Our city is hurting.
We’ve been here before. I first moved to Calgary in 1982. I fell in love and got married in August 1984. (Our engagement photo is classic 1984 – look at that hair and moustache!) Young and naïve, all I wanted was to take what I thought should be the next step for an adult – buying a house.
Our first home was a beautiful townhouse in Coach Hill. We assumed the mortgage (something difficult to do now) and the interest rate – at 21.5%. Really.
All these years later, I still wonder at the sheer ignorance of that decision. I think we were one of only a handful of buyers in Calgary in 1984. No sane people were buying. House prices were plummeting. The real estate market was crashing. The unemployment rate was skyrocketing. And, yes, interest rates were off the charts.
But love is blind. My world was perfect.
All was well for a few months. We nested. We welcomed a handsome Dalmatian puppy into our new family. My husband continued his university studies. I had my own little company and did freelance administrative work, mostly for law firms and oil companies. Life was grand. We were living the dream!
Slowly, work contracts became more difficult to get. There was severe downward pressure on wages. I went from earning $15/hour to having a hard time getting $10/hour. The rosy glow of being a newlywed faded and I opened my eyes to what was going on in the world around us.
It was a dark time. People were depressed. The city was reeling. Everyone was justifiably angry at the federal government for the National Energy Program. Folks with great jobs were suddenly unemployed with few prospects for a new position. Ralph Klein, then mayor of Calgary, had unleashed a wave of attacks on non-Albertans with his controversial Eastern “bums and creeps” comments. Crime was increasing. The political atmosphere was divisive. (Sound familiar?)
In 1984, Calgary homeowners were just walking away from their properties and mailing their keys to the bank. Foreclosures skyrocketed. You couldn’t sell your house even if you wanted to (unless you could find someone young and stupid like us).
I was scared. We had overreached and were living beyond our means. The sheer weight of this responsibility suddenly felt overwhelming. We had to make some changes. Could we hang on until things improved? Should we try and sell? If we couldn’t do either, what exactly would foreclosure look like?
Our story has a happy ending. We were eventually able to work it out – but it set us back years financially. We lost all the money we put down. We had to write a cheque to close the sale. And even after the house was gone, we owed my parents money we’d borrowed for the down payment.
We moved to Toronto in 1986, where the economy was booming. I went from struggling to get $10/hour to my first contract as a legal assistant in Toronto making $18/hour. My husband got an entry-level position in a Bay Street brokerage firm and was able to begin building an incredible career.
We made a foolish mistake, but we recovered. It built our resilience. It strengthened our marriage. For us, the whole experience ended up being transformative. But it was hell at the time.
We didn’t buy a house again until 1990, when we purchased a small bungalow in a Toronto suburb. We put off having children until 1991, after we had fully recovered from this rocky start and established our careers. Finally, in 2003, we returned to make Calgary our home again.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about 1984. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my fellow Calgarians who find themselves in a similar difficult place right now. Some have lost their job or had to take a pay cut. Maybe they’d just like to sell their home because life has changed, as it inevitably does. Whatever their individual situation, they’re hurting.
I still remember. I can feel our collective pain. We’re all in this downturn together, but it is affecting each of us differently. We need to reach out, or just listen, with kindness. We need to help where we can.
After such an inauspicious beginning on my own personal real estate journey, it might seem surprising that I now head a real estate company. Or maybe not. I felt shame at my early mistakes; I’ve made a career out of guiding others to make better decisions.
In the past few months, we’ve had a ton of calls at Agents of Change from people who are scared. They want to do the right thing and cut their expenses by selling their home, but they can’t. Certain segments of the Calgary real estate market are down more than 15% from the highs of 2014, so many homeowners are under water – their home is no longer worth as much as their mortgage. Or maybe they don’t really want to sell, but just can’t figure out how to manage through until the economy improves. Whatever their individual situation, they’re hurting. I can hear it in their voices – a mix of anger and despair.
In the days and weeks ahead, Agents of Change will be reaching out to everyone struggling with a real estate problem. We can’t find you a job or get a pipeline built, but we do know real estate. We’ll be taking a bit of an unconventional approach, trying to help you STAY in your home (instead of selling) if you want to; making connections to mental health resources to help you deal with the stress; providing information on the foreclosure process if that’s what you’re facing; teaching you all the insider tricks and tips for hacking a challenging real estate market and getting the best price possible if you do decide to sell. Maybe we can help solve your problem, or maybe we can just let you know you’re not alone. You can join our Meetup group or just get more information here.
We’re committed to Calgary and committed to helping every one of our fellow citizens get back to a good place.
Agents of Change is a certified B Corp that matches clients with their ideal real estate agent – for free. We use cutting-edge, machine-learning technology – with a human touch. Our process produces the happiest real estate clients on earth (at least that’s what they tell us)! Once the transaction closes, we contribute 50% of our referral fee (on average, about $1.500) towards innovative housing solutions. Get a better agent, a better experience, and a better community through Agents of Change. AgentsOfChangePartners.com