It's been just over two months since social distancing orders were enacted and our sense of normalcy was forever changed.
While social distancing measures such as staying six feet away from non-household members are in place to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, it still takes some getting used to. And not only have these precautionary safety measures changed our day to day lives, they have also impacted virtually every industry, including real estate.
Since real estate was deemed an essential service, buying, selling, and renting have continued, though the processes are being handled very differently than before the pandemic began.
As the pandemic began to unfold in March and stay-at-home orders were enforced, real estate boards across the country called for showings and open houses to stop. In turn, real estate agents were forced to get creative with how they showed their clients listings, with many turning to 3D tours, virtual home tours, and video previews of listings. But even with these innovative steps in place to get eyes on listings, some buyers and renters still preferred to see their potential new home in person.
And for the home tours that must take place, real estate agents have started to take several steps to keep showings safe for both themselves and their clients.
Ian Matthews, a broker with RE/MAX Unique, says that with showings starting back up, many brokerages have their own COVID disclosures that need to be signed by both the co-operating agent and the potential buyers before a showing can occur.
These disclosures cover things like confirming that in the last 14 days you and your clients haven't travelled outside the country; had any symptoms related to COVID-19, or come in contact with anyone who has had COVID-19. Both parties must also agree not to use the washroom in the listing; not to bring unneeded family members through the home, and to sanitize their hands before entering.
"I personally wear a mask in all showings. I sanitize my hands before touching the lockbox, and once I am in the front door and once I leave the house (sometimes other times in the house as needed). I sanitize the key, my hands, and the face of the lockbox as I leave. Most properties are trying to leave all lights on and doors open to minimize touching of surfaces, where this isn't the case, I am getting better at opening doors and turning on lights with my elbow," explained Matthews.
"The main thing is that during COVID showings have been minimized. Clients aren't just seeing houses for something to do on a Saturday. When a client expresses interest in a property we go through the floor plans and virtual tours, break down the numbers and look at comparable properties before going to see the property," said Matthews.
Theresa Laroza, a sales representative with PSR Brokerage, echos a similar tune and says the entire process of buying a home is very different now.
"For starters, everyone seems to be doing a lot more of virtual tours, which gives clients the chance to view everything online first without having to spend time visiting 20 listings," says Laroza, adding that this not only helps to narrow the selection process down, but it also saves everyone involved time.
Laroza noted that no one travels to viewings together anymore and instead she'll drive her own vehicle and meet her clients at the viewing. She says clients are asked to bring their own mask, but if they don't have one she'll provide one.
As soon as she enters a building for a showing, she disinfects her hands and the lockbox first and then puts on gloves so she can open and close all of the doors for her clients, who are asked to keep their hands in their pockets.
Laroza says clients are asked to leave their children at home and she allows no more than two people into a showing with her.
"Condos can be more complicated for showings because of elevators," said Laroza, adding that in this situation she'll go up in the elevator ahead of her clients, open the door, and enter into the unit first.
Shaun Denis, CEO of Umber Realty, says his team is taking similar precautionary steps. "Beyond sanitizer, masks, and gloves, at Umber, we are offering a no-touch environment for potential purchasers walking through our homes for sale. For example, Kristen Denis, our Broker of Record will open cupboard doors, closets, turn on and off light switches etc., as per the client’s request when viewing," explained Denis.
"With this approach, when walking through the home, the prospective purchaser can go through the entire house without touching anything. We have found that this method makes the purchasers walking through an Umber property for sale feel much more comfortable and safe when exploring the home."
As new daily COVID cases continue to improve and economies start to reopen, those looking to buy a home shouldn't expect things to go back to how they were pre-pandemic just yet. Gone are the days of driving with your real estate agent to countless listings, let alone enjoying a deal-sealing handshake.
And while this new reality will still take some time to get used to, a contactless-era of home buying could soon start to simply be the norm.