I get asked all the time, can you send me a photograph of a really good universal design? The answer is no, if you do it right, it’s invisible.

Erin: Excellent. Well, now that we can’t see it, why don’t you tell us what it is? What is universal design and what’s its purpose, Brad?

Brad: There’s seven principles of universal design. In a nutshell, what it’s designed to do is be the most good for the most people. It’s designed to allow people to interact with their built environment easily. It’s designed to let them have flexibility in use, for example. It’s simple. It’s intuitive. 

There’s a great quote. I feel bad because I can’t credit the person, but the quote was “To err is human, to forgive is designed”. That’s what you do as a designer, you make whatever you’re working with interface with the human and the human now doesn’t have to do anything. The better the design, the more invisible design, the easier it is to interact with things then the better off everyone is.

Erin: Well, how then is UD, universal design different from, say, accessible design?

Brad: Now, we’re into the weeds. Universal design: it refers to making the most good for the most people. Accessible design used to be called barrier-free design. Sometimes you see universal design and barrier-free design used interchangeably. The reality is accessible design is a specific solution for a specific application for a specific user. By way of example, universal design says everything should be the same, so it works for everyone. 

You can’t do that in a parking lot, every space would have to be oversized. You can’t do that in a washroom. All the stalls would have to be enormous so that washrooms themselves would be enormous. On those applications, that’s what accessible design is. It came on into the post-war actually, when people were coming back from the war with mobility impairments, and you wanted to get Uncle Frank into the local church, well, you just built a ramp on the back door. Now, the ramp was usually about 45-degrees, but the point was to get into the church, and you’d sit in the back and you’d be fine. It was like, okay, that’s done. 

But barrier-free design doesn’t accommodate the needs of the most of the people that only accommodates that specific need. When the church case you’d have to be pushed up the ramp, you couldn’t be independent and washrooms and parking lots. It’s just not practical to apply universal design in every spot. At the same time, universal principles still apply even though you’re only doing 10% or 20% of the parking lot at oversized spaces.

Erin: Well, universal design, you have said, because I’m quoting you from a great piece you wrote for rickhansen.com in 2018, liberating. It doesn’t rely on standard design parameters aimed at healthy males, aged 18 to 55. You point out, when a place works for everyone, say a park with even surfacing on trails, which we saw up in Parksville, British Columbia just last month and around accessible playground equipment. Suddenly, more people show up. Grandma shows up, more kids with range of abilities show up because they can.

Brad: Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that the very nature of inclusion? People forget that inclusion is a result. It’s not a discipline. Inclusion is the result of accessibility and accessibility breeds accessibility. The more access you create, the more access you’re going to need because it brings people out. Like in the early 70s, curb ramps started happening, but they were designed for high-functioning paraplegics. But who did it benefit? Well, it benefited the whole community. It benefited people pushing baby carriages and people pushing dollies. Then what happened as medical science moved on, quadriplegics like me, suddenly we were out on the streets and now the curb ramp benefited us as well.

To benefit us, it had to be a little better, it had to be a little less steep. It brought out people with vision loss but to accommodate people with vision loss, what we to do was make sure there was high contrast markings on the curb ramp, tactile markings on the curb ramp so they’d be aware they walked into traffic. The more access you create, the more access you’re going to need. That’s a really good thing because that means you’re getting inclusion in the community. That means you’re keeping people active and involved.

Erin: One of the myths that you’ve spoken about is that disability happens to other people. Universal design doesn’t reflect my needs but that really is shortsighted. Isn’t it? I think it’s a little Pollyanna-ish to think, well, nothing’s ever going to happen to me. When we look at the statistics and, of course, the ever-aging demographic, chances are if you design with universal design in mind, then you are actually paving the way you’re building that less steep ramp that Uncle Frank had to your own future, your own access and ability.

Brad: Well, this goes to one of the core messages this idea that all this access stuff and all these laws and regulations are pointed at a few people with mobility impairments a few wheelchair users. It just couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re doing a face plant and you’re skiing as a teenager, and you end up in a wheelchair or you’re 85 and you need a walker. You’re going to have a disability. In our community, we call able-bodied people TABs.

Erin: What’s that stand for?

Brad: You’re Temporarily Able-Bodied. It’s only a matter of time before you’re going to require some assistance in some form. Frankly, it’s the older adults and seniors that are really driving the numbers right now and the numbers are going through the ceiling. A 1000 people turn 65 every day in Canada; 240,000 people retire every year in Canada. This is a really unique group from a disability perspective because there’s two characteristics of them. Number one, they’re in complete denial “My eyes are fine; My arms aren’t long enough.” “I can hear fine if you’d stop mumbling.” So, there’s this real denial. 

And the second thing is they don’t have a disability, they have multiple disabilities. They’ll have mobility loss combined with hearing loss. They’ll have vision loss combined with cognitive issues. They’ll have every combination under the sun and that’s that labeled disabled component we talk about all the time. Often, you’ll see a power door operator and will have that little blue guy on it, a little blue stick man. It’s just vexing to our community because what happens when you push that button, there’s a little blue genie in a wheelchair suddenly appears and grants you five wishes. When you push that button, the door opens, why doesn’t it say, “Open door?” Why do I have to be labeled disabled? That power operator helps so many people, people carrying boxes, people in a hurry, people pushing a wheelchair, people pushing it, period. It opens the door. That’s part of the universal design concept.

Stop labeling people. Stop using disabled language to describe built environment. If you do it right, you don’t have to use that language. If you stop that, then you stopped the labeling. Then you’re stopping segregation. That’s what it really is right now. 

You go to a bank and there’s a lowered teller at the far end and that’s where I’m supposed to go. I go there and I sit, and I’m ignored or not seen or whatever. You couldn’t do that with any other group. Could you say all the blondes have to grab the corner at the end? If you say that any anybody of colour has to go sit over there. It’s really vexing to be labeled disabled constantly. 

It starts touching on the idea of us being non-market housing and setting aside 10% of some development for people with disabilities, whatever that means. Segregation, it’s one of our biggest problems. Actually, it’s the attitudinal barrier.

Erin: Well, let me go back to the bank for a second. Ideally, Brad, what would you like to see there?

Brad: Universal counters, if all the counters were the same and all the counters were universal and provided knee space, it’s just no work, this isn’t really tricky design or anything. All you do is you provide knee space on a standard counter for everyone, that works for everyone. If you go to Vancouver International Airport you may notice, you probably won’t notice, that all the counters are at universal height. All the food courts, all the tables, they’re at that universal height and it works for everyone, whereas having a high counter for tellers and one lowered at the other end, you can’t help but segregate.

Erin: You’ve just brought something up that I think we’re all going to notice from here on end.

Brad: I hope so.

Erin: When we return, Brad McCannell from the Rick Hansen Foundation tells us how he’s going about changing the way we think about design and the role of advocates in helping us to do so. 

We hope you’re enjoying this 20th episode of REAL TIME. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts for monthly episodes with someone else who knows design: TV icon, Sarah Richardson, as well as award-winning author, Jessie Thistle, broadcast and marketing legend, Terry O’Reilly and political journalist, Chantal Hébert, just to name a few. Visit CREA.ca/podcast for more details. 

Brad, you’re responsible for the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Program and Support Training, what is this trademark, the Accessibility Certification?

Brad: Well, first I’ll say it’s an industry program, it’s not a consumer program. It’s a process that we undertook to change design culture to help the people in the industry to understand the return on the investment, it’s there that’s been just left on the street. Ours is a program that identifies what’s actually there. We’re not the code police, we don’t come in and tell people, “Well, you did this wrong, you did that wrong.”

We identify what’s really there and who it affects, who’s it a barrier to, and so that as an owner or an operator you can take our report, look at your site and use it as a planning tool moving forward so that it becomes part of the normal design process instead of stopping at it after the fact, something you need special funding for. What we’re trying to do is normalize the delivery of accessible services and we’re trying to professionalize the delivery of it.

Right now, we’ve been relying pretty heavily on the advocates to tell people what’s accessible, what’s not and then find the solutions for that, and that’s just not appropriate. Advocates are critical, without advocates nothing happens. Their job is to identify the barriers, but their job can’t be to resolve the barriers, they don’t have the experience of the built environment, they’re not architects, they’re not planners, they’re not engineers.

What we had to do is shift that industry, we had to shift the culture in that industry to see the built environment differently and we’ve had great success with that so far.

Erin: Who is it that should pursue accessibility certification then Brad?

Brad: Accessibility certifications should be pursued by anyone who wants their site to be accessible, anyone who wants to understand where their site is right now. Our program identifies what’s actually there, and it becomes a perfect planning tool. It breaks any site down into eight different categories so the operator can look at it in one glance, see where they’re weak, where they’re strong, and use it as a planning tool.

The idea is to use the RHFAC, Accessibility Certification Program, as a starting point, not as an end. Too often people think, “Well, I’m going to get this rating, and now I’m an RHFAC Gold or I’m an RHFAC certified site and I’ll just stop there.” No, that’s where you start, that’s the beginning. The value of the program is that you can see now what your site needs and how you’re going to move it forward as part of the normal process, it is part of your normal operating process. The whole goal for us is to move accessibility up the design food chain.

