'Still thriving': Realtors reboot for a real estate market up against the coronavirus

Like many workers in Canada, realtors are shifting how they do business as they adjust to a new reality in the face of the coronavirus.

Ontario — one of Canada’s hottest markets — declared realtors an essential service, so they will be exempt from the province’s shutdown to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

But it’s not exactly business as usual for the province’s realtors.The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) asked open houses be put on hold. But people are still buying homes, which means realtors need to get creative.

“For open houses, buyer showings, and home evaluations we are using Skype, Instagram, and Facebook along with our standard virtual tours and photos,” Bill Brach, realtor at Bill Wendy Homes told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“For those clients in need of consultations for staging, we are using video calling applications for real time assessments.”

Brach says he’s also using digital signatures for paperwork and contracts. He says despite the COVID-19 pandemic — for now — the “real estate market is still thriving”. New data show more deals were signed this March break versus last year, in the Hamilton, Burlington, and Niagara region that he operates in.

In spite of efforts to show homes digitally, some buyers insist on seeing a property in person before making a final decision.

“Currently in those circumstances showings have been approved, providing the participants in both parties are not showing any symptoms, have not travelled outside of the country or been in close contact with someone who has recently travelled,” said Brach.

“Gloves and hand sanitizers are placed in the home and viewers are asked to limit touching anything as much as possible - door handles, light switches, etc.”
A shifting landscape

Doug Vukasovic, an Ontario-based realtor with Zoocasa says he was surprised Ontario deemed his industry essential, unlike Quebec. He’s also surprised bidding wars are still going on and so many active buyers have been scooping up properties on the first day they get listed.

“I expect to see a quick shift to conventional pricing from the bidding war strategy as listings will no longer be getting the same level of foot traffic,” he told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“It’s inevitable that demand will decrease as consumers are confined to their homes.”

Vukasovic says the effect on the market will depend a lot on how much longer the COVID-19 situation continues. He says the market is resilient enough to remain strong over the short-term but prolonged social distancing measures could make it a buyers’ market.

“A simple ban on open houses will not impact sellers but any additional future measure could - like a complete government enforced market shutdown.” he said.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.