London

Realtors are still selling properties in the pandemic, but it's 'as if the house were a museum'

Under normal circumstances, the spring sales season is the busiest time of the year for London's real estate agents. This year will be different, but not in a way you might expect. People are still looking for homes, and the way they're doing it is evolving, much like the pandemic itself.

Showings may have slowed to a trickle, but people still need a place to live

Real estate agents say the key to buying and selling homes during the pandemic is to minimize contact and 'try not to touch anything.' (Colin Butler/CBC News)

When it comes to selling a home in a pandemic, London real estate broker Robert Di Loreto says you have to treat the experience "as if the home were a museum." Everyone wears masks and gloves and nobody touches anything. 

"You know when you walk into Eldon House? They have all those little ropes and you don't go anywhere near it? This is what we're trying to tell people," Di Loreto said, referring to the historic home in downtown London.

"You're going to walk into the house, stay on the carpets, don't touch the furniture, don't touch the kitchen counters, don't touch the faucets, don't touch anything; just look."

Under normal circumstances, the spring sales season is the busiest time of the year for London's real estate agents. This year will be different, but not in a way you might expect. People are still looking for homes, and the way they're doing it is evolving, much like the pandemic itself. 

'The showings have slowed down'

Despite a global pandemic arriving in London, Ont. in March, the month was one of the best on record with prices up almost double digits. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"The showings have slowed down, but the buyers seriousness, because they've been prepared in a different way, is a lot more serious," Di Loreto said. 

With open houses banned by emergency provincial order and realtors being urged to stop all face-to-face business, realtors have to find other ways to do business because people still need places to live. 

So they've started relying more on technology, using video tours through YouTube or specialized software such as Matterport or VPIX, to give buyers a 3D virtual tour of the inside and outside of a property in a way that's similar to Google Streetview.

Di Loreto said while realtors spend a lot more time online or on the phone these days, one thing hasn't changed and that's the fact buyers still need to see a property in-person before they buy it. 

"When they're buying something that expensive, they do want to see it," he said. 

Showing homes has become surgical in more ways than one

In Toronto, real estate sales tanked as much as 55 per cent as the epidemic took hold. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

People can still tour a home they want to buy, they just have to do it surgically and in more ways than one. Not only do they have to wear a mask and gloves, they have to keep their visits short and bring as few people with them as possible, which could involve going one at a time, depending on the seller's comfort. 

They also have to fill out a declaration, that they are not showing any of the signs or symptoms of illness at the time of the tour. Shoes are taken off before they enter the home, visits are kept to 30 minutes or less and no using the bathroom. 

"We don't want anyone using the bathroom. We don't allow kids to come," Di Loreto said.

"That's why we ask the homeowner to have everything open for us, so we can just look and make sure we don't have to touch anything."

"I also bring a box of Lysol wipes with me so if I have to open a door, I open it with a Lysol wipe."

You might think that with all these added precautions, the real estate business would slow to a trickle. Sales tumbled by as much as 55 per cent in Toronto as the epidemic took hold, but not London. In fact, according to the London St Thomas Real Estate Association's numbers from last month, home sales in the region rose by six per cent over the previous year, while prices rose by 10 per cent. 

"London always seems to be an anomaly, we don't always follow the trends," Di Loreto said. 

"From what I'm seeing out there, April is going to be a decently strong month. We have a pent-up demand that was huge."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article said home sales rose 13 per cent in March, when in fact home sales rose 13 per cent in February. In March, London region home sales rose by six per cent.
    Apr 27, 2020 7:10 AM ET

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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