What happens right now is this building gets designed, they get it permitted, they pour concrete and then they phone me and say, “Can we make it accessible?” No, I can’t. I can do what we call bolt-on-access, I can put on a power door, or I can put a hearing loop over a reception desk or I can walk to the mailroom so some of the mail slots are accessible, I can do the little things, but I can’t affect the core design principles of the building, and that’s what you have to do to really meet universal design requirements.

Erin: What kind of demand or interest Brad, is there for universal design in Canada, residentially and commercially?

Brad: Well, it’s just enormous. It’s driven largely by the older adults and seniors. We just did an Angus Reid poll, and it was really interesting because it was the first-time individuals recognized the shortcomings of their own environment. In the past, people always say, “Oh, yes, access is good. Those people need that.” This is the first-time people are, “Wow, wait a minute, we had 56% of our respondents saying that the access was a concern whenever they went out for dinner or lunch or shopping, with a house they buy, a car they buy, everything.” 56% of people would prioritize accessibility. 

Right now, in Canada, we report 24% having a significant disability. Every one of those people have at least one other person in their life that also benefits from a barrier-free environment, from an accessible environment. They benefit on two levels. First, they benefit because I benefit so if it’s good for me it’s probably good for them, but they also benefit because a universal space keeps them safer so when they are assisting, when they are helping me, they are in danger of becoming people with disabilities themselves.

Everybody has at least one person in their life, either a lover, mother, brother, sister, paid caregiver, they all have somebody in their lives that also benefits so it’s not 24% of the population, it’s 50% or even higher. Most of us have more than one person.

Erin: Sure.

Brad: This idea that we’re a non-market is so vexing because that’s part of the problem. If we were viewed as part of the market as your listeners today will testify, they’re working with older adults and seniors every day. They may not stand up and put up their hands and say I have a disability because remember they’re in denial, but there’s no question that it benefits them in every way and so it’s absolutely clear that we need to keep people independent in their own homes, in their own communities as long as possible – in reality, forever.

The moment grandma can’t go to the arena and watch her grandson play hockey because she’s afraid of the tripping hazards on the sidewalk or the stairs in the arena or even opening the door to the arena. The moment that happens, a little thread breaks in the community. She’s not part of her grandson’s life anymore, and the more those threads break, the more the whole community starts to break down.

The other big thing here is let’s not forget how universal designs, one of its biggest attributes is it allows for intergenerational family living in a same single home. Grandma can stay with you, and that’s a really important point. We tend to ship our older adults and seniors off, and other cultures don’t. Other cultures revere their elders, and we seem to be content to let that go and we’ve seen the consequences of that now.

Erin: Back with Brad McCannell in just a moment with an eye-opening take on Disability: You and Me. Whether disability is caused by the natural effects of aging or by accident or injury, the simple truth is that each one of us will experience disability at some point in our lives and we’ll need our communities to be accessible so that we can continue to participate and live full lives. The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Program works to help improve accessibility of the built environment in Canada, the places where we live, work, learn and play. Find out more about the program and join the movement to help create a fully accessible and inclusive Canada by visiting rickhansen.com/become-accessible. 

Now back to Brad McCannell, Vice President of Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation. 

Obviously, everything you’re talking about is improving lives for all of us but why do you think, Brad, homeowners who do not have lived experience with disability, why should they consider implementing universal design in their properties?

Brad: Everyone should consider making their homes more accessible, everyone’s going to have a disability and it’s also frighteningly easy to do at least at the design stage. It’s harder on a retrofit, I get that. We are the largest minority group in the world, people with disabilities. We’re the only one that anyone of you can and will join at any moment. You twist an ankle and fall down the stairs, you have a car accident, you have a medical issue, you are going to be a person with a disability. It’s totally inevitable.

I happen to live in what would be considered a resort community about an hour outside of Vancouver. All my neighbours have built these homes as their retirement, they view this as the last home they’re going to have, they’re going to settle in, it’s going to be beautiful for the rest of their lives, and I can’t visit them. I can’t get in the front door. In their house, they’ve got stairs. I know one particular house, this person had been designing for decades and couldn’t wait to retire and she’s been in the home now for three years, and she can’t get upstairs to the bedroom anymore.

Erin: Oh, wow.

Brad: You have to think about this stuff. Whether you like it or not, it’s going to change so if we as a community don’t start adopting universal design principles, if we don’t start building homes that anticipate the needs of the users, if the fix to the house is so enormous so you have to move because you can’t handle the stairs, some people talk about stair glides and things like that, I’m not in favor of them, I think they are very last resort personally. But when you’re designing a home, one of the simple fixes that Safer Home Society advocates and Safer Home Society, by the way, I’d highly recommend. If you want to know about accessible housing at a single-family home level, the saferhomesociety.com is a great resource. One of the things they talk about all the time, especially in new construction, is how you can align closets. The closets on the first floor and the closet on the second floor are over top of each other. When you’re building the house, you make that an elevator shaft. At the time of construction, the cost is really nominal but to put in an elevator after the fact, it’s in the $100,000 range.

Even if you are not going to be the one to get old in it, by creating that universal aspect of the home, you’re increasing the value of the home, because the next buyer may need it. If the house can anticipate the needs of the user, if there’s backing in the walls, that you can let you put a grab bar anywhere you need it. Not just where the code says it goes, if there’s backing in the ceiling, you can put in an overhead lift. One day you may need a lift that picks you out to your bed and takes you to the bathroom. 

If that’s all built in, it’s remarkably inexpensive. In fact, it’s one of the things that pays for itself, because right now what happens is they complete a house, there’s a big pile of leftover lumber and they put it in that truck, and they ship it off to the dump. Boom. There goes your LEED rating where you just dump a bunch of stuff in the landfill.

Gather up that wood and pound it into the framing. It doesn’t have to be pretty; it’s all going to be covered anyone. You can now install ceiling lifts or grab bars or whatever you need, and you don’t have to pay to ship it. You don’t have to send it to a landfill. You leave your LEED rating alone.

Erin: That’s brilliant.

Brad: Simple things like this. There’s simple solutions all over the place.

Erin: Now, are there many home builders, contractors and designers in Canada who specialize in universal design. How does a homeowner go about finding them?

Brad: Yes. There are lots in fact, but this is part of the problem. There’s no governing body. There’s no single group that can certify whether they actually know what they’re talking about or not. Again, the RHFAC, the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Program, we stepped in there and we said that has to change. We accredit people, people taking our course then have the opportunity to take an exam administered by the CSA group, Canadian Standards Association, completely independent of us, and they will test you for your level of knowledge, do you understand universal design. Now we have an accredit person who’s taken a course and been examined by a third party and said, yes, that guy knows what he’s talking about.

Erin: Brad, what steps can a REALTOR® take to advocate for clients who are living with permanent or temporary physical disabilities while they’re in the home buying and selling process? What do you think?

Brad: Well, REALTORS® are key to this whole process. Nobody’s closer than your listeners to the real needs of the community. They must see it every day. I would encourage them to help consumers demand more. It’s completely unacceptable to use what’s called the medical model. The medical model says you have a disability you figure out how to overcome the barriers. The social model says, no, why don’t we build places that are universal? Why don’t we embrace the community more? Why does that person have to be labeled and excluded?

There’s an old joke in our business. You want to know how good a restaurant is, you ask a wheelchair guy because he probably came in through the kitchen. It’s that old idea that any access will do that’s that barrier free design approach. It won’t. I think REALTORS® are in a position to talk to developers about this, to say that the market is there to say that we’re people with disabilities, older adults and seniors are not non-market, that we are market and we need more. If you on your building properly, that becomes a huge asset. 

One of the other problems, especially in single family dwellings, for example, if you’re injured at work and Work Safe BC comes into the play, they will typically allow $150,000 worth of renovations to your home because now you’re a wheelchair user and you have be able to live there. You got that $150,000 and the OTs come in, the Occupational Therapists come in and they slap grab bars all over the place and they turn your house into an institution.

While that’s really functional and nobody wants to live in an institution, but the real problem because when you go to sell that house because able bodied person, they come and look at that house and they want to buy it. How much would it cost to get all that wheelchair stuff out? How much to take it back to the house it was instead of the institution it became, well, that’s about $150,000. Now you’ve got a $300,000 swing in real estate value at the time you can least afford it.

The thing about universal design is it’s beautiful. If you’ve done it right, it’s invisible. It has the advantage of making your house look bigger, because the way it opens up space. If you don’t, if you label disabled, if you turn it into an institution it’s going to kill the real estate value. What can REALTORS® do? They can help developers understand that we are not non-market. They help them understand the return on investment that’s available here.

The REALTOR®‘s role here is just absolutely key because they’re the interface between the developer and the real users. When you’re dropping this kind of money on a house or a condo or whatever you’re buying, the cost of making it accessible is so minuscule. We did a big study on a condominium development they did that showed unequivocally it costs less than a $1000 per unit to make it universal, to make it work under the safer home system. To make it work for older adults and seniors to make it work for wheelchair users, less than a $1000 a unit. I’m sorry that’s not even the carrying cost of the money it takes to build one of those things, it’s invisible.

Erin: When we return, how Brad has integrated accessibilities in ways that we’ve all experienced and seen or not seen in the case of that invisibility to which he refers.  

