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Real estate agents are still hosting open houses in Toronto despite calls not to – blogTO



As officials continue to reiterate orders for residents to self-isolate as much as possible in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems members of one industry are still trying to continue on with business as usual.

Some real estate agents have massaged the phrase “stay at home” to extend to any old home — such as, say, a house they’re currently trying to sell.

Though people are supposed to be keeping a few metres away from one another — and places like grocery stores are heeding this advice by limiting the number of customers allowed inside at one time — realtors in and around Toronto have still been holding open houses and showings.

One Reddit user posted a map showing 57 residential open houses taking place in a select portion of Toronto and the GTA this past weekend alone.

There are dozens of open houses this weekend in Toronto. Please don’t anybody go to them. from r/toronto

Both the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board and the Ontario Real Estate Association have “strongly recommended” that realtors “cease holding open houses during this crisis” and “advise their clients to cancel any that are planned” to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The professional associations encouraged the use of things like virtual tours and video calls in lieu.

But the Real Estate Council of Ontario, which actually creates regulations and holds authority over the industry, has not made any definitive rules for agents at this time.

“As a registered professional, you decide which services you are prepared to offer,” a RECO statement on COVID-19 reads. “If you decide to offer services involving open houses and showings, it is your duty to support your clients in making an informed choice about hosting or attending open houses and showings.”

Hopefully would-be homebuyers have the common sense to avoid these situations to help keep face-to-face interaction between, well, any of us to a bare minimum during these unprecedented times.

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"We saw a major shift": How did Covid-19 impact the real estate market? We asked TREB's senior analyst – Toronto Life



“We saw a major shift”: How did Covid-19 impact the real estate market? We asked TREB’s senior analyst

Earlier this week, the Toronto Real Estate Board released its market report for March 2020, which includes information about property transactions in the GTA. As Covid-19 keeps locals on lockdown and nearly halts the economy, most people are wondering how significantly the virus impacted the real estate landscape. We spoke to Jason Mercer, TREB’s senior market analyst, about how Covid-19 killed a red-hot market and why there’s reason for cautious optimism.

Could you summarize the Toronto real estate market before the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Right into March, we saw a continuation of 2019, when a lot of buyers who had previously moved to the sidelines were starting to purchase homes. The market had tightened, meaning increased competition among buyers and a high volume of listings resulting in sales. Those factors typically lead to an acceleration in price. For the first half of March 2020, sales were up 46 per cent over March 2019. For historical context, the Toronto market peaked in 2016 with a record 113,000 sales. Then, in the first quarter of 2017, the Fair Housing Plan came into effect, which included a 15 per cent non-resident tax and expanded rent control. That was followed by the new OSFI mortgage stress test rules in 2018, which made it more difficult to borrow. So for the better part of two years, we saw a dip in sales as a result, which is often the case when government policy targets a certain sector of the economy. But demand accumulates over time. After that, you get a return to the marketplace in fairly strong numbers. That’s what we saw in early March.

A month ago, TREB issued a report predicting 97,000 sales in 2020. Is it safe to assume that you’d like to amend that estimate? 

Yes. That prediction came out on February 6, so that’s what we forecasted then, along with $900,000 for the average price in GTA, Halton, Peel, Toronto, Durham and some of the smaller municipalities. That’s for all home types including condos. We were well on the way to that sales figure, if not higher. Then, in mid-March, when serious measures were taken across Ontario to prevent the spread of Covid-19,  we saw a major shift in market activity. We haven’t updated our predictions yet. We’re only a couple of weeks into the period of enforced social distancing, so we need a little more time to evaluate what’s happening. When we’re midway through April, we’ll be able to provide a more accurate forecast.

In the meantime, which market indicators are you keeping an eye on?

I’m looking at the health-related forecasts, specifically those that look at how long we’ll be social distancing. There was a piece in the Globe recently, based on research out of Simon Fraser University, which laid out some predictions. Last Friday, when the premier gave us the predictions on health outlook, there was a considerable range: between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths, depending on how successfully we self-isolate. So that’s what we’re waiting to see. If you look at the greatest driver of economic growth in Canada, it’s the consumer sector. At the moment, health is the major concern, but once we get on the other side of this, consumers are going to want to dip into the marketplace again, whether that’s going out to restaurants, shopping or resuming their search for a home. The recovery for this will likely be quite fast. It’s just a matter of when that recovery will start.

