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

A cup of tea can be a great hand-warmer on a cold day. (submitted)
Tea: it picks you up, it does not let you down

A good cup of tea never fails to brighten up the day

A map created by Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping, which assesses the sensitivity of Canada’s Pacific Coast to oil spills. This map highlights the Douglas Channel and other inlets and waterways around Kitimat and out to the coast. (Clear Seas map)
Douglas Channel scores ‘medium’ to high’ on oil spill sensitivity study

The study was done by a not-for-profit group specializing in sustainable marine shipping

Jody Craven of Kitimat has been announced as the BC Libertarian Party’s candidate for North Coast riding MLA on Oct. 5. (Jody Craven photo)
Jody Craven of Kitimat in the running for North Coast MLA

BC Libertarian Party has announced Craven as North Coast candidate for riding

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Most Read