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Now let’s return to our chat with Brad McCannell, VP of Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation, making travel and homes friendlier for us all. You talk about the invisibility of it. Tell me what you’ve done in your own situation, Brad, that is functional, that is beautiful. That is something that we can all imagine in our own lives, if we decide to go ahead and do this.

Brad: Well, let me give you two examples. One is a large public building, Vancouver International Airport. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with them now well, since 1992. So, it’s been a 30-year journey. What we’ve been able to do there is change the corporate culture to ask a really simple question before any project is completed: “How will this affect people with disabilities?” That airport is I think, nine years now running, voted the best airport in North America.

Erin: Wow.

Brad: A large part of that evaluation is customer service. We do exit surveys at YVR and a couple years back we focused on older adults and seniors and people with disabilities. We asked them, how’d you find the airport? How was it for you? The answer was, it’s great. Why? Don’t know. That’s the perfect answer. If you don’t know then you weren’t handled differently. You weren’t separated from your family to go to a special counter. You didn’t have to get pushed under some tunnels under the airport, like in Toronto to get to the airplane, making that space work, that’s a true universal space.

Next time you’re there look around you won’t see the little wheelchair guy. He’s not on the counters. He’s not on the washrooms. You might see him in hold rooms. There’s a few seats reserved, but that’s because every works for everyone. We’ve taken the labels off. We made it work for everyone from a public building perspective.

From a housing perspective, I’ve been telling people how to build things for 30 years. I just recently built my little dream house outside of Vancouver and I thought, if I’m going to do this, I better get it right. I spent great deal of time working on universal design principles and applying them to my own home, and I defy anybody to tell that somebody a quadriplegic, especially, but a wheelchair user lives in my house. None of the tell-tale signs are there. There’s no grab bars. I don’t use grab bars.

In most wheelchair homes about inches up on the wall there a black mark that runs around mostly the whole house, but usually around corners. That’s the front caster catching that outside 90-degree corner when you’re going into your kitchen, for example, when you’re going into a bathroom.

Universal design says, no, no, no, don’t do that. Make that a 45-degree angle, cut that off, even by six inches. Suddenly that is no impact point there. When you see a mark on the wall or a piece of drywall that’s been carved, you see a maintenance problem. When I see it, I see a health problem. I see a collision problem. Somebody’s hit that.

Now as a wheelchair user, I’m pretty good. I can ram things and survive pretty well, but when mom is on a cane or a crutch and she catches that wall or her walker hits that wall, then you’re introducing a falling hazard into the home. One of the great things about Universal design is how it makes your home safer. It literally removes falling hazards, tripping hazard and that’s really important. The best example I can give you is in a typical residential setting, in a bathroom we put the sink, the toilet and the tub, all those controls and water lines are on the same wall.

We do that to make it easy for the plumber. I don’t care about the plumber. I care about my mother, and she walks in there and she steps between the toilet and the tub with one foot, and she leans way over to turn on the tub and she’s going to fall. That’s where she’s going to fall. If she falls there and breaks her hip, she has a 20% chance of being dead in a calendar year. She has 50% chance of never getting out of an institution. Why are we doing this for the plumber? I’ve had arguments with architects. We can’t make it any bigger. Real Estate space is just too expensive. We can’t have a bigger bathroom. Pick the tub up, turn it 180 degrees and set it back down in the same space. Now the controls are on the open wall.

If you want to go crazy, let’s just go absolutely insane here for a second, let’s take the controls and move them 6 inches closer to the edge of the tub. Now she’s not even leaning over. Just anecdotally, I think you can reduce falls in the home by 20% by doing just something that’s simple. None of this is rocket science. There’s a feeling that I can’t create accessible because I don’t have a big enough footprint. Universally design is your best friend in small spaces. It makes things work for everybody so much easier and it’s all about reach requirements and those kinds of things.

Erin: Putting plugs in different places to electrical outlets.

Brad: Especially on a new build, it costs about seven bucks to put an outlet in a new build. It costs about $3000 to do it if you have to rip the drywall out. Why not put a plug behind your toilet? Why not put a plug besides your main entry door and your main exit door? Someday you may want a power door operator on that. Why not throw some plugs over by the windows so that you can operate the drapes with a remote or the windows too? When you design a home, in my home, I used crank style windows because I can pull that crank off and put a little motor on that.

Now I can operate the windows from my bed. If you’re going to automate your home, you need these AC outlets everywhere. If you add a design stage at the construction site just throw them in, the more the merrier. 

The other thing you want to do is you want to lift all the outlets up by six inches and you want to bring all the switches down by six inches. Now everything’s within reach of most people and it doesn’t look weird.

Sometimes people raise the outlets way too high. It looks horrible. You plug something in, there’s a big cable hanging down the wall, but lifting it six inches puts it within the range of 80 or more percent of the community. If you can keep mom from bending down, it’s a bonus.

If you can put in a touch faucet, touch faucets are amazing. You don’t have to have dexterity to turn them on or off. There’s a little light on there, it tells you the temperature of the water without touching. It is not thought of as a disability thing and that’s great. It really works for my darling wife when she’s baking and her hands are covered in flour and guck, and she doesn’t want to touch the faucet. There’re a million little things you can do to make it work. 

The biggest barrier to all people with disabilities is the attitudinal barrier. Pre-conceived notions of what we’re capable of or not capable of. Preconceived notions of us being non-market somehow. The biggest barrier to overcome is what people think we can do and what we can’t do and what we might want. My boss, Rick Hanson said it decades ago when he was talking about his own home and he was talking to the developer and he said, I just want a normal house. I don’t want to live in an institution. I don’t want to live in a place that looks like an institution. I just want a normal house. It’s easy to do. It’s functional. It pays dividends because it increases the value of the home especially as more and more people need this.

It’s an opportunity for everybody to come on board and understand the return on investment. This is not something we’re asking you to do because gee it’s great, because mom’s amazing. Wouldn’t we like to help the community and “Gee guys, I know let’s do this really nice thing.’ There’s money to be made here.

Erin: Brad, as we bring this conversation which has been so enlightening and perfect to a close, let’s fast forward a few months, how do you want to describe the rest of the year in three words?

Brad: Three words. Finally making progress. The Accessible Canada’s Act has been a big push forward. BC now stepped up with accessibility legislation and doing an amazing job through Sam Turcotte and his team. I think it was finally getting the message through and that message of return on investments coming through. I think industry has finally been brought to the table. In the past what’s been happening is people demand higher code requirements and more enforcement. I agree that’s absolutely critical.

You have to have that, but the industry was never brought to the table. They always said, “You will do this now.” That just doesn’t work. Finally, through the RHFAC program, we’re getting industries to the table. We’re helping them understand the return on investment. I’m hoping you understand why it’s so important that this be done at a cultural level. I’ve got great hope for the coming year, and I’ve got great hope for the years beyond that. My fervent dream is to be unemployed as soon as possible because they don’t need a consultant on disability anymore because it’s part of the natural culture.

Erin: Thanks for sharing your insight with us here today and the inspiration of the message that this is just so accessible. Thanks so much, Brad. We really appreciate your time and your wisdom, and we’ll be watching to see more progress. Thanks to people like you and the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Accessibility Certification Program and a reminder to visit rickhansen.com and look at the five myths that Brad McCannell has written. It’s just fantastic.

Brad: Remember that while we may be perceived as the leaders, it’s the people doing the work and it’s your listeners. Your Real Estate agent, REALTORS® generally can make a huge change here just by being aware of this, just by demanding more, just by stepping up and being the voice. We’re maybe leading the scene. We get the nice labels. We get the government grants, but the heavy lifting is done by your listeners, so I really appreciate this opportunity.

Erin: We appreciate it too. A reminder to go to rickhansen.com/become-accessible to learn more and make that difference that Brad McCannell, Vice President of Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation, talks about. 

Thank you for joining us here today on this episode of REAL TIME brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, produced by Rob Whitehead for Real Family Productions, and Alphabet® Creative.

Be sure to check out all of our episodes and subscribe so you don’t miss any more great, guests including in Episode 21 Real Estate Visionary Stefan Swanepoel. I’m Erin Davis and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.

 

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Episode 19: Chantal Hébert – In Pursuit of Housing: The Impact of Canada’s Federal Election

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m Erin Davis. CREA and the REALTOR® community have advocated for home buyers, property owners, and communities for more than three decades. Of course, that means we’ve been keeping a close eye on the lead up to and results of Canada’s 44th federal election. 

On this episode 19 of REAL TIME, we’re joined by one of Canada’s most prolific political journalists and commentators, Chantal Hébert. Join us as we unpack the election’s political implications for Canada’s housing crisis including the newly elected government’s housing promises and how all parties might align to support a more accessible and sustainable housing sector.

Well, Chantal, despite a hotly contested campaign, our new parliament looks a lot like it did before the election. If you could, can we take a closer look at how we got here? We’ll go back to August 15th. I know back in the way-back machine to an entire month and a half ago but why do you think it is that the Prime Minister decided to call a snap election at that moment?

