To help slow the spread of COVID-19, public in-person showings (ie open houses) have been temporarily suspended in Ontario, though real estate agents are permitted to show homes by appointment while following strict guidelines.
With the busy spring home buying season looming, real estate agents will be adapting how they assist their clients amid the height of the pandemic -- particularly how they show listings, as residents are becoming more and more concerned with in-person showings.
According to Properly, a tech-enabled Canadian real estate brokerage, nearly four in five (78%) Ontarians are concerned about the health risks of people entering their homes for showings during COVID-19.
This number jumps for those over 55 years old (82%), and for those in the GTA (83%) where COVID-19 case numbers are the highest.
Last spring, at the start of the pandemic, a poll by the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) found that two in five Ontarians (42%) who are active in the real estate market were open to purchasing a home even if they could only view it virtually.
A later survey in the US by MatterPort, a company that offers 3D virtual home tours, found that 71% would purchase a home sight unseen during the pandemic, up from 55% pre-pandemic.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Properly’s survey found that 78% of Ontarians said home showings, in general, were "just plain disruptive." As such, the real estate industry is poised to see a major transition, with virtual home showings paving the way for how home tours are completed.
“COVID-19 has been a catalyst for an increased use of technology that real estate agents and consumers were previously slow to adopt," said Anshul Ruparell, CEO, Properly. "Long overdue innovation has been accelerated in many industries, including real estate."
“Home showings were always disruptive for the seller, but today, having people in and out of your home poses serious safety concerns. As people are becoming more comfortable with virtual viewings and with purchasing sight unseen, the process of buying and selling is changing in ways that will long outlive the pandemic.”
With the Ontario real estate industry showing no signs of slowing down, Ruparell has shared three predictions for how COVID has irrevocably changed Canada’s real estate landscape.
In-Person Home Showings Will Be Few And Far Between:
"Virtual showings have become more popular during the pandemic, and like so much else that’s gone virtual, they’re expected to stay that way," says Ruparell. With 42% of Ontarians willing to consider purchasing a home without seeing it, Ruparell expects agents will only see the most interested buyers entering homes, opposed to "every tire-kicker or curious neighbour."
People Will Move Before They List Their Home:
"Properly is Canada’s only service that allows homeowners to unlock equity in their old home before even listing it in order to finance their new one. This eliminates the difficult task of aligning sale and purchase dates, as well as the financial burden of carrying two mortgages," said Ruparell.
In the rare case that a home doesn’t sell on the market, Properly will buy it directly, meaning that homebuyers can take advantage of all the market upside with none of the risk.
"Moving before listing offers another advantage: you’ll be gone before the showings even take place. Goodbye house showings, hello (virtual) housewarmings," added Ruparell.
The Role of the Agent As We Know It Will Change:
"As the pandemic turns the industry on its head, it will be up to agents to make the buying and selling process smoother and safer, not only by finding ways to minimize face-to-face contact, but by providing new value to their clients," says Ruparell.
This could include making it common to cover home staging and cleaning services, short-term accommodation to avoid living through showings, temporary storage costs, or the coordination of loans for home repairs.
"The status quo will no longer suffice — expect to see Canadians demanding more safety, direction, and support from their real estate agents, in the COVID era and beyond," added Ruparell.
This survey comes on the heels of a Toronto real estate agent showing a home to potential buyers, while tenants were self-isolating inside after being exposed to COVID-19 last month.
The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) told Toronto Storeys that showings by appointment are permitted under provincial rules to ensure the real estate market remains functional and that it has sent out numerous advisories outlining property showing protocols for Members during the pandemic.
“While real estate is deemed an essential service, realtors have an obligation to keep their communities safe during this second wave,” said TRREB.
“Most Members have heeded our advisories and are doing their part to be in compliance with public health directives to ensure the safety of their clients and the public. Any realtor breaching these rules should be reported to the Real Estate Council of Ontario and public health authorities to face consequences.”
“One thing is certain, if realtors, their clients, or any consumer displays symptoms related to COVID-19, they cannot proceed in a way that may endanger others. They are obligated to refuse showings to clients,” said TRREB.