Consumer studies professors John Auld and Jane Londerville have lofty ambitions for U of G's housing and real estate management (HREM) B.Comm. A U of G success story, it is also one of the University's best-kept secrets, something that may be about to change as faculty, with the hearty support of alumni, gear up to boost enrolment.
"Our program is unique in Ontario and a niche in the country as a whole," says Auld, noting that the only other real estate B.Comm. in Canada is at the University of British Columbia. "There's a 25-year history at Guelph of an emphasis in the housing area, and the B.Comm. program evolved from that to where it is today as a major in the Faculty of Management."
Alumni can't say enough good things about the program. "I feel the HREM B.Comm. gave me an edge by educating me on the history of past real estate and economic cycles and what future trends may lie ahead," says Terry Ellery, who graduated from the program in 1996 and is now president of Biltmore Homes, which will post annual revenues of more than $3.7 million this year.
"The flexibility in choosing electives allowed me to explore other courses that complement the core courses," he says. "And I put the lessons learned to use everyday."
For example, he uses knowledge gained in the course "Housing Finance" to help comfort anxious new home buyers.
"I use the information I learned to educate my customers on how the industry works and why trends occur as they do. To me, it's very important to teach my customers about their biggest investment. It's a bit more work than just selling a house, but it's worth it when I realize how comfortable it makes them feel dealing with me. When their stress level is decreased, my stress level is decreased."
The program's alumni are employed with many of the key players in the business and real estate industry - the major banks, trust companies, property management firms - and tend to be a close-knit group of highly motivated students, more often than not remaining in touch with each other and faculty long after graduation.
Ellery says his graduating class tries to get together a couple of times a year. "You might be surprised at how powerful and handy a network of individuals specializing in various aspects of the real estate industry can be. I've taken advantage of it in setting up and growing my company."
Prof. Marjorie Wall, chair of the Department of Consumer Studies, which administers the program, says she'd like to capitalize on those relationships as the department looks to enhance the program's visibility with prospective students. One option being explored is the establishment of an industry advisory committee that would meet regularly to discuss current business cycles, curriculum and other issues.
"Another option is to have HREM students and alumni return to their high schools to promote the program," says Wall. "We'd also like to highlight the program's new co-op feature more."
Four of the roughly 10 first-year students this fall have chosen the co-op route. "We hope to eventually have 25 to 30 students a year in the co-op stream," she says.
Erin Shirley, who enters her fourth year of the program this September, did her co-op placement with White Caps Property Management last year.
"I found the courses I had already taken were highly applicable in my co-op term because they teach the theory behind everything, but allow us to apply it in real-life situations through case studies and research projects. They prepared me very well for my placement."
Faculty would like to double the program's enrolment over the next few years, from its current 50 students. That's a challenge, says Wall, because there are misconceptions about the program.
"Although some of our graduates go on to work for commercial brokers, many go into real estate appraisal or property management with major firms like Cadillac Fairview, or into property development, project management or mortgage lending with an organization like CIBC."
Shirley agrees. "For the most part, we don't sell houses when we graduate. Rather than a real estate licence upon graduation, we leave with a much more applicable degree that will allow us to choose any path in the industry we like. Or we can take what we learn and apply it towards a graduate program."
Graduates point to the quality of the program as the basis for its success. The curriculum includes courses core to any commerce degree program, including economics, accounting, marketing and statistics. HREM students also learn housing policy, research methods, real estate law, urban economics, appraisal, real estate finance and quantitative and statistical analysis.
"Students emerge with a B.Comm. that has given them a strong foundation across the discipline, as well as targeted courses on the specifics of today's and tomorrow's real estate environment," says Londerville. "The value is proven by the fact that most students have jobs in the field even before they graduate."
In addition, by completing the degree, students can obtain credit for courses required to obtain Accredited Appraiser Canadian Institute designation.
The HREM B.Comm. is co-ordinated through the Faculty of Management. This September, three new B.Comm. programs are being added - human resources management, public management and tourism management - bringing to eight the total number of B.Comm. programs offered at Guelph.