Chantal Hébert: Easy. Minority governments, 18 to 24 months is the usual shelf life. The liberals have been leading, solidly leading in the polls for months. It is in the nature of minority governments to always be on the lookout for a window for reelection. Here are the calendar options that Mr. Trudeau was looking at. If he didn’t go on August 15, then he wasn’t going to go in the fall of 2021 because as of right now, there are significant municipal election campaigns that are getting underway not only in Quebec but also in Alberta. You really want to not be– Those signs in Montreal went up for the mayoral battle a day before the end of the federal election. It was jarring to see suddenly new faces appear on top of all the other faces.

Erin: Oh, wow.

Chantal: That took care of the fall. Then you go to the spring of 2022, and here again, no window. Why? Ontario is going to the polls in June as a fixed-state election. There is no doubt about Ontario having a campaign. That pretty much means that as of February, March, every party in Ontario is going to be concerned with reelection or beating Premier Doug Ford. That means a lot of campaign workers who would normally work for the federal Liberals, Conservatives, NDP would be fixated on the provincial scene.

Oh, well. Let’s move fast forward to the end of the summer of 2022. Here’s Mr. Trudeau thinking, “I really want to have some control over my timing,” whoops, except that there’s a Quebec election. It’s a fixed-date election, so it is going to happen. As of the beginning of next summer, right after Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day that Tuesday, most political volunteers are going to be working or lining up to work for Premier Legault or for one of the other contenders in the Quebec election. Here we are, November 2022. Taking all that into account and having no way to predict the future, who knows if you’re still going to have that nice big fat lead in November 2022? Are you going to call a Christmas election seriously?

On balance, I’m guessing that the Prime Minister decided, “I have the lead, I can get this over with and buy myself time, will a majority, which would be nice because the pandemic is not over but will come to an end. By the time it comes to an end, 2023, ’24, we are going to all be taking a more serious look at our fiscal situation and the fiscal damage. It may not be a great, great time to have to campaign for reelection, so let’s do it now when a majority mandate that in theory, would take the government all the way to 2025.”

Erin: Do you think that the Prime Minister could have done a better job in getting out the message of why the timing so that people didn’t react with so much displeasure, which seemed to be the overriding emotion that we felt over the past several weeks, Chantal?

Chantal: Couple of points on that. There was never a narrative that really worked for Justin Trudeau to call an election in part because of the pandemic. What has been happening over the past year and a half, two years since the 2019 election is that there has been a fairly high degree of cooperation between the opposition parties and not just on Parliament Hill, in most provincial legislatures for obvious reasons.

On top of that, most of Justin Trudeau’s big projects, childcare, climate change, indigenous reconciliation, he had the dancing partner for all of them on the opposition benches. Mr. Trudeau had a very comfortable minority government going into this election where no one could argue that he could not get his plans in progress. He couldn’t go to voters and say, “I need to have two hands on the wheel because I can’t get the country to anything,” because he could not sustain the narrative.

The other issue, the people’s reaction. It is true that normally, people, when they see an election called Justin Trudeau’s not the first Prime Minister in a minority situation to have tried to find his way to a majority. BC did it earlier on in the pandemic. New Brunswick did the same thing earlier on in the pandemic. Both of those governments won majority governments. People weren’t all that annoyed, but I think over time, the Prime Minister and possibly, the people who advise him got themselves into an even thicker bubble than usual because of the pandemic. Their read on the public mood was probably increasingly based on polls rather than on speaking to people.

If they have, you guys speak to people, you meet them. You would’ve known that the mood out there wasn’t a, “Yes, let’s have an election. I can’t wait to give Justin Trudeau a prize for having handled the pandemic.” It was a, “Please leave me alone and let us get on with finishing the pandemic.” I think it was a combination of both Trudeau wanting a majority and thinking he could get it and having be a failed connection to the public mood.

Erin: I found it interesting in his acceptance speech that he mentioned that Canadians have made it clear that they’re tired of the pandemic and they’re tired of elections. That was a very Canadian moment like apologizing for victory.

Chantal: Now there is no one more deaf than he does not want to hear. This is not something he could not have picked up on. I read and I write columns. I read my colleagues’ columns, and 90% of anything that was written in the three months before the election call went the way of, “Don’t do it.”

Erin: What are the results mostly back to the status quo say about Canadians and our perceptions of government right now?

Chantal: It mostly says that Canadians were comfortable with Justin Trudeau on a bit of a leash and with a minority situation. It also says that voters in general looked at the alternatives and they would mostly have looked at Erin O’Toole not only because he was the main contender for power but he was the newer face on the scene and saw nothing that made them really want to change the government or the makeup of the House of Commons and so in the end, every party got zero reward for his or her campaign.

This is an election that has a winner. Make no mistake. If you wake up in the morning, the Prime Minister, you’re better off than waking up in the morning in opposition. If you look at what everyone wanted, this is a no winner election.

Erin: You were all over Twitter on Monday night. I thought it was quite interesting of course, decades as a prolific and high profile and respected journalist. You’re a Twitter star because of a quote, Chantal, that you said, “An election that nobody wanted and nobody got what they wanted’. Kudos.

Chantal: Election nights, sometimes you end up thinking quickly and sometimes you get yourself in huge trouble. In this case, I didn’t.

Erin: With no liberal majority, no win for Erin O’Toole, only a modest gain for the NDP, and no seat for the Green leader. Did anybody except as waking up as Prime Minister as you said, did anyone get what they wanted with this election?

Chantal: No, although I’m going to say something that is going to sound very counterintuitive, and I’ll probably regret saying it because this is being taped, but if anyone got anything from this election, I would say it would have to be Erin O’Toole. Why do I say that? He got a dry run. If his party allows him to run again and to lead the party again in another election, he will have learned a lot of stuff from his first campaign, made a lot of mistakes that he won’t repeat, and probably will be able to run a better campaign next time. You did notice and I’m going to stress it that there’s a big ‘if’ in my sentence, and the ‘if’ is ‘if’ they allow him to remain as leader.

Erin: Did anything surprise you about the results?

Chantal: A lot of people seem to be surprised. Luck would have it that as a very, very, very junior reporter, I was assigned to cover a little bit of the 1977 provincial campaign in Ontario. Bill Davis had a minority government, elected in ’75, decided that he was going to turn that into a majority, so two years later, manufactured a reason to have an election and ended up with exactly the same legislature. Having seen that early on, you could say that though Stephen Harper was elected in ’06, tried his luck in ’08 to get the majority, and again, failed to get that majority. I thought the results we got was the result any sane person that was not in a Liberal bubble would have expected.

Erin: Back with commentator and longtime political journalist Chantal Hébert in a moment with where housing ranks as this government moves forward and looking for signs literally. 

Both directly and through its political action committee of REALTORS®, CREA works with federal cabinet ministers, members of parliament, parliamentary committees, and senior officials in order to drive legislative and regulatory changes that will benefit homeowners, aspiring homeowners, and communities across the country as well as the Canadian economy. When issues come up that affect housing, property rights, or the real estate sector, CREA engages elected officials and government to discuss solutions and make recommendations on behalf of you, REALTORS®

Now, back to journalist Chantal Hébert on Election 44, insight, info, and more. When you were talking about the litany of reasons in terms of timing as to why the election had to be called when it was, from Prime Minister Trudeau’s standpoint, I couldn’t help but think just for a moment about all those signs on the lawns. As you said in Montreal, they were switching up before the election votes were counted, where do the REALTOR® signs go? I always think about that in elections. I’m trying to sell my house, but how high does the issue of housing typically rate in federal elections compared to other domestic issues like the economy or healthcare or the environment, Chantal?

Chantal: I don’t know about you, but it’s the first time that I see housing emerged as one of the talked about issue. It’s mentioned but talk about to the degree that it was talked about in this election, I can’t remember a campaign when that happened, not even when interest rates were sky-high, because at that point, politicians, as you may remember, would say, “Bank of Canada, that’s not on us.” I think it goes to the larger issue of affordability, which has been one of the overriding themes of this campaign. Housing, for obvious reasons, because of what has happened to the housing market over the course of last spring and the pandemic, became the poster child for the larger affordability issue, and it is a major issue.

That being said, just because politicians talk about housing a lot in a federal election does not necessarily translate into a major issue in Parliament. The reason for that, the reasons are fairly obvious. The federal government’s impact on the housing issue is indirect. It is not accurate that if you elect candidate A versus candidate D, housing will suddenly become more affordable or more houses will be built more quickly in the right places for the right people. There is no expertise, and I think for a few decades, we don’t even have a National Housing minister. We used to, and that has disappeared. So yes, a number of proposals were heard during the election. I’m not so sure that they will necessarily be the stuff that question period is going to be made of because this housing discussion, it’s not going to go away, but it is now going to shift over to those provincial campaigns that I talked about.

Erin: The numbers that we heard during the campaign, which elements of the Liberal housing plan might be up for negotiation with opposition parties in order to get housing legislation passed? The Liberals promised to preserve, build or repair an additional about one and a half million homes over the next four years. The Tories promised to build one million homes over a three-year period, and the NDP, a half million affordable housing units over 10 years, and the Bloc promised to fund affordable housing using 1% of the federal government’s annual revenue. Do you see any of that coming, if not to fruition, then at least being tabled and being discussed in a serious manner moving forward?

