On Friday, the Ontario Real Estate Association called on the province’s realtors to put a temporary halt to open houses. The recommendation came just hours before the province announced that it had recorded 939 new COVID-19 infections, smashing the previous record of 797 set on Thursday.
“As we see the cases around Ontario continue to rise and that second wave starting to take hold, we wanted to make sure that Ontario real estate is doing its part to help keep people and their communities safe,” OREA president Sean Morrison told Mortgage Broker News by phone.
A pause in open houses is unlikely to impact business for the province’s realtors or mortgage brokers, many of whom were given a crash course in using technology to enhance business during the pandemic’s first few destabilizing months. From Zoom calls to e-signatures to 3D tours, real estate pro’s have already grown adept at using the kinds of tools that make open houses somewhat unnecessary, especially in Ontario’s most active real estate markets. These days, that’s practically all of them.
“I think, because realtors are so adaptive, we’ve already been shifting toward those digital tools. Under COVID-19, everybody had to make that shift a lot quicker,” Morrison says.
InTouch Mortgage Solutions broker Anthony Venuto doesn’t foresee a drop in business resulting from a lack of open houses, but he does hope realtors will see the next few days or weeks as an opportunity to provide better visual representations of homes online.
“If the industry adapts a higher standard of listings – not camera phone pictures of your listings – a client can look through those photos and narrow down from five or ten properties to just these two, or just this one,” he says. “Am I going to risk my life to go see a house if the photos aren’t really good? I’m going to pass.”
Venuto is quick to point out that open houses are not the only way for buyers to view a property. Private viewings are still permitted. But he says some sellers are only allowing viewings once an offer has been made. In that light, putting an end to open houses may actually speed up some buyers’ decisions.
“If you want to see a home, you can certainly book it with your local realtor and go through the home one-by-one,” Morrison says. “The concern here was the groupings of people running through open houses.”
Morrison says 3D renderings and virtual reality provide strong alternatives to open houses.
“You can still hold an open house virtually, which is something realtors have been doing throughout the pandemic and were starting to use even before the pandemic,” he says.
Community Trust’s Grant Armstrong is not expecting Ontario’s rising number of coronavirus infections to hinder the day-to-day operations of the province’s broker community, a large portion of which was operating remotely before COVID-19.
“Brokers and lenders have proven their resilience over the years to adapt to changes that are needed to support the industry,” Armstrong says. “This pandemic challenged the industry, and the industry stepped up to meet that challenge.”