Councillor Norm Kelly was running his own real estate brokerage when the Toronto housing market crashed in 1989.

What he remembers most isn’t the lost commissions — it’s the silence.

“I’m sitting in my office, and it didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t put my finger on it,” says Kelly on a recent episode of #urbanizeTHIS, a podcast from BuzzBuzzHome co-founder Matthew Slutsky and broker/owner Ara Mamourian.

“After a while, I walked out into the hallway, cocked my head, and it suddenly hit me: the phones weren’t ringing,” the internet-famous Ward 40 councillor recalls.

The market had imploded. Or, as Kelly puts it, “You couldn’t give properties away at that time.”

Kelly weathered that storm and continued to run a RE/MAX franchise, selling his assets in 1994, when he “returned to public life,” first as a Metro Toronto councillor.

“I had the unique experience of the heights and depths,” says Kelly, who had been an academic and a Member of Provincial Parliament before getting into the real estate game in the mid-’80s.

Some of Canada’s big banks have started saying Toronto real estate is in a bubble once more. Asked how today’s white-hot market compares to what he saw playing out in the ‘80s, Kelly doesn’t use the “B” word but notes there’s more competition for listings now.

“Back in the day there might be another competitive offer, maybe two,” he says.

Home staging (sprucing up a home before taking it to market) used to be a rarity as well, and $250,000 could get you a “pretty good” home in Toronto, Kelly, whose @norm Twitter handle has a 500,000-strong following, adds.

Last month, the city’s average selling price was $859,186, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.

Affordability concerns stemming from high home prices have led some to call for a tax on non-resident real estate investors. In the half-hour interview with #urbanizeTHIS, Kelly entertains talk of a foreign-buyer tax for the Toronto housing market.

He says the measure is worth considering but cautions there are potentially far-reaching unintended consequences of implementing a levy like that.

“I think we should look at it, but there’s more at play when you’re looking at making it harder for non-Canadians to invest in your city,” Kelly notes.

“The people that are investing in real estate — especially in residential real estate — are also people that are investing in businesses in your city.”

Stream the full #urbanizeTHIS podcast below.

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