Chantal: Okay, you don’t need legislation to do most of these things. You do need to allocate funding to trigger it, but we do know that the federal government is not going to be taking your taxpayers’ dollars to build family homes. What is going to be happening is that the federal government is going to negotiate with cities and with provincial governments to try to put money and incentives in place to get this done, but an army of construction workers is not going to fan out on the basis of some federal legislation. The federal government’s impact on whether it wants to cool or not cool the housing market runs to mechanism that go from the obvious Bank of Canada and interest rates, making it harder for people to qualify for mortgages, and the one that no one talks about, because it’s never going to happen, and if you want, I can tell you why, is taxing profit on your home when you resell.

Erin: Okay, tell us why.

Chantal: Let’s forget the actual campaign and let’s make one up. It could have been anyone, but Justin Trudeau wakes up one morning over the past five weeks and says, “We are going to cool this market and we’re going to help people enter the market by going after all the money that is piled up in the principal residences. My government, if reelected, is going to be taxing the amount of money.” They are going to tax your principal residence, as he says, the same way that we tax cottages. Then what happens? Political Science 101, the leader of the opposition then says, “If elected, I will never do this. If this ever happens, I will run on the promise to undo this.” Guess who becomes the Prime Minister on election?

Erin: You got it, number two.

Chantal: It’s such a political nuclear device that would so blow up on whoever proposes it, and so not survive the election of another party, that no one will ever want to go there. It’s political suicide. Not only is it political suicide, but it’s political suicide for no cause, because you will be replaced by someone who will promise to undo it.

Erin: We did hear some promises that were not political suicide, they were promises.

Chantal: Speculation taxes, yes. If you buy and flip and use the principal residence, I do believe they will tighten that up, up to a point. I have also noticed that they will try to craft it in such a way as to not catch me for instance, buying a nice house and then suddenly discovering that I can’t live in it because of illness, so I need to sell it. I think they will craft it properly. I also believe that if they do present legislation along those lines, they will find support across the aisle.

Erin: Now we’re not only talking homeownership here, we heard promises from the Liberals on a rent-to-own program, buyer’s bill of rights, doubling the first-time homebuyer’s tax credit. While the election was going on, did economists and housing experts back up those proposed measures as being effective and even starting to address Canada’s housing challenges?

Chantal: Most economists, as far as a one could read, said that most of what is being proposed would make little difference to the housing issue. The tax credit route is one that federal governments tend to like, so you will probably see some movement there, but beyond that, a lot of those programs are programs that are run by the provinces, one. Two, it makes a lot of sense that they’re run by provinces because it is possible that the housing market in PEI is a bit different from the housing market in BC. The notion that the federal government can come up with a comprehensive one-size-fits-all approach to this issue, it does not meet the test of reality. Which is why I think that if the federal government is going to be in any way, shape or form proactive beyond the tax measures, proactive on housing, they will do so by striking deals with various provincial governments and if Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver can help it with the big cities.

Erin: Do you think that any of the opposition parties are likely to use housing legislation as a lightning rod for a nonconfidence motion?

Chantal: No, never going to happen. For one, there’s no appetite. If you were one of the opposition parties looking at the numbers this week, I don’t think that you would be looking for reasons to have nonconfidence motions, for one. Two, most of the moves that the Liberals may make on housing will be included in a budget. If the government were to lose the confidence of the house, it would be on its entire budget. I think that the NDP will push really hard to have some housing proposals in the next budget, but the dynamics of a second minority government, in a way, they self-cancel each other.

Justin Trudeau, of course, does not have the weapon of saying, “If you don’t do what I want, I’m going to call an election.” He’s used that one up. The opposition parties are not in a position to create the conditions for an election anytime soon. If you were Jagmeet Singh saying it and suddenly you decided you didn’t like the housing section of the next trans feature budget, would you really bring down the government and then run the risk that your partner across the aisle is the Conservative Party? By and large, I think it’s not a big secret that NDP supporters and a solid section of Bloc supporters are much more comfortable with the Liberal government than the Conservative government.

Erin: Coming up more with journalist Chantal Hébert and her view to the future. 

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Now, back to journalist commentator, Chantal Hebert, on REAL TIME. Can I ask you what is your take on the future of the Green Party? You’ve been here for a while and Monday has to have been just devastating on so many fronts as it was here watching the British Columbia news where we’re based. What is your take on the Greens, Chantal?

Chantal: I think they have, at this point, more of a future in a number of provinces, PEI to name one. They used to have more presence in BC, I think, that could come back if and when the NDP is no longer in power and Victoria. I don’t think that the Green Party federally is salvageable under its current leader. I also believe that it is possible for the federal Green Party to find a good leader who is not Elizabeth May.

Erin: The message that we’ve heard listening to you today is that I’m hearing echoes of climate change issues where climate change was never mentioned and now, of course, it’s part of the regular discourse. The homeless situation and housing and affordable housing made it into the election as part of people’s platforms and that seems to speak right to the Green Party. Am I wrong?

Chantal: If you want to be kind to the Green Party, you can say that they’re victims of their own success. I don’t totally buy that. I think climate change climbed up on the radar for obvious reasons that have little to do with a party that never had more than three seats at the back of the House of Commons. Climate change has now become a ballot box issue or a precondition for support for a majority of Canadian voters, while it was not the case maybe 15 years ago. The Conservatives will tell you and I suspect they still pay the price for it in this election, that increasingly when they’re campaigning in the suburbs, be it in BC or Ontario or Quebec, people have no time for whatever it is that they have on offer because they are perceived as not being serious about climate change.

I think a lot of voters have a little box and it says climate change. If you can’t tick that box, they’re not going to consider you. That means that the Green Party, which is so associated with climate change, but so not associated with being in government, is in some trouble at the federal level, because if you’re serious about climate change, what you really want is a government that is serious about climate change, and we will not be having a Green government in Ottawa over the rest of my life. I should say I’m not 30, so I’m not saying that’s not going to happen for 100 years. My working life will never see a Green Party in power at the federal level. I’m not sure that I will ever see a Green Party that has the 12 members required to have official party recognition in Parliament between now and when I decide that I’ve seen enough of all these very nice people.

Erin: Well, with the federal election behind us now, Chantal, how are you hoping to describe the rest of the year?

Chantal: I am, like all others out there, hoping that the winter is not too hard on us, on the pandemic front, that kids will get vaccinated, that in January, we’ll be looking to not coming out of another dark tunnel, but living in some semblance of normalcy as we’ve currently been doing, and that the kids will manage to be in school all year. My demands are not very high. I don’t think we’re done with this. I’m watching what’s happening in Alberta, frankly, scary. I think we’re going to see a lot about people on the political front, not with Justin Trudeau, but on the Conservative front. Some Conservatives want to go after Erin O’Toole. Jason Kenney, I’m not sure will still be Premier in Alberta at Christmas. There’s this election coming up in Ontario with Premier Ford. I think Conservatives and Conservative sympathizers are going to have a lot of action to look up.

Erin: Therefore, so will you keeping an eye on it all for us all. Thank you so much for your time and your insight and your expertise, Chantal, we really do appreciate it.

Chantal: Okay, and I hope that the Trudeau trump speech does include enough lines to keep you people interested.

Erin: I’m sure that it will. Thank you. We’ll have our fingers crossed. Thank you, Chantal.

Chantal: You’re welcome.

Erin: Journalist Chantal Hébert. You can see her regularly on CBC’s The National and can read her in the Toronto Star as well as several other publications. We’re so glad you could hear her on REAL TIME. Don’t miss our next episode when we talk universal design with Brad McCannell. He’s VP of Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation, and he promises to be a great guest. Honestly, they all are. 

 

Just be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode of REAL TIME, a production of Alphabet® Creative with technical production by Rob Whitehead for Real Family Productions. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk again soon on REAL TIME.

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Episode 18: Heather Bayer – The Evolution of Canadian Vacation Properties

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for REALTORS® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association. We are all about sparking conversations with inspiring people about all things Canadian real estate and topics that impact REALTORS®, and really all of us. I’m your host, Erin Davis and our guest for episode 18 of REAL TIME is actually a host in a lot of ways, and you’re going to find our chat fascinating. The appeal of vacation properties skyrocketed during the pandemic as Canadians look to create memories close to home. This scramble for real estate dovetails with another phenomenon, vacation rentals and the sharing economy.

With record numbers of people looking to get away close to home, can any property become a vacation property, and what are the pros and cons of investing in one? In episode 18 of REAL TIME, we take a closer look at the trends and opportunities with Heather Bayer. She’s a vacation rental expert, speaker, podcaster, broadcaster, and mentor of short-term rental managers and owners. Heather Bayer is also CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies. We’re thrilled she could carve out time to be with us on REAL TIME during one of her busiest seasons ever. Thank you, Heather, for joining us. This feels like a virtual vacation and no matter the time of year, I think we can still all use one. I appreciate your time.

Heather Bayer: You’re absolutely welcome, Erin. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.

Erin: You’ve been in the vacation rental business for more than 20 years. How did you get into the industry, and what makes you so passionate about it? Tell us your story, Heather.

