A new home is displayed for sale in a new housing development in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Open houses resume, but the home-buying pastime has drastically changed

The situation is all the trickier when landlords look to show properties occupied by tenants

Leave the doors open and all the lights on. That’s one of the many new guidelines for people opening their homes — perhaps for the first time in months — so real estate agents can host open houses.

Some provinces are now allowing open houses, with new rules in place, after regulators clamped down on showings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said earlier this month that open houses will resume, with warnings to potential house hunters. Visitors to open houses there can expect to see signs displaying health precautions, use hand-washing stations and sign a visitor log for contact tracing.

Ontario’s Stage 3 reopening plan, which hit much of the province on Friday, also includes open houses under its new gathering limits of 50 people, or 30 per cent capacity, with physical distancing enforced.

Regina-based real estate agent Tim Otitoju says minimizing the need to touch doors and light switches is one of several ways the open house process has changed.

At showings, he is the one to open any front door — with gloves, sanitized hands and a mask — and he limits the number of people in the home at one time.

Before entering, potential home buyers and sellers answer questionnaires and sign waivers about any symptoms or exposure to COVID-19. Sellers who agree to the open house must sanitize the home.

The situation is all the trickier when landlords look to show properties occupied by tenants.

The Real Estate Council of Ontario has been discouraging unnecessary in-person private showings as well as open houses. But RECO doesn’t have the power to require agents to get a tenant’s consent.

“The imbalance of power that exists between landlord and tenant means renters are not always in a position to speak up and they should not be made to feel unsafe in their home,” said Mazdak Gharibnavaz, in a statement from the Vancouver Tenants Union, opposing the return of open houses.

While open houses are once again an option in many areas, that doesn’t mean every seller is on board, says Otitoju. Many still prefer to stick with virtual showings, and Otitoju himself opts for Zoom instead of in-person meetings for reviewing offers.

“I’ve got little shoe covers in the back of my care. My realtor tools have certainly changed,” says Otitoju, an agent with Platinum Realty Specialists.

“I’m finding that this is working. Now, a lot of people coming out to open houses are in the market to buy that type of house. The time to go around to open houses as a hobby — it’s not the time to do that right now. Buyers know that. Sellers know that. Realtors know that.”

ALSO READ: Lockdown fatigue, ‘invincibility’ causing more COVID-19 infections in young people

It’s all part of the changing sales process in real estate.

It might seem obvious that for a purchase as big as a house, no one wants to buy a sight unseen. But Anthony Hitt says even buyers of expensive properties are seeing the upsides of virtual tools that were popularized during the pandemic.

A tour where a seller or agent carries a camera around the house, for example, can allow buyers to look closely at finishes, views through windows and inside cabinets, says Hitt, president and CEO of Engel & Volkers Americas.

For sellers, it reassures them that those who end up at in-person showings are interested in buying, he says.

Cameron McNeill, who does marketing of pre-build properties in the Vancouver area with MLA Canada, says that although showrooms have been open for a month, people continue to do more research online before coming to in-person appointments.

McNeill predicts that shopping for homes will become more like car shopping, where much of the research and emotional buying journey is done before hitting the lot.

“The most valuable thing you have is your time,” says Hitt, saying that online tours cut down on travelling.

“I don’t think we are going to eliminate open houses. We may see less of them and they may come at a different time in the process … . I don’t think a lot of consumers, even with masks and all the precautions , are ready to run out and be in a crowded property.”

It used to be common to share a meal with a client, but that’s not on Otitoju’s mind these days, he says.

“I don’t remember the last time I shook someone’s hand,” Otitoju says. “It’s not the only way to build relationships. You build relationships with your actions, and people see that.”

Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusReal estate

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The house is located near two schools. Photo: Connor Trembley
Dog attack seriously injures young boy in Castlegar

Despite investigating the incident, city staff aren’t confirming if the dog has been put down

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

Moderator Lindsey Lock speaks to participants prior to the start of the forum. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Fridays For Future West Kootenay hosts Nelson-Creston candidates online forum

More than 50 residents throughout the riding tuned into the webinar, which lasted for just over an hour

International Pronouns Day is among the events being marked by School District 8. Illustration: Shutterstock
School District 8 initiatives mark LGBTQ+ History Month

Pronouns and SOGI are among this year’s priorities

Brittny Anderson is the B.C. New Democratic Party candidate for Nelson-Creston. Photo: Submitted
ELECTION 2020: Brittny Anderson

The final of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Most Read