Coronavirus: Okanagan real estate market adapts to new conditions

Just as budding flowers are a sure sign of spring, so are the brightly-coloured ‘for sale’ signs that typically dot Okanagan lawns around this time.

However, in real estate this year, while March roared in like a lion, it went out like a lamb.

“It looked like we were going into a very strong spring market with possibly some price appreciation and now it’s reduced quite a bit,” realtor Steve Wright said.

Despite the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the volume of sales in March from Revelstoke to Peachland was up by nearly five per cent from last year, according to statistics from the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board.

“We did finish March quite well, but most of that activity was initiated before the pandemic hit,” Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board president Michael Loewen said.

Realtors throughout the Okanagan are adapting and shifting online to sell homes through virtual open houses and video tours to accommodate the restrictions brought about by social distancing, he added.

Wright said that while vacant homes and new construction are still relatively easy to show potential buyers, he isn’t doing any open houses or showing homes with seniors or people with compromised health systems.

“And tenanted homes are a challenge unless, of course, it’s an investor that wants to take the tenant, because the premier talked about no evictions,” he said.

Wright said that while he is still showing some homes, he’s following a new set of protocols.

“We have to have signed forms declaring they’re in good health. We have to know who’s coming to the house, and then we go prep the house,” he said.

“We wipe down all the surfaces that they might be touching.”

“We have signs on the doors…we have all the lights turned on already,” he said.

Loewen said it’s difficult to forecast the impact that the economic uncertainty and social distancing measures prompted by the pandemic will have on the market.

“But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a 40 per cent drop in our market activity in the foreseeable future,” he said.

However, realtors are still looking ahead to the other side of the pandemic, Wright said.

“We’re going to have pent-up demand. We’re going to have very low interest rates, and we’re going to have people that want to return to some sort of normalcy in their lives.”