House hunting during the pandemic

Within days following the initial government announcement in March urging social distancing, real estate professionals across Canada were forced to quickly adapt to the new way of doing business.

On March 23, 2020, real estate services were deemed essential by the province of Ontario. However, it does not mean that it’s business as usual. The Real Estate Council of Ontario and the Ottawa Real Estate Board strongly advise that only essential transactions take place during these unprecedented times.

Industry leaders have come up with creative new tools, rules and practices in order to ensure that those homebuyers and sellers who need to move during this time can do so safely.

Pre-construction shopping

If you are shopping for a new-build home, a majority of developers still operate with sales centres open by appointment only or via video meetings. This is a great time to sharpen your on-line shopping and research skills and purchase a pre-construction property without ever leaving your home. Some developers are offering incentives to buyers right now, so this could be your opportunity to snag a deal in the safety of your home.

Re-sale home shopping

The home-buying process looks especially different for those shopping for a re-sale property or looking to sell their home to buy a new build. Below are some of the new practices my brokerage and many others across Canada have put into place in order to protect our clients. Our main goal is to minimize in-person interactions and provide as much information as possible virtually before conducting physical tours.

Virtual showings and 3-D tours.

This is where technology comes into play. 3-D Tours have become more popular than ever before, and are mandatory for all of our listings. They can provide a buyer with a sense of size, layout, and flow of the home that photographs or video showings cannot offer.

ShowingTime (a software used by real estate agents in Ontario) now offers the ability to book a virtual tour, guided by either the listing agent, buyer agent or even the seller themselves. Whether you use FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom, you can get detailed video viewings remotely.

While regular Open Houses have been banned, MLS has now launched a virtual Open House feature on its affiliated sites. Buyers can now attend a video Open House via Zoom, Facebook or Instagram hosted by the listing agent through a link made available during the Open House hours on

Pre-showing research

We encourage buyers to conduct a drive-by viewing before an in-person showing is scheduled. It is important to carefully consider the location of the property and its surroundings before proceeding with a physical tour.

We’ve created a custom Property Summary document that offers far greater detail than the standard MLS data sheet. We want the buyer to gather as much information as possible about the property prior to booking a tour. In addition to the Property Summary document, we provide buyers with a detailed neighbourhood report on the subject property, including information on schools, parks and recreation, transit, safety, and convenience. Our goal is to maximize efficiency by highlighting details that may affect a buyer’s decision.

While this is standard practice, we are now putting even more emphasis on pre-qualifying all buyers prior to booking in-person showings – mortgage pre-approval or other means of financing must be in place.

In-showing procedures

When booking a showing, we’ll ensure that no other appointments are taking place during the same time block. We’ll also advise the seller to keep doors open and lights on whenever possible, to minimize the amount of surfaces touched by the buyer or their agent.

Before entering the property, buyers are instructed not to touch any hard surfaces and to thoroughly sanitize or wash their hands. Wearing gloves and masks during the showings is not mandatory, but is certainly encouraged if done correctly.

A two-metre distance must be kept between buyer and agent throughout the showing. When possible, showings are limited to two buyers and no children.

Sellers are instructed to sanitize surfaces between each showing.

Disclosures and legal protection

Buyers and agents are now asked to complete a safety checklist disclosing their current health status and exposure risk prior to a showing confirmation being granted.

When completing purchase paperwork, buyers will notice several new legal inclusions pertaining to COVID-19 delays and interruptions. We have worked closely with trusted legal experts to develop a list of custom clauses and conditions to provide yet another form of protection.

This incredibly unprecedented time has led to amazing innovation in many aspects of our lives, real estate included. As stressful as this transition has been, it’s also been inspiring to see real estate professionals in Ontario come together in Facebook groups and video conferences in order to collaborate and develop strategies to safely serve our clients. While I hope that we can soon get back to shaking our clients’ hands and giving them congratulatory hugs, I also plan on using many of these new creative tools and practices in the future. Our business will never be the same, but maybe that’s a good thing.