By Toby Welch
COVID-19 was like a bomb to the Canadian real estate industry, forever changing the way real estate is done. Markets were severely impacted and protocols were revamped overnight. The ins and out of real estate transactions are still morphing on a day-to-day basis. We spoke to some sales reps across the country to see what changes may become permanent.
Heather Hadden, a sales representative and team leader at Hadden Homes, Chestnut Park Real Estate in Toronto, says, “We do a lot more online. I find with buyers the search is more deliberate. If there is interest in a property, we are going to see if the interest is real – no more going out to get a feel of a property or the market. The buyers that are looking today are more serious and pre-qualified than I have ever seen. Also, there is the social distancing part, wearing masks at showings, not getting too close. We also have to plan showings farther in advance due to forms being filled out and no double bookings.”
Virtual open houses have skyrocketed since March, as have virtual tours with agents. Screen-to-screen selling is much more commonplace than pre-COVID-19. With virtual personal tours, a time and date are set and the agent walks through a home while potential buyers watch on a screen of some sort. If they want to see the view out of a window or get an up-close look at the wallpaper, that can happen. It’s a powerful sales tool and the next best thing to viewing a home in person while keeping everyone safe.
Glenn Wildenmann, a real estate broker with M Immobilier real estate agency in Pointe Claire, Que., shares his experiences working amidst the pandemic: “Hand sanitizer… oh, so much sanitizer. Technology has been very helpful with Zoom and E-signature of course, but my business is very face-to-face and relationship based. It can be challenging to have that connection with masks and gloves and distancing; it’s an adjustment and we’re all still finding our way. One of my favourite things is accompanying my clients to the notary for closings; it’s a chance to congratulate and celebrate with them. I have not been allowed to attend any of my recent signings due to COVID-19 (only buyers and sellers), so it feels incomplete not having that closure.”
Randy Book is the manager of business development for Sutton Group West Coast Realty in Vancouver. Like so many others, he was forced to use technology more as the pandemic took hold.
“I use Zoom for collaboration. It has been a great tool. I’m able to reach more of our agents. It was easy to learn… and still learning. I recommend that you practice using the app before jumping in. Zoom buyer and seller presentations are not ‘out of the box’ thinking. There is a ‘new box’ to work in.”
With so much of real estate taking place online these days, agents are upping their online presence. Listings are more detailed and visually appealing than ever before. Video and drone tours are becoming the norm. Social media has become even more of a necessity. As a whole, the priority of having a top-notch online entity has never been greater.
During the pandemic, Wildenmann’s business has been both hot and cold. “Some clients have put their plans on hold until they get a better sense of things with respect to COVID and the accelerated market. It’s important to guide them to find a comfort zone and to go at their own pace. I’ve also had two buyers who unfortunately lost jobs and no longer qualify to purchase. Meanwhile, other clients are buying and selling as fast as they can; they are seeing the frenzy and jumping right in.”
On a positive note, many in the industry are seeing an upswing in the markets. Hadden hasn’t seen things as busy as they currently are since the beginning of 2017.
“That being said, some things are selling a lot faster than others. Houses are seeing multiple offers consistently; condos downtown are slower to move. In May it started to get better and then in June and July we have been the busiest we have ever been.”
Book has a similar experience with leads starting to feel more confident about moving ahead in June and into July. “Consumer engagement is back.”
Are we at a point where things are starting to return to “normal”? Wildenmann figures that there is no normal anymore.
“COVID precautions aside, the market itself is back and even more active than pre-COVID days. The pent-up demand coupled with low mortgage rates is causing almost everything to have multiple offers and to go over asking,” he says. “An interesting source of the hyped activity has been from downtown condo owners. Working from home during the lockdown has caused many to realize this may be the way of the future. Quickly, 500 square feet of living space isn’t going to cut it, especially with the condo gyms, pools and common rooms closed during the shutdown. We are seeing this sudden desire (demonstrated by sales) to exit the city for the burbs and beyond. People now see the benefit of more indoor and outdoor living space while providing easier physical distancing. Wish lists include space for that home office, basement gym and a backyard to enjoy a relaxing deck and maybe even a pool.”
Book uses the word “remarkable” to describe his business since the pandemic hit. “It’s not been at all what I had expected. I really thought the Greater Vancouver market was going to get hammered good and come off at least 20 per cent or so. I was dead wrong. Sales are moving along nicely over the last two months after an initial stall for April-May, which is understandable. You know, no one really knows for certain what is going to happen.”
Even with the global pandemic still our reality, buyers need to buy and sellers need to sell; that fact is always a plus for agents and brokers.