Three Hundred and Counting #300

Mar 01, 1999

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By Gerry Neely
B.A., LL.B.

The first Legally Speaking column was published in January 1981 and each succeeding one, issued at intervals of three weeks more or less for eighteen years, has led, somewhat to my amazement, to this column: Number 300. This is a milestone sufficient to look back and answer a question which has been asked from time to time: The reason why the column was started.

While you may think that it started as the result of an assessment by BCREA of an aptitude for scholarly writing and an all-embracing knowledge of all real estate matters, I am afraid you are wrong. I attribute it to "show biz." Sometime in the 1970's, when the Victoria Real Estate Board hosted a BCREA conference, I was asked, as Board solicitor, to put on a one hour legal seminar as part of the program.

This was in the golden age of real estate board conference skits, defined as short, humorous plays, generally under-rehearsed and rewritten up to the hour of performance, leaving the performers scared skitless as the curtain was raised, resulting in unintentional but obvious mistakes which created a great deal of humour.

I decided that a skit was the vehicle for my part of the program and the format was a trial arising from a buyer's refusal to complete the purchase of a business, which was described in an innocent-looking conditional contract. The cast of characters included a careless listing agent, a slippery selling agent, a devious seller, an immoral buyer with a hidden agenda and a merciless judge.

The script offered a series of flashbacks so that the audience could see, as the plot developed, all of the misrepresentations, common misunderstandings, missed expectations, and just plain mistakes made by the licensees, which led to the lawsuit in which they were giving evidence. Some of the mistakes were blatant but the education lay in the not-so-obvious problems which were explained by the judge when he summed up the case for the audience.

Sensitivities, sensibilities and political correctness were never a priority with the skits. The business in question was called The Little Red Brick Cathouse Ltd., a name that gave the buyer the defence that he thought he was buying a pet shop. The humour came, partly from the double entendres and the ridiculousness of the plot; most though came from the gallows humour, as the audience of licensees watched their peers start, stop, falter and fail amidst the growing realization, that maybe the players had created a few problems for themselves.

Although there is no obvious link between what I have just described and Legally Speaking, shortly after this skit I was retained by BCREA to review all provincial bills, acts and regulations which might affect the real estate industry. Those were the good old days when all of the government, including the Superintendent of Real Estate, was in Victoria. I then became part of the legislative committee and prepared briefs on behalf of BCREA to various government ministries, an example of which was the first brief made to government in support of The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia.

Following one meeting with the Superintendent, then-president of BCREA, Ian Dennis, said to me that one of BCREA's problems was communicating to the members who were paying dues to support BCREA, the good work that was being done on their behalf. I had heard the same complaints at meetings of the Victoria Real Estate Board: "What do we get for our money?"

Members of the Victoria board had also complained that much of the advice they were given about decisions of the court merely stated what the decision was without giving them any insight into the facts that led to the judge's decision. It was at the meeting with Ian that I proposed writing a Legally Speaking column to give licensees the legal background of decisions and to give BCREA more visibility. He agreed. The rest is history.

While this was not a decision that will rank among anyone's list of the 100 great achievements of the 20th century, I am told that surveys indicate that the information has been useful to licensees and, from my perspective, apart from the law that I have learned that I might not otherwise have, I have enjoyed the experience.

P.S. The skit concept was part of BCREA's conventions up until 1992. The plots differed but I fondly recall the Victoria board's cast of characters who, in 1983, when Mr. Bennett was premier, portrayed the sale of a used car business and in 1991, did justice to the proposed sale by Mr. Vander Zalm of Government House. Many of the actors reprised their roles. With names like Lech and Lusty Ardour, Dudley Doright and Judge Hangemall, it proves that you can get laughs from corn without turning it into whiskey.

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