At our meeting this morning we were talking about what it was like being a realtor 25 yrs ago. It was 1989. The year I started in real estate. In a room with 20 agents only 2 had been in the business longer than 8 yrs. The changes we have seen over the years are quite staggering and since nearly 60% of the Realtors currently working today have less than 10 years experience (check out a blog post I wrote on the subject here), they really have no idea what it was like in the ‘good old days’ to list or sell a property but I suppose none of that should really matter. They operate by today’s standards and are used to smart phones and Google maps. Frankly there were a lot of blank faces when we talked about legal size offers with carbon pages, how we were sceptical of fax machines, and had to write crazy financing conditions like assuming mortgages, vendor take-backs, selling 2nd mortgages. So just for kicks I asked a bunch of long time Realtors to talk about their experiences 20+ years ago compared to today. The answers are hilarious and brought back a lot of memories.
1. MLS books we guarded with our lives. Often very thick, they were broken up by district and came out every few weeks. Properties took longer to sell but you had to get used to calling about a listing and learning that it had sold a week ago.
2. Also had daily “tear sheets”. Each 8.5 X 11 had 4 listings which were perforated. You would tear out the listings that were interesting and store them in little black binders. One agent I knew had a binder just full of funny listings with terrible spelling or grammar. (you know who you are).
3. Agents had pagers and used pay phones to return calls. Argh! Always a drag to have to break paper money to get a quarter.
4. When rates were high (15%+ sometimes) Sellers would often agree to pay money up front to buy down the interest rate. Agents were skilled at creating these clauses.
5. Agents had to get mortgage details prior to listing a home because if the mortgage was at a good rate it was often smart to transfer that mortgage to a buyer and then do a vendor take back 2nd mortgage. We would then try to sell that 2nd mortgage so the seller could get their cash out of the sale. Sometimes we blended mortgages too and had to calculate the payments. Crazy complicated but standard practice.
6. Processing listings and producing feature sheets took forever. Take pictures of the property, take the film to get developed, pick out the good ones, tape them to a piece of paper and then photocopy it for open houses. They were pretty much always in black and white. We were masters of the cut and paste.
7. Agents relied heavily on the secretaries to create feature sheets. We didn’t have marketing are graphics people.
8. If you had a good listing, you would go around and drop a bunch off at other real estate offices. I have to say that I still see that once in a while although usually for exclusive listings.
9. If you had a client out-of-town you had to snail mail everyone and wait for paperwork to come back. No one had a fax machine, although clients could find one at a business centre and go there and wait for your fax which was on thin thermal paper. The ink would eventually fade so you couldn’t really save files for any length of time.
10. Forget about lock boxes. If you were out showing houses you had to go around to offices to pick up keys and then drop them back after you were done. And yes, sometimes we would forget.
11. Obviously no computers so no CRMs. Our databases were in our day-timers. If you lost it you were screwed.
12.There was no such thing as a home stager so what you saw was what you sold.
13. Offices were packed with people in large “bullpens” and pretty much everyone smoked so there were ashtrays all over the place and plenty of whisky near by.
14. When you arrived at the office in the morning the secretary would hand you your stack of pink “while you were out” message slips. At your desk you would sort trough them and then jam them on a desk skewer.
15. We all wore suits and ties. No jeans. Ever.
16. All our paperwork was done in triplicate legal size with carbon paper between the copies. When photocopiers were used more no one could figure out how to print double-sided offers. There was always at least two pages that were upside down on one side.
17. We needed 6 copies of an offer. One for the buyer, seller, each agent and each lawyer.
18. Caravans. After every meeting we would all jump in our cars and tour the listings of the day. No one wanted to be last and sometimes if you got a listing but had trouble pricing it, you would get agents to write down a suggested price on the back of their business card so you could show the seller. What?!?!
19. We used the Perly’s Map book to get around (no gps) and had this huge book called the Bowers book which was kind of like a reverse phone book with properties listed by street.
20. No condos.
21. Training? Not so much. Sell houses or move on.
22. We all worked for the Seller. There were no BRAs.
23. There were no standard clauses stored somewhere. We would cut and paste clauses or write new ones. Webforms didn’t exist.
24. A good deposit was $10,000
25. No one ever argued about commissions. EVER!
Well, we’ve come along way in 20+ years. This isn’t just a trip down memory lane. What sticks out the most for me was that we all worked full time at the office. We were in every morning. Started our day the same way…everyday. Today we have incredible technologies that keep us connected to the business from anywhere we are. Effectively, besides actually showing property, you could be on a beach in Miami and no one would know. Still, there were no efficiencies at work back then. We had to work hard to survive and buyers and sellers saw value in our service.
Here’s something else to consider. After reviewing how we worked 25 years ago, and thinking about how you work today…..What will it be like 25 years from now?
mark mclean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office and President-Elect for the Toronto Real Estate Board. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB or Bosley RE.