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COVID-19 and the real estate business: Is it time to stop open houses? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
How do you sell a house if you can’t show it to buyers?

That’s the dilemma facing home sellers and real estate agents across the country as the COVID-19 pandemic grips every aspect of life.

Real estate associations in Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have called for a suspension of all open houses.

“I am calling on all realtors to cease holding open houses during this crisis and advise their clients to cancel any that are planned,” said Ontario Real Estate Association president Sean Morrison in a release Saturday.

“While only the provincial government or the real estate regulator has the ability to mandate an end to open houses, we urge realtors to encourage clients to take advantage of digital tools like virtual tours when buying or selling a home,” Darlene Hyde, chief executive of the British Columbia Real Estate Association, said in a statement Friday.

Both associations urged realtors to turn to video or virtual reality tours as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan have all instituted states of emergency that are aimed at curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus by restricting public gatherings.

RE/MAX Canada and Sotheby’s International Realty Canada are among brokerages strongly urging realtors to suspend open houses.

Listings are still coming online, says David Fleming, a Toronto broker.

Real estate agents then face a “moral dilemma” about whether to host open houses in the midst of a pandemic virus, he told CTV’s Your Morning Monday. He says agents who have chosen to hold them have been shamed on social media.

Many Canadian real estate markets seemed on course for a red-hot spring selling season.

Nationwide home sales in February soared nearly 27 per cent compared to the same month in 2019 and the national average home price was up 15 per cent.

March numbers will undoubtedly tell a different story, but it’s not clear yet exactly what that will be, says Fleming, who is author of the Toronto Realty Blog. He expects listings and sales will drop in the booming Toronto market.

The public health crisis could mean price increases will flatten or even dip somewhat, says Fleming. But that would come after “skyrocketing prices” in January and February.

“So if we just see a levelling off, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

GTA home sales were up 45.6 per cent in February from the same month in 2019, though that month was a 10-year low. February’s figure of 7,256 sales in February, was also up 14.8 per cent from January’s strong showing. The average price for all GTA homes was up by 16.7 per cent year over year in February.

Figures were similar in Metro Vancouver, where February homes sales increased 44.9 per cent over the year before and were up 36.9 per cent from January.

The pandemic has already shifted pricing strategies in Toronto’s market, says Fleming, where low listing prices and holdback offers had been commonplace. Now, Fleming says homes are being listed for fair market value and offers are being taken any time.

People on the sidelines who lost out on multiple bids in a red-hot Toronto market in January and February are “loving their lives right now,” said Fleming.

“They get to go in and bid on places with a real, true, transparent price with offers at any time.”

There is also evidence that housing units purchased in the last couple of years for short-term rentals through platforms such as Airbnb are now being listed for rent or for sale, says Fleming.

“I think people are nervous for sure but keep in mind some people need to sell. Some people merely want to sell, so there are people just trying their luck out there, but some need to actively sell their home. Perhaps they’re moving, maybe they’re being job transferred, perhaps they’ve bought something else.”

The market is also being buoyed by low mortgage rates, but on the flip side, the true impact of the crisis is yet to be felt as layoffs in a broad range of industries are just taking effect.

More than half a million Canadians have recently filed for employment insurance, a volume Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday was “historic.”

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Real estate publisher lets 70 go, blames coronavirus impact – Toronto Star

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Key Media, the Toronto-based publisher of trade magazines Canadian Mortgage Professional and Canadian Real Estate Wealth, has cut more than a third of its global workforce amidst the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, the publishing and conference company issued severance notices to 70 people, in offices as widespread as Canada, the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Australia.

Before the wave of cuts, the company employed almost 200 people in eight offices

One employee who received a severance notice said they’d been told by a Key executive that the biggest reason for the cuts was that the company’s conference business had dried up almost all at once, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current economic climate has had a huge effect on the company’s revenues, and we have forecast a significant negative impact on the company’s bottom line for 2020. This means that unfortunately, we are no longer able to continue your employment,” the severance notice stated.

Email and Skype messages to company CEO Mike Shipley, who lives in Antigua, weren’t immediately returned.

Key Media publishes 130 trade magazines devoted to real estate, mortgages and insurance. It also runs 70 annual conferences and trade shows.

Earlier this week, Saltwire Media, Atlantic Canada’s largest newspaper chain, laid of 40 per cent of its staff and shut down all of its weekly papers for at least 12 weeks, citing a plunge in advertising in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Real estate market in Lethbridge still open for business – CTV News

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LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. —
The economy has been slowing down since the province and city have declared states of public health emergency, but realtors are still doing their best to provide service to their customers.