Heather: What it was, it was very much by accident. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since the 1980s. I love to start-up businesses, but until 1998, I’d had nothing to do with hospitality apart from partaking of it myself. In fact, at that time, back in 1998, I was running a management training company, I had a psychotherapy and hypnotherapy practice and happily hypnotizing people and running my training and it was great.

Then the adventure started. My brother was getting married in Midland, Ontario. Of course, as you know, from my accent, you can probably understand, I was in England at the time. He was getting married in Ontario. A week later, my niece was going to be married in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We had a family of 12 Brits and Scots, and we planned this two-week adventure and my brother organized our accommodation in Ontario. It sounded absolutely marvelous when he told us. It was a four-bedroom cottage on a pristine lake, and that’s all he said, and it’s something we never experienced before and we just couldn’t wait for this to happen.

What he conveniently forgot to tell us was that it was a water access-only property. Although we were ferried across to this cottage on this very nice motorboat by my future sister-in-law’s stepson, all we had after that was a tin boat with a nine horsepower motor, which was meant to ferry us back and forth to the mainland and the motor kept going wrong and things were happening. He also neglected to mention that the cottage hadn’t been occupied for the previous six months. At least it hadn’t been occupied by humans and it was overrun by mice and for the first three days, we cleaned the place.

Which sounds like a complete nightmare, but in fact, it was probably the most amazing vacation we’d ever had. We swam in the morning at dawn with the loons, I’m getting poetic here. We sat around the campfire telling stories and roasting marshmallows, and it was bliss, idyllic. On the last night, my sister and I sat on a rock and we were having a gin and tonic and looking out over the most amazing sunset, and I just said, “Hey, we could do this. We could actually buy a property and rent it out and do it much better”.

My husband always raises his eyebrows. When I always say those four words, “I’ve got an idea”, he wants to run a mile. I went back to UK and decided we’d go into the travel industry, and I was going to source the best in Ontario cottages and rent them to the British market. Oddly enough though, in a couple of years we did that, we got more business coming from Toronto, calling us in the UK and trying to rent a cottage two hours north of them.

Eventually, I moved out in 2003. I’d had enough of going backwards and forwards to Ontario every six weeks to buy another property because we kept buying them. We had six at one point and I was also looking at third-party properties and managing them from England. My husband had been in the UK military in the RAF for 35 years and it was time for him to retire. We said, “Hey, let’s move to Ontario.” That was the start of the adventure and here we are 18 years later.

I now run one of Ontario’s most popular rental management companies along with my business partner. We have 160 properties and I’ve written a book about how to rent. I have a podcast with 400 episodes and nearly a million downloads now, and I live, eat and breathe this business. Yes, the passion that started in 1998 has not waned one iota since then.

Erin: What an incredible story. I’m still stuck on the hook that you were a hypnotherapist and a psychotherapist because I want that in everybody that I know, oh my goodness, boy, you changed lanes in such a big way. Of course, the whole world did in the past year and a half, Heather, with COVID-19 having such a major impact on travel and tourism. What have been the immediate effects on Canadian vacation rentals that you’ve seen?

Heather: It’s been a story of famine and feast really because it depends where you are. Here in Ontario, we serve a domestic market, so 90% of our travelers come from the major cities from Toronto, with less so from Ottawa, but it’s domestic. When the borders closed and people couldn’t go traveling, they decided that they would stay at home and do the staycation, and that turned out to be the best year in 2020 for us. This year, 2021, it is just as busy, if not busier. We’ve never had busier years. However, that’s not the same for every part of Canada because there are areas that don’t have that high level of domestic travel. They have more international travel people crossing over the border.

For example, property managers and owners, let’s say in Canmore and Banff, less likely to have a domestic market because it’s only an hour or an hour and a half away from Calgary. People are more likely just to do a day trip rather than to book accommodation because the majority of their business comes from the US. Many of the managers I spoke to have told me about the famine effect. It’s been the same in the urban markets for those who had properties say in downtown Vancouver or in Toronto or in Montreal because people weren’t visiting the cities anymore. It has been either feast or famine.

Erin: Do you expect, Heather, the pandemic to influence any long-term trends even after we returned to, “Normal”?

Heather: The issue of what’s going to happen next year, don’t we all wish we had the crystal ball, and people say, “when we returned to normal”, always waving those air quotes to normal, we look at it two ways. We’ve had to explain to a lot of new owners this year when they bought properties and they paid a lot of money for it, and they are coming into it at a period of the highest rental rates we’ve ever seen.

We raised our rates between 25% and 30% this year just to remain competitive, and owners have come in saying, “This is amazing. I’ll feed this into my spreadsheet.” We’re going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” 2022 could be very, very different because we don’t know what’s going to happen when international travel helps people to move south and move east and west, just go away from where they’d been stuck for the past 18 months.

On the other hand, some people have found the secret door to what’s in their backyard, which is lakes and areas of pristine natural beauty that they may not have even realized was so close to home. Yes, a crystal ball would be fantastic. I’m ever the positive. I always have a glass completely full, and I am suggesting that we will probably maintain some good rates next year, good occupancy, but there’s always a but isn’t there? We’ve also had this massive increase in rental inventory as well because everybody that’s come in and bought properties has been wanting to rent it. We’ve got a large inventory too. There’s a lot of moving parts in this and we have a lot of fingers crossed right now.

Erin: In talking about the prices of cottages and cabins having skyrocketed by as much as 30% and I’m sure you’ve seen percentages even higher than that, Heather, does renting the property suddenly make owning more realistic for the average Canadian?

Heather: I think it’s the only thing people can do unless they’ve got oodles of money and can maintain two properties, one of which they just spent way over the odds to get hold of, I think they have to rent. In the past, rental was seen as something that you did to just fund the project, fund the renovation or a new deck but now, the buyers that I’ve been speaking to over the past year see it as an absolute part of their investment strategy and it has to be built in to ensure costs are covered.

There’s the mortgage, there’s taxes, there are all the costs for rentos because many people have bought properties that need significant renos to be able to be put into the rental market. Yes, renting does make it more realistic.

Erin: Coming up with three kinds of rental property buyer. Are you one of them or perhaps one of your clients is? As we mark a year and a half of CREA REAL TIME episodes, why not take the time to do a bit of a deeper dive into some of the fascinating and still very timely chats we’ve had? REALTOR® Chris Jovic is an expert in his field on sustainability and you probably saw him quoted on CBC just last week in a piece about climate change and homeowners’ protection. You’ll find him in Episode Two of our first season. Subscribe, so you don’t miss any of our talks. Go to Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, or visit CREA.ca/podcast for more details.

You have cited that there are three types of buyers, can we break it down into the three, and then we’re going to focus on one of them in particular because I know you’ve piqued a lot of people’s interest in this today, Heather? Let’s dive into that a little bit, shall we?

Heather: Buyers come in many different shapes and forms but you can usually put them into three separate buckets and the first one is the traditional family buyer. This is usually people who’ve been brought up going to the second home, whether it’s on Vancouver Island, whether it’s in Ontario, whether it’s in Nova Scotia, it doesn’t matter. They’ve had the second home that they were brought up as kids going to on vacation.

As these kids have now grown up into adulthood with their own families, they want to recreate that and we see a lot of those, “We want to buy something so our children can experience what we did when we were kids”. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to work out that way because when those parents were kids, there was no internet, technology wasn’t as it is now and I think it’s a little bit of a pipe dream expecting that their kids will be just as happy with some water and some sunshine and not have YouTube and TikTok however-

Erin: Logging on meant actually putting wood in the fireplace.

Heather: I love that. The second group are the retirees. The ones that are looking at it and thinking, well, if I don’t buy in now, I’m not going to get into it in the future and I want to retire to this place. They want to get in early, buy what will be their second home, and use rental to pay off as much of their costs as possible until the time comes for them to sell their primary home and moved to it. We see quite a large proportion of those as well and while they’re not using it, they’re going to pay for it by rental.

Then the third type are the pure investors and Airbnb has delivered us a lot more investors because it’s made it so much easier for people to get into the business and taken a lot of the work away from it. An investor can come in, buy a property, perhaps engage a co-host, somebody who will manage it for them online, and then they just sit back and take the money and that’s a very lucrative business if you’re doing it in the right area.

Erin: It sounds very lucrative. It sounds very attractive and now we’re going to focus on that, let’s hone in on number three, that third group. What would you say, Heather, are the benefits of owning or managing a vacation rental and don’t forget this woman has been doing this for 20– and I’ll say 20 odd years because I’m sure they have been odd, my dear.

Heather: Still are.

Erin: I bet you. Every day, a new adventure, if you want to call it that. All right, what are the benefits of owning or managing a vacation rental, Heather?

Heather: The benefit, certainly from an investor standpoint, is over a period of time, that property is going to increase in value, that’s basically it. When I started to invest here in Ontario, it didn’t take very long for my investment to increase in value, and I was able to use rental to pay all the costs involved, and the capital grew, and I sold each one for a nice profit, but that didn’t take very long. Now I think the benefit is only if the investor is going to be in there for the long haul because we don’t know what’s going to happen with property values.

There’s benefits to doing it yourself. There’s two models of running a short-term rental business. I say business because every single person who buys a property to rent is going into business. They’re joining the travel and tourism and hospitality business. Something I always say to my owners when we first take them on board as property management clients, is regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re using a property management company, you’ve now entered the hospitality industry and there’s huge responsibilities that come with that.

