Toronto real estate has favoured sellers for some time now, with growing demand and low inventory creating a perfect storm for rising prices. The Toronto real estate board reported a flurry of activity in early March, with homeowners listing their properties in anticipation of another busy spring real estate season. Meanwhile, buyers faced the ongoing challenges of affordability and stiff competition. Those who were planning a move had already likely bought their new home before listing their existing one – a common practice when inventory is low and competition is stiff.

Then the pandemic hit, social distancing bylaws took effect and the world as we know it changed. Well, not everything changed. Those who had already purchased their new home still had to sell. With a busy spring predicted for Toronto real estate prior to the pandemic, many were already waist-deep in their transaction.

RE/MAX had a chance to sit down with a recent homebuyer/seller who, under these very circumstances, experienced the “virtual deal.”

PODCAST: Transacting in Real Estate During a Pandemic: In this episode, RE/MAX chats with a recent homebuyer/seller about her experience transacting amidst the global pandemic, why her home sale couldn’t wait, and how her realtor facilitated a totally touch-less transaction. Listen to the podcast here.

Toronto Real Estate – In with Both Feet

“Pre-pandemic, we were certainly considering getting a house. We have two houses at the moment, my fiancé and I, and we’d like to live together and get a move on things, so we were just kind of starting out. We came across a house that wasn’t even officially on the market yet. We saw a sign that read “Open House” and we went and checked it out.”

As is common in a hot housing market such as Toronto, she was charmed by the home and jumped in with both feet – while the listing was still up for grabs. As a buyer, her biggest concern at the time was if she could afford to live in this neighbourhood, and did she even have a chance at winning the sale, given the bidding wars typical of the Toronto real estate market.

The transaction proceeded fairly quickly, with just one week between first seeing the home, the agreement to purchase on March 9, and the closing looming on April 30.

But by March 13, social distancing measures were already taking effect. Toronto Mayor John Tory declared a state of emergency in Toronto, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered the shuttering of all non-essential workplaces, and everyone hit “pause.” Meanwhile, our homebuyer was now faced with selling her property under very different circumstances than existed just a few days prior.

Selling During the Pandemic

“COVID had drastically escalated at this point, with questions about whether real estate agents were even an essential service at this point, which caused a bit of panic. This was a pretty stressful time,” she told us. Beyond that, she questioned, “Who would want to buy our house at this time? And how would we even go about it? Where do we start? We only knew that we had to sell.”

The buyer says her realtor played a vital role in coaching her through this initial panic, and other anxious moments that would inevitably follow.

“This was just before March Break. The schools had just closed, and the province was in a state of emergency. Our realtor was also going away [on a trip] so we were going to have to see her after returning . . . which was a concern for us. She made a schedule, told us we need to start decluttering now, and said she’d be in touch with us as soon as she got back.”

READ: Why is real estate an “essential service?”

Overcoming Hurdles, One at a Time

On March 23, the Ontario government declared real estate an essential service. The realtor texted the seller before the decision had even been made public. “She showed a lot of concern for us, she was proactive, and she kept us calm. There was a lot of outreach from a safe distance to keep us calm and keep things in motion to get our house prepared for sale.”

When the realtor returned to Canada, she had to self-isolate for two weeks, but the lines of communication were wide open and well-used thanks to FaceTime – sometimes two or three times a day. “She could see the state of our house and give us suggestions along the way, because she couldn’t come in.”

This was still the early days of Zoom and FaceTime. Most of us have quickly become well-versed with these apps, but they were alien at first. “It was tough because [our realtor] had expectations, and I think she felt guilty that she couldn’t be there in person. In place of that, she really wanted to be involved. We talked to her a lot and she got to know our family very well. She stepped up and used whatever tools she had to keep us reassured.

“She was protective of us, gave us the option of getting painters/cleaners to come in, or having us to that ourselves. We decided we didn’t want people coming in to provide those services. We did them ourselves. She checked in on us and keeping a close eye on our progress with our many tasks.”

The Virtual Open House

Once the seller’s efforts came to a close, they couldn’t host an open house, so like her previous meetings with her agent, open houses, showings and negotiations took place virtually.

The listing was still open to Toronto real estate agents wishing to view the property. “Our agent told us the meeting times, so we would know who was coming in. She advised us to leave the house so we wouldn’t be exposed to anyone coming in, and she let agents know they had to be cautious and could not touch anything. We felt protected, knew who was coming in.”

The seller took her realtor’s advice and vacated the property during the selling process. Aside from five scheduled showings, an in-person home stager and photographer, the seller was comforted in knowing that only a small number of people ever entered her home.

“What was really helpful was that she was so experienced and well-connected in her field. She informed agents and got the word out, not only about the virtual open house but she let her colleagues know what was going on and certainly kept us in the loop on everything.”

The seller got multiple offers within 24 hours. Despite the obvious challenges presented by the pandemic, the seller was fortunate to have other stars aligned in her favour: the Toronto real estate market’s characteristic low housing inventory and high demand, coupled with a hot neighbourhood and a professional, experienced real estate agent at the reins.

“She did her research. She was up on the daily markets and doing comparisons in our neighbourhood – every day was different,” the seller told RE/MAX. “The panic was on, we’ve got to sell fast. We talked about strategies, she was open to our thoughts and we were a team. That’ a big point – working with her was a team effort.”

The agent advised the seller to price the home aggressively, with the caveat that if it didn’t sell quickly, they’d have to lower the price within the week. “She was following the markets and we had daily communications She was a real go-getter. She wanted our house to look perfect so we felt we wouldn’t be in the position to settle or price it too low. She was very confident, which helped us feel more confident.”

The Offer and Negotiations

When an offer came in, the seller was understandably excited. The pressure was on to sell the property as soon as possible. “When an offer came in, [our agent] gave us the scoop and she didn’t settle. We were very excited to get an offer, but she didn’t feel it was the right one for us. We tried our best to be patient, knowing that we had to sell. We were ready to jump in, but we held back a bit and she was right.” Then within 12 hours they received additional offers, which put the seller in a great position. This forced the buyers to really be competitive in their offers.

The home sold in less than two days for roughly one per cent less than the asking price.

Everything was done online through e-documents – a completely paper-less and touch-less transaction. There was some back and forth in the negotiation, but overall the seller says it was a seamless process.

“I don’t think we could have done it without the help of a realtor. We had a long to-do list. She kept us calm and on track. She had the right tools and was so well-connected in her field that she knew where to turn.”

Her advice for buyers and sellers right now? “You want to find an agent that’s experienced and has been in the field for a number of years; a professional who is well-connected and has technological skills – because that’s everything during a pandemic.”