By Paul Danison
Half of the respondents in a Rentals.ca survey said they will need to look for a more affordable place to rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 20 per cent said they were uncertain about whether they will search for a more affordable rental until they are more certain about their job status.
The finding of 70 per cent uncertainty among renters about their ability to pay rent agrees with a study done by TransUnion in April, The Consumer Financial Hardship Study: The Impact due to COVID-19 in Canada. In the TransUnion study: “Of those who say they’ve been affected financially, 70 per cent are concerned about their ability to pay bills and loans.”
The Rentals.ca survey indicates one positive side-effect of the coronavirus pandemic – there are more budget-conscious Canadians. Living within the confines of a budget could be a good trend for Canadian renters/consumers during these uncertain times. Job losses, furloughs, health concerns and caution could be at play in Canadian renters moving down to save money.
Another significant finding from the survey is that more than 50 per cent of renters are planning to move or at least thinking about moving soon.
And after a long winter, some antsy Canadians have an urge for a change of scenery with the beginning of summer. Restless renters are ready to escape the confines of the long lockdown, and for Quebecers, the pull of the historical and cultural Moving Day is around the corner.
Asked if they were planning to move during the pandemic, the percentage that stands out here are the respondents saying they are staying put – less than one-fifth of those who answered the question. With 30 per cent saying they didn’t know or haven’t decided, that’s a little more than half saying yes they are moving or are waiting to move in the near future. So, as in most years, Canada is on the move this summer.
“There was a significant increase in website traffic on Rentals.ca in May,” says Matt Danison, CEO of Rentals.ca. “It appears prospective tenants are doing their research to move or at least to prepare for a move in the near future.”
Almost half of the respondents are not worried about moving. Those who do worry are anxious about keeping their jobs to afford rent and are fearful of increasing their chances of getting COVID-19. Only about 12 per cent are apprehensive of being forced to move because their lease is ending.
Virtual tours, online tools and contactless pay are becoming more popular for renters, and the pandemic only sped up this digital disruption. Asked, “Using a 3-D virtual tour, would you sign a lease without an in-person visit?”, almost 38 per cent answered yes. You have to wonder what that percentage would have been a year ago – maybe half?
Almost 42 per cent indicated that even though they would not sign a lease without an in-person visit, they would use a virtual tour to narrow down their choices.
Jay Bowden, managing director of growth, home and consumer services for Google, says growth of virtual home tours on the search engine is up 400 per cent year over year. He made the statement at an Apartments.com webinar on June 18.
While 50 per cent of those responding to the survey say that they won’t change how they search for a rental, 43 per cent said they would only rent from property managers who offer safe cleaning practices.
Besides working from home and more digital dependence, renters want to know where they live will be safe – and safe now means new cleaning protocols for rental buildings. Many property managers and landlords have already implemented new cleaning regimes. These safety measures will most likely stick long after the coronavirus is beaten down.
The survey totaled 16,083 respondents across 181 cities in Canada and ran in May.