Erin: That really does seem like an aha moment, I think, for a lot of people, that suddenly you are part of the hospitality industry, you’re not just mom and dad renting out a cottage on an island or something, you’re part of a much bigger picture.

Heather: Yes and mom and dad did it 20 years ago and they just put the sign on the lawn or a classified ad in a newspaper but now to achieve success, it has to be done professionally. Every part of it has to be done professionally. From the photos that are taken, to the amenities that are offered, to the level of communication with guests. It’s no longer the quick phone call with somebody saying, “I want to rent your place” and you saying, “Yes, come and give me $750 at the door when you arrive on vacation and leave it as found.”

I’m glad I experience that actually because I remember arriving at so many properties to find that the previous guests hadn’t cleaned it so I had to start cleaning it myself but that was the way it was then. Now, it is so, so different. People are expecting– let’s talk about the guest expectations because guests, we don’t call them renters any more, they’re guests and they have massive expectations.

They expect their vacation rental to be as well presented as a good or top class hotel or resort and any deviation from that brings a complaint and that brings me to something else is that we live, eat and breathe by reviews. Anybody going into the business now has to understand that that you can’t go into it half-hearted because the moment somebody gives you a negative review, wherever you are, whether it’s on Google or Airbnb or VRBO, that almost can spell the death knell for your business at the very outset.

Erin: Coming up the pros of hashtag book direct. How many people use the bigger companies and why your client may want to go his or her own way or not? Whether it’s by a lake or walking distance to the best mall in the city, the heart of your home is the living room, we get that. It’s why REALTOR.ca Living Room is your source for free engaging content for your social feeds. From key 2021 housing trends to design tutorials, Living Room is here to bring you entertaining and inspiring articles. Pull up a chair and join us there, won’t you? 

Now back to Heather Bayer, CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies and our guest on REAL TIME. What share of vacation properties are independently owned and managed, do you think, Heather, versus those managed commercially or by an agency?

Heather: There’s two ways of renting out a property: one is the do-it-yourself model and the second one is to go with a property management company. I don’t think I’ve seen any real statistics that show what that ratio is. I would say it’s somewhere around 70% independently managed and maybe 30% are managed by professional agencies. I could be way off whack there but that’s what it’s certainly what it seems to be here in Ontario when I look at the wealth of properties that are available on some of the major listing platforms.

By listing platforms, I mean platforms like VRBO, what used to be Home Away, what used to be Canada Stays, they change every month, it seems and, of course, Airbnb, but if you go through Airbnb listings, you’ll see probably about 70% of them are managed by the owners and probably about 30% are managed by agents.

Erin: Do independent investors compete with property management agencies for the same business, do you think?

Heather: Oh, yes, absolutely. Yes, we all compete for the same travelers. I think what we have as property managers that stands us out is that we have much better marketing clout. We don’t have to just sit on Airbnb or VRBO. Every property management company has their own website; they go for the direct bookings. In that way, we tend to achieve many, many more repeat guests because we are encouraging people to come back to us. If you’re advertising on one of the major platforms as an independent owner, somebody will see your property and then perhaps go on to another property and never come back to you again.

At least with an agency, as a guest, they’re probably going to stick around with that agency if they get really good service. About 70% of our guests are our returnees every single year, not necessarily to the same property but they come back to our company every year. That’s the same for many of our competitor companies.

Erin: Well, and that’s the best review you can possibly get, isn’t it? That and referrals, right?

Heather: Oh, absolutely. When we have guests who are now on their 16th, 17th, 20th visit, and they post that on a Google review, you don’t get that if you are doing your own advertising. That’s a benefit. That’s real benefit of going with an agency. I always talk to new owners just about these two different options they have and suggest that, start with an agency and get your feet on the ground of this hospitality while somebody is holding your hand and they’re helping you through absolutely everything, they’re dealing with the issues that come up, but then sharing why those issues came up and how you can prevent them in the future.

We have a lot of owners who come to us maybe for the first one or two years and then go, “Right, I’m ready to take the training wheels off now”. They go off, they create their own websites, and love doing the marketing and management themselves. You have to bear in mind that it’s not just a matter of posting a listing on one of these websites, you have to expect to hear from your guests, sometimes 10 times a day with the most minor things.

Erin: Okay, the questions and I’m sure a lot of them have to do with things that maybe perhaps city dwellers have never seen before like there’s a skunk in the yard, what do I do? Or there’s squirrels or whatever, you’ve probably heard them all, Heather, I’m sure.

Heather: Well, yes. Just recently, “There’s a bat in the bedroom”.

Erin: Oh, how lovely.

Heather: Guest woke up in the night, and there’s a bat flying around the bedroom. This is two o’clock in the morning. Now we have a 24-hour call answering service and somebody will answer the phone at two o’clock in the morning. We were talking these guests through their panic and their fear and anger because we had let this bat in apparently. 

Erin: Yes, really, your fault. That has to be something that a potential owner who’s looking to have guests in their property is going to have to be able to commit to. You are basically on call 24/7 or you’re not giving people maybe what they’ve come to expect.

Heather: That’s exactly it, Erin. We are on there 24/7 and I noticed last night, my customer service manager was still answering texts at half-past eleven about how to get the Wi-Fi to work in a property. For that guest, it is hugely important to them. They might be night people and they’re going to spend the evening and night working and they need that Wi-Fi. Yes, if you’re doing it yourself, you’ve got to have somebody who’s able to deal with those things at any time because we live in a 24-hour society and we can’t just say, no, you’re only allowed to have an emergency between the hours of this and this and your emergencies can only be in these categories. 

Erin: Yes, that’s right. Because people aren’t all just there to kick back on floaties. There are people like us who work from remote locations and need that Wi-Fi. Okay, well, you know what, we’ve talked about remote locations in terms of truly rural and remote but can any property like a condo be a vacation property, Heather?

Heather: Any property. You’ve talked about RVs and trailers and things being turned into rentals. Yes, there’s tree houses and there’s yurts and air streams. Absolutely anything can be out there now as a short-term rental property, providing it meets with local regulations and that’s the big, big issue right now. Cities, townships, municipalities across the world are getting into the idea that this industry must be more regulated than it currently is.

Erin: Do you agree that it needs more regulation?

Heather: I do. I do agree that it needs some regulation. I’m fully in favor of licensing properties because I believe that a licensed short-term rental property that meets the proper safety regulations, et cetera, meets occupancy limits, is a responsible rental. The whole issue of responsible versus irresponsible rental is what has made some of these municipalities and townships go this route anyway. I’m in Huntsville, Ontario, we have a great system, every short-term rental property has to be licensed, somebody will come out to the property and check that there are fire extinguishers and CO monitors, et cetera. Check for egress.

You can’t rent a place with a bedroom that has no window, that hasn’t got the two methods of egress, for example. Once you’ve gone through the licensing, then it goes up on the township website and the guests actually pay a 6% hospitality tax to stay at that property. That tax goes to the township. Now, there’s arguments against this, but quite honestly, I think fair regulation is what we all need.

Erin: It is because there will always be those who ruin it for the rest of us and you also have to make peace with the neighbours too, in terms of occupancy and noise. We’ve all started to see signs in different areas that say “Ban short-term rentals”, and that’s not a nice feeling if you’re going in there for a week or two to know that you’re not welcome. If everybody’s on the same playing field– I do have a question, Heather, how much is the license? Do you know?

Heather: The licensing varies, certainly here, every township seems to have its own. They vary from $500 to $2,000. Once they get up to that level, they are trying to knock out the small players, which I think is a shame, because often, it’s the smaller rental operations that just renting two or three weeks a year to pay some taxes, those are the most responsible.

I think putting a high figure on licensing cuts those out. The people who are buying multiple properties, investing in multiple properties just to yield the greatest income aren’t going to be bothered by $2,000. I prefer to see the lower rate, $300 to $500 on an annual basis to pay for inspection and have some fair criteria for rental. One of them being occupancy so that we don’t see a three-bedroom cottage being open to 20 people, for example,

Erin: Right, there’s that. That’s where their screening of the potential guests comes in too. It goes back to being in the hospitality industry. If you’re just some person who’s playing with a whole bunch of little houses and hotels on the Monopoly board, you don’t really care who goes into them but if you’re invested in that property and in your neighbours, you want to make sure that those people going into that place are not going to be partying at all hours because they’re on vacay, right? Or in the one case, you had someone who was complaining because the guests were too darn friendly.

Heather: This is an issue that you will get in more residential areas where there’s been an influx of short-term rentals where it was all generally nice and tranquil residences, and now you have what they’re calling the revolving door. Every week, a new group arrives. Every week, they’re excited and they can’t wait to get going on vacation, and they meet the neighbours and the next-door neighbour is really friendly and they ask him over for a drink or ask the family for a barbecue. That was when we did hear from one neighbour of a property that said, “I really like having the rentals next door but could you possibly tell them to stop being so friendly?”

He said, “Because if I responded to every request or every invitation for me to come across for drinks and a barbecue”, he said, “I’d never get my gardening done”.

Erin: Oh my goodness, one must have his priorities. Oh boy.