Real estate offices like Sutton, LethbridgeRealEstate.com and RE/MAX may have closed their office doors to the public, but thanks to new technology, it doesn’t mean their business has been suspended.

“We take the necessary precautions,” says Jennifer Brodoway, real estate agent for ViewLethbridge. “Some realtors are wearing gloves, we have hand sanitizer with us and we are doing any documentation by email. We can even do virtual tours.”

Real estate remains a vital part of Lethbridge’s economy, with over 2,500 properties sold last year.

Surprisingly, some realtors are even busier than ever now, despite the social-distancing measures imposed by the province.

“I think (I have seen) a slight increase in showings on houses that are vacant,” Brodoway explains. “People feel more comfortable going to vacant houses. They know they are not disturbing anybody and they know these houses have been cleaned are ready to be shown.”

Brodoway also says some of her clients are looking to buy out of caprice, but rather out of necessity.

“Some people have already sold their houses and they have nowhere to live and we are happy to help those people,” she said.

The federal government has announced this week people who have been temporarily laid-off may be eligible to receive $2,000 a month until this summer. The government hopes this aid will help Canadians to keep their homes to avoid a similar crisis the United States and the rest of the world suffered in 2008.   

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How Toronto's Real Estate Industry is Dealing with the Impact of Coronavirus – Toronto Storeys

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In just two weeks, the world has changed drastically. We’re now living in the face of major business closures and shutdowns, stock market declines, and even fights in the aisles of grocery stores over toilet paper.

The novel coronavirus or the COVID-19 outbreak, whichever you prefer, has drastically affected the day-to-day life of everyone around the world and impacted every industry in one way or another. But has this global virus truly impacted the real estate industry in Canada’s largest city yet?

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The first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced in Toronto on January 25, and in the days that followed several additional cases began to be reported throughout the province. And while the real estate world took note, it largely continued to operate in its normal way. Now, that normalcy has changed, and a different approach is needed.

Brokers, buyers, and sellers are now navigating the unfamiliar territory together amid the pandemic and an industry that thrives on in-person showings and meetings is now charging forward digitally, with brokers turning to virtual house tours as opposed to traditional open houses.

And yet, despite everything that’s going on, Toronto’s real estate market continues to show how strong it is, with February being a record month for new home sales. In fact, a total of 4,665 new home sales were made last month, a 211% increase from February 2019, demonstrating that it’s still business as usual – for now, at least.

At least that’s the case for Elliott Taube, president of International Home Marketing Group, a leading new home brokerage that specializes in the pre-construction industry and supports medium to large developers in the GTA with integrated sales and marketing solutions. Taube says that while International’s sales offices are currently closed, the company is still busy as always and continues to help clients and customers by moving things digitally – through FaceTime, Zoom, phone call meetings, and emails.

Yet, despite the uncertainty of what’s going on, Taube says International is still moving forward with getting the thousands of units ready to hit the market in the coming months.

“We’re working as if things are still moving forward,” said Taube, adding, “but we’re still trying to be as responsible as possible, so no more face-to-face interactions.”

And in light of it all, Taube says his team is still getting the same amount of work done as they are learning to be more efficient, with in-person meetings that may have once taken 1-2 hours now lasting just 45-minutes, saving the team immense amounts of time. Taube also says that since the industry is considered an essential business, International will continue to work as usual and looks forward to when he can have his team back together under one roof.

Meanwhile, Debbie Cosic, founder and CEO of In2ition Realty, also echos a similar tune, saying that while there’s no question the real estate industry has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t been impacted as much as one might think.

“Ontario’s list of essential services includes supply chains, construction, real estate agents, moving companies and land registration services. This is because the real estate industry is critical to our economy, as well as to people’s lives in general,” says Cosic.

“Keeping construction on new homes going translates to the movement of materials and badly needed jobs for workers in these areas. The selling and buying of resale homes keeps owners moving… and moving forward. There may be delays, but we have faced those in the past and persevered.”

Cosic explains that consumers, while practicing social distancing responsibly, of course, can do most of their home shopping online. The same goes for the real estate industry and consumers can now take virtual tours of resale homes and visit the websites of new home and condo builders to find out just about everything they need to compare.

“With open houses cancelled, we agents may not be able to meet in person, but we have fantastic electronic options at our fingertips: phone/video calls and conferences, apps, email, and e-transfers,” said Cosic.

“Investors, in particular, may choose to make their purchases strictly through electronic means – which is an option we’ve offered for years.”

Cosic says that even if there is a dip in sales, with consumers postponing home shopping, she knows that from history it will only be temporary in the long run.

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