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Feature Article


Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog

Edmonton real estate in the 1970s and \

The current offices of the Edmonton Real Estate Board, which opened in 1981. File photo.

The 1970s were a decade of bellbottoms and wide lapels, shag carpet and heavy metal rock. For the Edmonton real estate market, it was a time of continued growth and substantial appreciation in property values.

As children of the baby boom generation began buying houses and, with the rate of inflation galloping along at nearly double digits and the economy hot, real-estate prices skyrocketed. During the course of the decade, the price of many properties more than quadrupled.

The buoyant optimism that was the hallmark of Edmonton in the 1970s was typified by the city's successful bid for the Commonwealth Games, which were held in 1978. The games featured 1,900 athletes from 46 Commonwealth countries competing in sports that made Edmonton centre stage for a world television audience of 500 million.

Between 1971 and 1981 employment in Edmonton increased by 165,150 jobs. Edmonton's rapid growth attracted several outside companies to the market in the 1960s and 1970s including the Vancouver-based firm of Block Brothers and Toronto's A.E. LePage (which eventually purchased Melton Real Estate). Franchises began to find favour in the 1970s: Century 21, which arrived in the 1970s, was followed by RE/MAX in the early 80s, Realty World, NRS and HomeLife mid-decade.

An entirely new approach to neighbourhood development arrived in the 1970s with Castle Downs in the north and Mill Woods to the southeast. Housing types, commercial buildings, institutions and parks were all planned together and land was reserved for town centres that incorporated commercial, institutional and high-density residential land uses. Castle Downs was privately developed while Mill Woods was designed by the City of Edmonton.

Mill Woods became the largest publically sponsored land assembly project when the Alberta government purchased 1,790 hectares (4,425 acres) in 1970. The next year, the province sold the land to the City for residential development and so the city could limit rapid increases in housing prices.

The first distribution of land in the Mill Woods subdivision was made on a first-come first-served basis in April 1973, with an event that echoed the famous Hudson's Bay Company land sale in 1912. Prospective purchasers began lining up at 2 in the afternoon for the next morning's sale, bringing lawn chairs, sleeping cots, card tables and even on television set to the main floor of City Hall.

For the Edmonton Real Estate Board (EREB), which began life precisely 80 years ago with the first meeting on May 16, 1927, the 1970s were when the pace of technological change began to accelerate. In 1973, daily perforated listing sheets were replaced by a catalogue. In 1978, when the PC was yet an unknown term to most people, the Directors decided that computerization should play an important role in the operations of the Board.

Today, such a decision seems ordinary. Then, it was a bold and innovative move.

The following year, the membership department moved all of their records onto computer database, enabling the Board to produce mailing labels, efficiently update the membership roster and to provide immediate answers to inquiries regarding the status of agents and sales representatives. Work began on the computerization of the MLS functions so up-to-the minute statistics could be compiled quickly and accurately. The first computerized edition of the Daily Bulletin was produced by the end of 1979.

Those first steps to computerization occurred as the Board was commencing design work on its new premises at 142nd Street and 112th Avenue. The site, a former Second World War American military installation, was purchased for $700,000, the selling price for the old building on Princess Elizabeth Avenue.

Recommendations for the design of the building were solicited from real estate boards across Canada and the United States and many ideas came from local members. Cec Cunningham, Graham Downey and Jim Baker each served consecutively as chairman of the committee coordinating the construction of the building. Plans by architect James Wensley were completed in February 1979 and construction began that year.

Development of new neighbourhoods on the fringes of the city was big business through the 1970s. These neighbourhoods included Pilot Sound, a 2,300 acre subdivision in the northeast and the Lake District, which featured artificial lakes as focal points.

As Edmonton grew and neighbourhoods matured and changed, the real estate industry responded with strategies targeted to better please its clients. Specialization in certain neighbourhoods or property types provided an exceptional calibre of service.

With the boom in full swing, Edmonton was the place to be in 1980. That year, development permits established new record highs and the city was a tangle of construction cranes.

Among the projects started then was West Edmonton Mall, which was to grow to become the largest mall in the world over the next six years. In addition to its massive shopping and tourism impact, the mall also influenced adjacent real estate and helped to accelerate development of Edmonton's far southwest.

The EREB was part of the Edmonton building boom itself and officially opened its new headquarters at 14220 112th Avenue in June 1981. Designed and built for $4.095 million, the building provided the Board with much needed space for all aspects of operations along with a parkade.

EREB Directors began exploring the notion of buying or starting a Board-owned newspaper in 1984. A few months later, the Board purchased the Real Estate Weekly from the Bargain Finder " a publication with a circulation of around 4,000 per week. Over the years, circulation has grown to reach a peak of nearly 100,000 copies per week.

In 1986, the Directors established a Charitable Foundation on behalf of the members of organized real estate to contribute to the local community. Over its 21 years of operation, the Edmonton Realtors" Charitable Foundation has contributed more than $1.34 million to the community through agencies primarily involved with shelter and the homeless, as well as crime prevention and special projects.

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