I like your sunny outlook, but what about all the consumers who go several weeks or months without earning an income?

Certainly, a lot of households are going to feel the pinch from an income perspective. That’s just another factor that depends on duration. Where we may see some differences here compared to a traditional recession is the way the federal government has acted quickly to account for some of the lost wages. A lot of companies are taking advantage of the 75 per cent top-up. We’ve seen that with Air Canada, where they were able to rehire a lot of employees. The point is: there are more programs in place to help people get through this.

Before Covid-19, the biggest issue with the Toronto real estate market was that supply couldn’t meet demand. Is that still the case?

Right into early March, we saw sales growth overtake listing growth, which meant conditions were getting tighter and prices were accelerating. In the second half of the month, we saw a dip in both sales and new listings. When you look at it on a year-over-year basis, both were down by a similar amount. That means the relationship between buyers and sellers has remained consistent—there’s still a similar number of people interested in each individual listing. If that continues, prices might remain relatively stable.

And if it doesn’t, is there a possible silver lining for buyers looking to break into the previously impenetrable Toronto market?

If listings increase and sales flatten or go down, buyers are going to have more negotiating power, but right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be out there buying. I think we’re still going to see people taking a wait-and-see approach. The case may be that people want to take advantage of the change in market conditions, but it’s hard to do that when people are being asked to stay at home.

And yet your latest report shows 3,300 sales happened after Ontarians were asked to isolate at home. What does that mean?

I think it’s likely that a lot of those deals were already in progress before self-isolation measures were implemented. We’re going to have to wait until April to really get a sense of the market under strong social-distancing orders.

When the market does come back, is there any type of buyer who may be particularly well-positioned?

I would say first-time buyers may have a possible advantage, in that they won’t have to worry about selling, so they’ll have greater flexibility and could potentially move in right away.

Any predictions on what’s going to happen with mortgage rates in the next six months? The next year?

In the short term, I’d imagine the Bank of Canada will be holding firm until recovery is well under way. The impact on variable rates is likely that they’ll remain somewhat flat, at very low levels. Fixed-term rates are more based on yields in the bond market. From a short-term perspective, right now, rates are low. Considering it’s a tough time in the economy, expect to see rates remain low as we move into 2021.

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Impact of pandemic not yet reflected in real estate reports – The London Free Press



Vacant properties are most popular at the moment, says Edmonton realtor John Carter.


March data on real estate resales in the city only paint a fraction of the pending impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, says the owner of one of Edmonton’s larger realty firms.

“The taps are slowly turning off,” says John Carter, broker/owner of Re/Max River City in Edmonton.

That’s what is currently happening on the ground with his team of agents, who normally do about 2,400 deals a year.

Transactions are still occurring, he adds. “But they’re turning to a trickle.”

What’s more is the recently released March statistics on resale data from the Realtors Association of Edmonton shows only the initial effects of the pandemic, Carter adds.

Edmonton Census Metropolitan Area for March saw sales fall by about 2.5 per cent compared with March 2019, although sales jumped more than 10 per cent from February this year.

New listings increased more than seven per cent from February, but inventory dropped by more than 12 per cent compared with March last year.

“March stats from the association are great and are largely seasonally normal, but they don’t really take into account the effects of the pandemic yet,” Carter says.

Transactions can take several weeks, so published data can lag behind what is occurring on the ground for many agents, he adds.

“(An offer) might have been written and had three to four weeks of conditions that are now firming up.” 
Carter adds once conditions are accepted, the sale is counted as an official MLS (Multiple Listings Service) transaction that goes into the data.

The official closing of the deal — taking possession — takes more time, and deals can still fall apart.

“We are hearing an increased number of situations with people either not being able to close or choosing not to close.”

By no means are these broken deals making up the lion’s share of what is going on, he adds.

“But we are hearing about increased numbers of those, and that doesn’t get reported in the stats because it will be reported as sold.”

Among the reasons for deals not closing could be buyers losing their jobs, and their lender is then unable to provide funding for the mortgage.

Activity is still going on, though. Carter says two weeks ago his company wrote 23 new transactions and closed 28 deals. At the same time 23 new listings came up.

