The traditionally busy Ontario real estate market is different this spring, but despite the “COVID calm” on the streets, things are bubbling beneath the surface. Many Ontario housing markets saw a busier-than-usual early March, and those who took advantage of favourable market conditions to buy or sell a home are now faced with a mandatory move, which is further complicated by social distancing measures.
“Our agents have been through ups and downs, and they have the experience to navigate this unusual housing market. With technology enabling the exchange of information between our agents and consumers, those with plans to buy or sell a home can still do so, despite this new disruption that we’re all facing,” says Christopher Alexander, Executive Vice President and Regional Director, RE/MAX of Ontario-Atlantic Canada.
Virtual Showings, Negotiations and Agreements
A recent survey of RE/MAX brokers and agents across Ontario and Atlantic Canada revealed concerns surrounding face-to-face contact, from both the professionals’ and the consumers’ perspective. RE/MAX, like most real estate brands and associations, has strongly urged agents to suspend open houses in line with government and public health advisories. But in the meantime, real estate has been deemed an essential service. Buyers are still buying and sellers are still selling, leaving real estate agents and their clients seeking out new ways to communicate.
“As business owners, this means we need to get creative in how we solve challenges, while continuing to provide leadership, guidance and solid real estate advice,” Alexander adds.
With traditional open houses, showings and negotiations off the table, agents are exploring virtual ways to connect with clients who still need to buy or sell their home. The “digital transaction” is still largely considered new territory, but it’s not totally uncharted.
Ontario Real Estate Keeps Rolling
Asif Khan, broker and owner of RE/MAX Prime Properties based in Markham, Ont., confirms that his agents have already been leveraging technology in their day-to-day operations – though admittedly not to the extent that is currently required in order to do business. Khan’s digital transition was years in the making, and his team is feeling fewer growing pains from having to pivot to the new normal. Khan recently closed a completely virtual deal, and has another listing that is currently being promoted and shown virtually. His agents and clients alike have been very responsive to the virtual transaction.
Ottawa-area agent Chelsea Hamre of RE/MAX Affiliates Realty shares Khan’s sentiments. Hamre and the three other agents who make up the Hamre Real Estate Team mostly adopted technology as a work-around for COVID-19, but the virtual deal isn’t a foreign concept to them. “In the past, with out-of-town clients, I had done showings via FaceTime for buyers, and using the latest tools and technology for digital marketing strategies with sellers,” Hamre says.
On the selling side, Hamre says clients understand the need for virtual showings versus traditional showings. She says her online engagement is higher than ever. “We have also integrated a virtual walk-through on our new listings. On the buying side, people understand that we are being more cautious, pro-active and diligent with the process.”
John Wolfe, broker and owner of RE/MAX a-b Realty based in Stratford, Ont. says his team has already closed eight deals virtually since social distancing measures have been in effect – no in-person showings required. Like Khan, Wolfe’s office adopted technology well before the pandemic hit, with E-sign being a big part of his business for a long time now. “We have been a paperless office for six years, and our team is used to using technology. This is slightly different with showings being done virtually.”
With virtual tools already being leveraged across real estate offices in different capacities, it’s safe to say that this trend will continue to evolve and expand. With more tried and true tools at their disposal, real estate professionals can continue using them to make the transaction smoother and simpler for everyone going forward.