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Realtors hope an Old Woman will polish their image Add to ...

The Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe had so many children, she didn't know what to do - so she called a real estate agent to help her find a new place to live.

The Canadian Real Estate Association is relying on humour in its latest advertising campaign, opting to conscript a fairy tale character to its cause rather than hammer consumers with another set of television spots earnestly espousing the benefits of real estate agents.

The ads come as the industry enters its critical spring market, a time when the majority of homes in Canada are usually bought and sold. This spring, however, the country's 100,000 professional agents are facing new threats to their business because of a deal with the Competition Bureau that has made it easier for homeowners to conduct their own sales.

In previous years, sellers needed to hire an agent to handle the whole sale process if they wanted a listing on the Multiple Listing Service, which is owned by CREA and is the main source of home sales in Canada. After the October settlement with the bureau, a seller can now have her house listed by an agent for a fee and then handle the rest of the sale themselves. For-sale-by-owner companies such as Property Guys and Grapevine have sprung up to offer assistance to home sellers who want to save money on fees.

The stakes are high: Sellers paid billions of dollars in commissions to agents last year. There were 447,010 sales on the MLS system in 2010, at an average price of $339,030. Commission rates tend to hover around 5 per cent, which implies nearly $9-billion in real estate commissions paid last year, though each agent is able to charge whatever she can command, and many consumers try to negotiate a lower rate.

There are signs that the spring season could be slower than has been seen in the past two years, as many first-time buyers have already made their move and the threat of higher interest rates - coupled with Ottawa's elimination of 35-year insured mortgages - keeps marginal buyers out of the market.

CREA's fall campaign focused on how agents help their clients through the sale process. The new campaign is intended to be light hearted, while still pushing the message that real estate agents provide value in a transaction.

"My old house was a little bit small, but here, lots of space," The Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe says in a thick accent. "My realtor a-listened to a-whatta was important to me - like schools in the area - and then he found us this place. I love it here, and so do my kids."

Viewers are then encouraged to go online to howrealtorshelp.ca to watch a series of spots featuring the experiences of those who have bought and sold their home with the help of agents. There's Amy and Thom, who needed to bid quickly for their dream home. Chris and Philana "tried to play the property game by themselves ... [but]finally decided to enlist the help of a realtor."

"I like their use of comedy, especially considering they are up against what has essentially been a public relations disaster over the last year," said John Andrew, a professor at Queen's University who specializes in real estate.

"That said, I'm not sure anyone will have any clue what the commercial is about unless they follow the Web link. I have young kids, and even I haven't heard that nursery rhyme referenced in the last 40 years."

CREA has launched seasonal ad campaigns twice a year since 2006, one in the fall and one in the spring. The intent of this campaign - which was put together by agency CP+B Canada - was to show how agents can help buyers and sellers through a transaction.

"We try to talk about the unique needs of consumers with a consumer-focused ad," said Randall McCauley, CREA's vice-president of public and government relations. "The idea is to put them in the centre of an equation - whatever their needs, there is a realtor who can meet those needs."

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