Erin: When we return with Heather Bayer, the important big eight questions a REALTOR® needs to ask if a client is considering buying a property and entering that hospitality business of which Heather speaks. Here’s another number, nearly two million, that’s how many searches there were for REALTORS® on REALTOR.ca in 2020. You can make the most of those visits with the REALTOR.ca tools provided as part of your CREA membership.

What questions should a REALTOR® ask their client to determine what kind of vacation property is going to be the best fit? Because I think if I’m living in, let’s say Toronto, because you’re talking about Toronto and Midland, I think, okay I’d like to get someplace say up in Georgina or Keswick. Certainly, I can’t go in there knowing little but a REALTOR® who’s going to represent you should make sure you’re going to be the right fit for this kind of a position as a hospitality owner. Help us help REALTORS® know what to ask and find the right fits. Would you please, Heather?

Heather: I think it’s really important that a REALTOR® assesses what the buyer’s goals are for rental, is it for pure investment? You want to get the maximum out of the property. In that case, then the property they should look out should be year round not a seasonal property. Also, to find out what level of ownership they want. How much do they want to use it themselves. Because you get to this point where you think, do they want this as a pure rental? In which case they might want an entirely different property from one that they’d want to use themselves.

For example, a nice riverside property that is rentable year-round may suit somebody who wants to get as much rental income as possible because a river property will rent. It’ll rent really well, but it may not suit a family who wants to use a Sea-Doo or go water skiing. They will be better off getting out onto a lake. Whereas rental guests in general don’t have their own boats, so they have different needs. It’s a matter of assessing the needs of the owner and telling them about the different types of things that guests want because often what owners want and what guests want a very, very different.

I actually like to, if it’s okay, I’ve got some questions actually, that an owner would ask a REALTOR®, which is turning your question around a bit, but there’s eight key questions that your buyers could ask. If you can get these answers right, then you’re going to have a happy buyer who buys the right place.

The first one is, they’re going to say, what’s the best area to buy for getting the best rental occupancy? You mention Georgina and Keswick, that may be okay in terms of summer occupancy, not great for the Winter. You might know that to get up somewhere where there’s a ski area, maybe not so much Collingwood, but perhaps up towards Mount St. Louis Moonstone, about two hours north of Toronto, they’re going to get better rental value in that area. It’s about knowing the different areas where they’re going to get the best occupancy.

Second question: what rental rate should I expect in each location? That’s just a matter of researching what’s being charged for different styles and types of property.

The third question is what do rental guests look for in a vacation property in this location? Your knowledge of the tourism demographic is important. If you have that information to hand to know that there’s a strong winter market and to know that you’d need an open source of heat, a fireplace and a sauna, might be more important than a on-suite bathroom, for example. Travelers have very different needs than the second homeowner who’s using it for their own purposes.

The fourth question would be, do you know of anybody who can manage the property in my absence or who can manage a property for me? That’s all about talking to local property managers, rental managers and finding out what services they offer and perhaps going into some referral partnership or something like that. We work with quite a number of real estate agents just on a very flexible basis that really, really helps because they know how we work.

The fifth question we’ve just covered, every REALTOR® needs to know what restrictions there are in any area because these restrictions are becoming more commonplace. Awareness of zoning, bylaw restrictions, anything that’s there and also anything that’s upcoming. It’s always worthwhile really. This is a really good tip that I heard from somebody else is in an area where somebody is looking, go into the municipality or the township website and look at their meeting minutes and just put it in the search box, short-term rental. Something may come up that says somebody raised this and there’s a likelihood that there’s going to be some action taken in the future.

Number six: how is rental income taxed? That’s always good to know because we’re always asked that, I always refer people to an accountant, but you will get asked that question.

Then number seven is knowing what the seasonality of rental activity is in the location. Majority of areas have seasonality built into the rental potential. Just go into the local tourism office. They will usually have that information on the inbound traveler demographic. Low and shoulder season vacancies can really impact a bottom line. Any prospective owner wants to have a clear indication of what they should expect, particularly in areas where there’s a high concentration of rental properties.

Lastly, and I touched on this, is who is this rental demographic? Where did the guests come from? As we’ve seen in the last two years, that is super, super important. Is it a driving location? Is a domestic market? Is it predominantly flying? What’s the age demographic? How long do they stay? Do they stay for short, two nights? Do they stay for weeks?

Those are the eight questions that I think every REALTOR® should be prepared to answer. You could actually create a binder for prospects demonstrates that the vacation rental business and how it’s presented and operated in your area because that’s so invaluable for anybody wanting to invest.

Erin: Absolute gold. There’s more to come including a real eye opener for me and probably for you on how potential property owners can keep their eye on just how many people are in their place. It’s not how you think. I love learning new things through hosting REAL TIME and I hope you feel the same way listening. Here’s another way of tapping into the knowledge of REALTORS® across the country and sharing your own lessons and insights. Visit REALTORS® Corner on CREA Café, a hub of content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®. Check it out.

We return now to Heather Bayer, vacation rental expert, a speaker, podcaster, broadcaster, and mentor of short-term rental managers and owners. Heather Bayer is also CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies. She wants us to remind you to #bookdirect.

Before we look back at 2021 and maybe ahead into 2022, let’s talk a little bit about high-tech. You mentioned a binder and there something about holding a folder in your hand and looking through those pages and knowing that your REALTOR® knows her or his stuff when it comes to what you want to know. I can’t even fathom the changes that you’ve seen in the past 20 years in what you’re doing and how it has changed things. How do you anticipate tech is going to further transform the short-term rental industry in the future specifically post pandemic, Heather?

Heather: Tech has come a long, long way. Nowadays there is tech for everything. I was talking to an owner this morning who was talking about how do we know how many people there are in their property? In the past, I would’ve said, well, you don’t, you don’t. Once people arrive, if it’s a remote-ish property, you don’t know whether they brought in 10 of their friends. Now you can use a device called StayFi. That ensures that anybody in the property who wants to connect to the Wi-Fi has to register their email address.

Erin: Oh, that’s good.

Heather: There is another one called Party Squasher. That one just detects how many working devices there are in the property. It would detect how many phones, how many tablets, et cetera.

Erin: Wow. I thought you were going to go with ring cameras and stuff, and that can get hanky, right? People don’t want big brother or sister watching over them, but it’s your Wi-Fi, you’re paying for this? Oh my, that’s fascinating, Heather.

Heather: There’s a third one called NoiseAware. Which I love NoiseAware. This is better for maybe for condos because it measures the decibel level in your home. You can set it to a particular level and for a particular duration. If you’ve got a family in there and they’ve got a screaming baby, then it’s going to register. If that goes on for an hour, you might consider that maybe it’s not a screaming baby, it may be this fledgling party just kicking off.

Erin: Or hit the Mary Poppins App and make her appear and take care of the child. That’s your next thing, Heather.

Heather: As an entrepreneur, I’ve just filed that away.

Erin: All right, so let’s do this. Let’s fast forward a few months. How do you hope to describe 2021 when you look back on the year?

Heather: Best year ever.

Erin: Good for you.

Heather: Well, that’s me. I hesitate to say that because it sounds as my nine-year-old granddaughter goes, “Grandma, you’re bragging”.

Erin: You’re not bragging if you can do it. That’s what I say.

Heather: Exactly. Yes, best year ever, but also, I look back on a year of learning because we’ve had plenty of time to learn. The first six months of our year were canceled, basically. We’ve had everybody out there learning new stuff. It’s also been a year of tolerance. We’ve learned that everybody is so different and people will react to things in very, very different ways. We’ve seen that more so in the last year. I think we’re coming out of this. I’m talking in terms of my company, we’re coming out of it as a kinder, more tolerant and accepting company.

We are far more accepting of somebody who’s going to flip out because the neighbours have a party one night, and we’re far more accepting of somebody who goes bananas because there’s an ant. People are reacting. We used to say they’re overreacting, but no, they’re just reacting a little bit differently to what they would normally do. I really thought about this and I think tolerance is the biggest thing that’s come out of it for us, but also a lot of excitement about getting out of all this and what’s going to happen in the future.

Erin: Oh, I love your full glass, Heather. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us. It’s been insightful, delightful. I got to give you a plug here because you’re in the midst of writing a course.

Heather: Yes, I am building a course for people who are going into this business, who are going to invest and want to treat it as a business. I wrote a book back in 2005 and then went into the podcast. Now I think I’m trying to get it all down into a really easy to digest course.

Erin: The book was reprinted in 2007, so your message is getting through and the changes, it seems like it’s almost time for a re-up, in your spare time, Heather.

Heather: Well, that book in 2007, when I look back on it, and particularly I look back on the marketing side, and it’s how to write your classified ad.

Erin: Oh my gosh, it was delightful talking to you, Heather. Thank you so much and may the future be as full as you see it. You deserve everything.

Heather: Thank you so much, Erin, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

Erin: Don’t miss our next REAL TIME Episode. We’re going to the polls in a few weeks, and our CREA REAL TIME Team, along with Alphabet Creative is putting together analysis in real-time as we move into the future in Canada. 

REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead and REAL family productions plus Alphabet® Creative. Thanks again for joining us. I’m Erin Davis. We’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.

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