“That week comparative to last year was still down.”

The firm also saw 24 new listings last week with 16 deals written up, and 24 deals had conditions accepted, which will end up among the MLS statistics for sales.

Carter notes many transactions in the past few weeks have involved new homes or condominiums.

“Vacant property is in highest demand.” Buyers prefer homes that are unoccupied, many with minimal showing decoration if any.

“A lot of people feel more comfortable going into a house that is empty, and there isn’t someone living there,” Carter says.

Despite the challenges, sales will continue in the month ahead because some people must buy and sell, he adds.

“But people really need to be educated and work with a smart realtor who can advise them well and use all the recommended revised health and safety procedures.”

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Vancouver real estate industry hopes the roller coaster ride will be short – The Globe and Mail



Condo towers in Yaletown are seen in the background as people walk and sit along the False Creek seawall in Vancouver.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver’s construction industry is deemed an essential service, so developers are still busy bringing their projects along. Some are continuing to work at the office, while others are holding virtual meetings with staff, architects, consultants and contractors. But the industry is bracing itself for a bumpy few months ahead, as the housing market seizes up and consumers lose their jobs.

A lot of projects are on hold, or they’re being delayed. Right now, there’s no point in launching a marketing campaign, so they’re dragging out the upfront work. If the project is under construction, they’re facing supply chain obstacles. It’s not easy to import European cabinetry with worldwide work restrictions in place, MLA Canada executive director Cameron McNeill says.

But it’s the projects nearing completion that are less certain. Developers typically require a 20-per-cent to 25-per-cent down payment on a presale, as determined by the banks. But for those buyers who’ve lost their jobs, completing the purchase has suddenly become far more difficult and there will be those who can’t do it. As well, the availability of notaries and lawyers has slowed, and finding a moving company – that’s a whole other matter.

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“I have one tower completing in Brentwood in two weeks and we are communicating with the buyers, making sure they are ready and have their financing in place,” says Mr. McNeill, whose marketing company works with developers on everything from land acquisition to leasing. “I’m going to guess 90 per cent will complete and for the other 10 per cent we are going to be working hard to help them and getting creative.”

For those developers who had just launched, or were about to launch a project before the coronavirus hit, they’re dealing with the fact that the market has significantly fallen off. Presentation centres are sitting empty.

“The real problem is that this is fundamentally impacting their psyche and physical ability to buy things, so consumer behaviour has massively changed,” Mr. McNeill said. “Even if they could, they aren’t buying cars or couches, or real estate, unless they have to.”

According to provincial legislation, a developer has nine months from the launch date to obtain a building permit and construction financing. Depending on the size of the project, a lender wants to see around 50 per cent or more of the building presold before approving a construction loan. That means there is tremendous pressure to sell a lot of condos, quickly, which is why millions of dollars are often spent on building presentation centres and hiring marketing companies. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure viability of the project and to protect the consumer from making a deposit on a condo only to see the project drag on. If conditions are not met in the required time frame, a developer must stop marketing. They must give buyers the option to walk away and refund their deposit. The developer then takes a huge hit on all that money spent on marketing, Mr. McNeill said.

With the market suddenly cold, projects that have already launched could be in trouble. And even after the pandemic ends, the market will likely be slow because consumers are going to be cautious. That’s why developers are asking government to extend the nine-month threshold to 18 months, Magnum Projects principal George Wong says.

Mr. Wong says that the presale market had had a relatively slow couple of years, but the market was just starting to pick up before the pandemic hit. There is still some residual activity and in the past seven weeks, he said 748 units completed in projects he’d marketed in Burnaby, B.C., and Vancouver. Only two defaulted, but they weren’t related to the coronavirus, Mr. Wong said.

“That’s a mark of strength of our lending institutions, because they got the construction loan repaid and the developers got the profit out of it, and that is encouragement for developers to continue,” Mr. Wong said.

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“Short term, yes we are bracing ourselves for a wild ride – but that’s the short term,” he said. “Long term, our housing sector is strong. Every one of my developers has money set aside, they are desirous of proceeding forward and spending millions of dollars in getting the presentation centres built out, and to be in ready position when the market recovers.”

