Real estate agents replace face-to-face with masks, gloves and pandemic-friendly virtual skills

Real estate agents in Edmonton are going virtual to help sellers and buyers with their transactions. Typically, Edmonton's spring market is busy but numbers are down this year due to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

Agents still showing homes but must first comply with a list of safety guidelines

Rhonda Navratil, right, wears a mask while she accompanies her client to a home on April 9. (Rhonda Navratil )

Rhonda Navratil is used to having clients by her side when she shows a property.

Now more often than not they're on the other end of her FaceTime call, following along virtually as she does a property walk-through. 

"Usually we are face to face," said Navratil, who has been helping clients buy and sell homes in Edmonton for nearly 20 years. 

"Now when we're looking, our first choice of how to engage with someone is going to be, 'Can we do it virtually?'" 

It's rare to have someone buy a home without seeing it in person, she said, and many of her clients still want to physically walk through a home and get a feel for the property and what's inside. 

'Gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer' 

But that means putting on gloves and a mask and following Alberta Health Services guidelines around preventing the spread of COVID-10, guidelines that have been endorsed by the Real Estate Council of Alberta.

 A buyer and seller's checklist catalogues the steps needed to make it safe for people to enter a home, and calls for prospective buyers to be free of COVID-19 symptoms before doing a tour. 

"When an agent is texting me for a showing, we're replying with, 'What kind of personal protective equipment are you going to wear? What kind of safety practices are you going to use?' And in most cases, it's gloves, masks and hand sanitizer," Navratil said.

Masks and gloves are now normal attire for appraisers and home inspectors, other key players in the real estate industry.

Joe Yaretz, a home inspector with Cabin to Castle Home Inspections, often goes in and out of several homes a day.

"We're having to be very careful," said Yaretz. "I try to keep as little skin exposed as possible." 

On top of all of the new precautions that have to be taken, prospective buyers are finding little selection in the Edmonton market right now. 

Statistics from April show that sales are well down. There were 3,759 residential units sold in the Edmonton region during the first four months of 2020, a 55-per-cent drop from the same period in 2019. 

'Two days later all the stores closed' 

The drop in sales is partly explained by a similar drop in new listings, which were down a whopping 46 per cent compared to the first four months of 2019. 

Typically, spring is the busiest season for home sales.

That hasn't been the case this year, and sellers are feeling it in a buyer's market where lowball offers are commonplace.

Laine Larson and his family listed their Blue Quill home in early March. 

It had some viewings, then the pandemic hit. 

They got an offer, and took it. 

"We put it up, we decided to stage the house, got a few things, and literally two days later all the stores closed," said Larson, who is staying with his family at his parents' house in Mill Woods.

"It was a bit of an adventure, but we're excited about what the next step might be, too." 

Larson's real estate agent, Tim Oliver, said if you're looking to sell right now, flexibility is the name of the game. He has noticed that with the drop in inventory, many sellers aren't willing to take a risk. 

Royal LePage real estate agent Tim Oliver stands in front of a client's home in the community of Allard. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

"They're willing to wait it out until things possibly get better later in the summertime," he said. 

"We may see an uptick in activity because there's that backlog of people that have been waiting to put their house on the market."