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How Ontario realtors are coping during the coronavirus pandemic

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WATCH ABOVE: Ontario government releases COVID-19 modelling data

When the province deemed real estate an essential service due to the coronavirus, it was recommended that realtors stop doing open houses.

Realtor Colleen Koehler said that when Ontario Premier Doug Ford kiboshed gatherings of five or more, that essentially put an end to open houses altogether. Koehler, head of the Kitchener-Waterloo Association of Realtors, says people in the profession have begun looking for creative ways — including virtual tours — to show homes without people actually going in them.

READ MORE: Live updates — Coronavirus in Canada

She says that instead of taking clients into a home, the agent will go in, film the house, and take questions in real-time.

Toronto realtor Melanie Piche seconded the notion, saying that realtors have begun to use technology to their advantage.

“Virtual open houses are a way to introduce people to properties and really reduce the number of times people are having to go into each other’s homes,” she said.

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Her partner, Brendan Powell, explained that a realtor will show up at a home at a set time and date and will address people’s questions on a live stream.

“People who want to do more than just look at a virtual tour can actually talk to the agent and say, ‘Can you show me what the flooring’s like?’ or ‘Show me what the view from the top floor is like,’” he said. “People can see those things the same way that they might see it if they were there without actually physically being there.”

In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, realtors have also developed a questionnaire to determine someone’s risk levels and have used some creative solutions for when people need to enter into houses.

READ MORE: Ontario orders further workplace closures, halt to many construction projects

Another Waterloo region agent, Tony Johal, said in some cases where clients have entered a home, they have been asked to wear a mask and gloves.

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“We ask that they don’t linger around the house longer than what they probably should,” he said. “We ask that they don’t sit on the furniture or touch any … surfaces.”

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Even with the precautions, the realtors in each city say that the market has paused for the most part during a time of year when it would normally be active.

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“From the outside, it sometimes seems like stuff is coming up still as things are still on the market,” Powell said. “But the reality is that there’s … very little that we can do because so much of our business is out and about and in person.”

That said, Piche said she has not seen any panic selling yet.

“If you go back to 2017 when that foreign buyer tax came in, we saw in an instant we were getting four or five calls a day from panic sellers,” he said.

Johal echoed those sentiments, though he has begun to see more balance in the market.

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“We haven’t shifted all the way over to a buyer’s market at this point,” he said. “They’re not underpricing their property to drive multiple offers in many cases. I would say more than 50 to 60 per cent of all properties are now being listed at the true market value.”

Ontarians are still trying to figure out how long the quarantine will last and where things will land, including the realtors.

“We don’t know whether or not this will truly create an impact for the rest of the year and maybe beyond,” Johal said.

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“But if it’s fairly quickly, then I can see the real estate market acting like an elastic band. Everybody that left is now going to spring back into the market.”

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He says that the longer the current state of affairs goes on, we will see an increase in the likelihood that the market will shift more dramatically.

KWAR released its monthly numbers on Thursday, saying that area realtors saw an increase of 13.1 per cent compared with the same month last year.

READ MORE: (March 23, 2020) All non-essential workplaces ordered to close in Ontario

“Before the pandemic hit our region, I believe we were on pace to set a record number of sales for March with the continuance of high demand, low inventory, and a strong seller’s market,” Koehler said.

The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board reported similar activity, saying that home sales were up 49 per cent in the first two weeks compared with last year, but sales were down 15.9 per cent compared with last year for the rest of the month.

Given the lockdown Ontarians are under due to the coronavirus pandemic, many were left wondering why real estate was deemed an essential service by Ford.

“Really, that decision was only made to allow us to work with those clients, buyers and sellers, that are already in the pipeline,” Koehler said.

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“We have lots of properties that are currently closing,” Koehler said.

Kingston realtor Matt Lee said his agency is recommending that clients put the pause button on the search for homes but there are times when it is impossible to do so.

Between the military bases and the prisons, Kingston has a transient population, with some residents being forced to move quickly.

“Nobody knows what kind of position other people are in,” Lee said.