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Ask An Agent: What is Toronto’s Real Estate Industry Learning From the Pandemic?

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To buy first or to sell first — that is the question.

And, still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aimee Fairweather says this is the biggest question for her clients right now. The Sage Real Estate sales representative is asked this question so much more often now that she counts it among one of the many lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the Toronto real estate industry to handle.

This is just one of the many reasons why she’s uniquely suited to answer this week’s question.

What is Toronto’s Real Estate Industry Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

I think we are still learning as we go — things can change in a moment. The idea that you need to be adaptable and change with that moment is the best thing I’ve learned throughout COVID-19.

I think for the most part brokerages and agents have adjusted and embraced the online tools we have accessible to us to help us through this time. TRREB (Toronto Regional Real Estate Board) and OREA (Ontario Real Estate Association) have emailed us multiple times with recommendations on how to continue transacting in the safest way possible. My brokerage, Sage Real Estate, really steeped up throughout this situation. None of us have ever lived through a pandemic, but they are so helpful in providing all of us with PPE kits and providing us with additional information.

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Sage also helps us behind-the-scenes by hosting mastermind-style Zoom sessions to answer any questions and decreeing that we’re not allowed in our office as a safety precaution. I feel Sage is trying to set an example for all of us on how to safely get out there and sell properties by recommending we do frequent deep cleans of every property we show after someone has seen it in-person. My brokerage also recommended we promote the safety of others and set up packages with additional masks in case someone forgets one, sanitizer and shoe coverings to protect the seller’s property as well as the safety of those buyers or tenants entering a space. It’s the type of thing I’m sure most agents across Toronto have been doing.

Even when the pandemic is over, I think it would be pretty hard to stop certain elements of the safety protocol overnight, such as screening our clients and making sure that they’re being safe before we enter someone else’s home. For example, I think it is a good practice moving forward to sanitize before entering and leaving.

I’d say overall, showings are down compared to pre-COVID circumstances, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. People are taking the extra time to look at a property online and really taking the extra time to figure out if it’s something they need to view before they set foot in it. I think that will be a lesson that will certainly carry over once COVID-19 is over. I don’t see a light switch suddenly going off at the end of the pandemic where people will want to run out and see every single property that hits the market anymore. I think taking that additional time to really review the online marketing materials will be the biggest take away. I think it will be even more important to entice people online first and really give them a full scope of what they’d be seeing if they move forward with an in-person showing.

The industry has also no doubt learned that they can still operate under very restrictive conditions. When COVID-19 first happened, the market paused for a bit, but we all – the buyers, the sellers, the agents – figured it out. We made it work.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned thanks to the pandemic is you have to have those conversations with your clients about whether they should buy first or sell first. The market was so hot leading up to the pandemic. From January to February, sellers were getting up to 30 offers on a one bedroom condo. The market was extremely strong, but things have shifted and whether to buy first or sell first has become the biggest conversation I have with my clients. This was not a consideration or a conversation I was having leading up to the pandemic. Since the market was so strong and moving so fast, if you sold first, it may have been difficult to purchase another home before closing on your property. You might have to rent, or you might have to settle as a result. There was never a question that you would buy first because people would have confidence then that they could sell their home for a price they were comfortable with.

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Now, whether to buy or sell first really depends on every client and their financial circumstances. Nothing is automatic anymore. I’ve certainly had quite a few clients during the pandemic decide to sell first because they thought that was the safest way to protect themselves and ensure they knew how much money they had from the sale of their property in order to purchase their next home. There had been fears, especially among my condo sellers, that if a second lockdown happened, which we’re in now, we wouldn’t be able to show their units.

I think people are going to be a little bit more careful in how they approach their buy-sell strategy in the Toronto market going forward. I can only speak to the clients I’ve had recently, and can tell you that selling first has made some of them very uncomfortable, but everybody who has sold first through me has secured their new property, are all going to be moving in, and they wouldn’t change the order they did things. It can be stressful knowing you’ve sold your home and you don’t have another one, but you can build in a longer closing. Maybe it’s just that the stars aligned for my clients, but they were all able to secure something they’re very happy with.

If you were debating whether to buy or sell first, I would walk you through all the scenarios and provide you with the facts. I would walk you through your options and help you decide. Everyone’s situation is so different, and we have to recognize that at this moment, the pandemic is still going on and we really don’t know what January and February 2021 is going to look like.

This interview has been shortened for both clarity and length.

Please note: The opinions in this article are those of the interviewee and not those of Toronto Storeys. When considering real estate advice speak with your own agent and lawyer.

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