Ingenuity helped the Canadian real estate market defy all expectations and, in some parts of the country, set records last year. It also showed realty brokerages that they can reduce their overhead costs while delivering exceptional service and, most importantly, satisfy client expectations.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the impetus for prohibitions on open houses and showings, but brokerages responded by getting creative. Using technology to shop properties, sales agents became more efficient.
Save for minor logistical issues, like agent and client arriving at showings in separate cars, which can be a pain in the backside if it’s at a downtown high-rise, technological efficacies like virtual tours proved a resounding success because it drew a wider audience who could view properties from the comfort of their own homes. More importantly, it reduced expenses for brokerages.
“We started doing virtual stagings, which we didn’t do before, because stagers weren’t taking as many jobs and were harder to get,” said Erica Mary Smith, broker of record and co-founder of Stomp Realty in Toronto. “We took pictures and used a company to stage it. If we didn’t sell the property during that time, we always had those pictures to use later, which gave our marketing longevity and better bang for the buck, whereas when we pay for real furniture, we only have it for a certain time unless we pay on a monthly basis. A full stage costs $6,000-7,000, so we saved a lot of money.
“We could remove all the clutter in the property and turn it into an office or a nursery. The company had all the virtual staging to set it up and it was thousands of dollars cheaper.”
The savings didn’t stop there. Stomp Realty also cut down on its entertainment budget—like pre- or post-closing client dinners—but found other ways of maintaining relationships with clients.
“We had more phone calls with our clients, or we texted them more, because a lot of them weren’t comfortable with face-to-face meetings in light of the pandemic, but they were just as receptive,” said Smith. “I genuinely think it will change the industry. My business partner and I talked about how we don’t want things to go back to how they were.”
Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, concurs with Smith that many of the changes ushered in by the pandemic will be permanent, even after a COVID-19 vaccine has been distributed widely enough to quell the threat.
“Ontario realtors have put public health and community safety first, doing virtual tours and showings, and using electronic documents,” he said. “A vaccine will get more people comfortable with in-person transactions again, but virtual tools for showings and open houses will be a permanent change, and it will save money.”