How COVID-19 changed real estate forever

by Neil Sharma on 21 Jul 2021

Real estate agents adapted to unprecedented circumstances in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, credits one of Ontario’s largest brokerages.

Scott MacPherson, VP of professional development at Right at Home Realty in Toronto, says that in acclimatising so seamlessly, brokers and agents helped usher in changes that will permanently remain part of agents’ repertoires, particularly virtual tours, which consumers took to quickly.

“Real estate is honestly a person-to-person business and agents had to rely more on tools they weren’t using before. Once open houses got suspended, they went to virtual platforms and learned how to use software like Matterport,” said MacPherson. “Others would be Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as well as video conferences. Virtual tools allowed agents to show listings and allowed clients to walk through properties online, navigating around the different rooms, like bedrooms, using an arrow. Clients were essentially able to visit open houses online.”

In Ontario, Open houses have been reinstated as Ontario moved into Step 3 of its reopening plan, but Right at Home Realty is being cautious by requiring one family at a time into homes and enforcing PPE masks and hand sanitizer upon entry. The listing agent is also informing all nearby homeowners of the open house, although the brokerage is still doing private showings online.

MacPherson says it’s no small feat that agents were able to resume their businesses as quickly as they had following the pandemic striking, but he concedes that it wasn’t without trepidation. Everyone, from brokerage owners, brokers and agents to homebuyers, had to come out of their comfort zones in the early days of the pandemic when not nearly as much was known about COVID-19 as today. There were, of course, some holdouts.

“Old school agents who never did virtual tours started doing them, and our position now is that it’s an excellent tool,” said MacPherson. “At first, worried customers wouldn’t receive our attempts well, but there were those with more time on their hands who started researching properties themselves and even putting offers on properties without seeing them, albeit with a clause that said they had the right to go in and inspect the properties.”

E-signature companies might be the pandemic’s few winners because, according to MacPherson, electronic signatures are simple and expeditious. In fact, Right at Home Realty did 22,000 transactions in 2020, 60-70% of which were completed with e-signatures.

Agents also became very creative in how they’d help clients buy and sell homes, and, unexpectedly, they wore some other interesting hats, too.

“One thing that was interesting is a number of agents weren’t aware of the psychological effect on everybody and they had to put on their therapist hats to answer questions,” said MacPherson. “A lot of people selling properties were doing it for the wrong reasons, namely anxiety and isolation, so agents had to take a step back and ask them more questions, like whether this is the right choice for them. Agents did a lot more counselling than they would have ever done before.”

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