Mr. McNeill and Mr. Wong both believe that when the pandemic is over there will be a rush of new immigrants seeking the safe harbour that is Canada, with its secure health care, clean air, stable politics, respected schools and conservative banking system. The demand for housing will be strong. We’ve seen this immigration inflow in the aftermath of other world crises, Mr. Wong said.

“Right now people are getting back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: housing, food, family,” Mr. Wong says. “I think when this world recovers, it will be a new model, a new normal. I see B.C. and Vancouver taking advantage of it – and I don’t want to say that in a mercenary way, but we are intrinsically very attractive.”

But in the interim, his industry is bracing itself. In an Urban Development Institute webinar last week, president Anne McMullin said the industry was dealing with changes coming at them almost every hour. The big marketing companies are hopeful they can keep their staff employed throughout the crisis.

“I’m supporting my shop, because once we get through the short-term gulley, I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Wong says.

In a video message to his 92 employees, condo marketer Bob Rennie says none of his staff will lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.


Condo marketer Bob Rennie, also a well-known art collector, created a video message to encourage his staff. Seated on his couch at home, with some of his art pieces on display, Bob Rennie thanked his staff for their loyalty to his 45-year-old business and vowed to keep all 92 of them employed.

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“We are going to stand by you – not just in business practices, but culturally, and I think we have to lean on each other, rely on each other and share with each other,” Mr. Rennie said. “We don’t know how we are going to come through this on the other side, but we are going to come through it.

“I thank you for standing by us, and we are going to stand by you.”

Rennie Marketing Systems senior vice-president Greg Zayadi, at home with his kids, said reality hit hard around March 11 or 12. At first, it was just an issue of how to work from home. But then the industry began wondering what it would do with its sales centres in the era of social distancing, he said.

“The first thing was figuring out what the policies are, figuring out what the protocols are, moving to appointment only so you could control the environment a bit more,” Mr. Zayadi says. “We were asking, ‘How many people are allowed in your sales centre? Who’s walking in the door? How could you qualify them, have they been travelling?’ All that. Honestly, that only lasted five days, then everyone went, ‘No, no. This is not good enough.’ And most people, ourselves included, by about [end of March], moved to sales centres being closed.”

Mr. Zayadi says there was no push back from their developer clients.

However, realtor Ian Watt says he’s dismayed at the realtors he’s seeing that continue to list properties.

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Mr. Watt, holed up at his cabin with his family, said he is not taking any new listings and believes other realtors should do the same. He said only those realtors who are completing a deal should be working.

“There are 12 new listings downtown every day and I don’t know why. Maybe they are the ones having to sell because they run Airbnb. I don’t know what their motivation is, but it’s unfortunate that realtors are not taking this seriously,” Mr. Watt says. “This is not an essential service. If you can’t handle not being able to sell for one month, then you have bigger problems than this virus.

“The thing is, I have children, so I don’t want to go out and expose myself and come home to my kids, and make everybody in my household sick for $10,000 or whatever it is.

“And if I listed your home right now, 80- or 90-per cent of people are not going to come see it, and you are not going to get a good price anyway, so you might as well wait.”

Developer Michael Geller said he is also seeing a lot of daily listings for development sites and properties.

“Business has not stopped, especially since I suspect many developers and investors, like me, prefer to reduce their exposure to the equity markets. I think things are going to get worse, and I suspect I am not alone.”

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Mr. Geller, who also works as a consultant, said one project he is working on is going to begin construction without the usual pre-sales launch.

“The principals will just put in more equity to arrange financing. I suspect others will do the same since it may not be feasible to launch a project for at least the next few months and possibly longer.”

Mr. Geller says that the market had been down for some time and COVID-19 isn’t the only reason for the approach.

But with public hearings put on hold, any projects requiring approvals from the city are now on the backburner. That’s another hurdle they face.

Realtor Mary Cleaver says she’s working a few hours a week, mostly on deals that are about to close. She’s devised a new marketing plan. For those that do need to sell, she and her team have started to show units on Facebook Live. Buyers can watch the unit being shown and direct-message questions to the realtor as she walks through the unit. If people are interested in viewing the property, they will need to show that they have their financing in place and sign a waiver guaranteeing they won’t touch anything and they are not showing symptoms of the virus.

The resale housing market was thriving right up until March 13 and there’s a belief among realtors that it could pick up again, Ms. Cleaver said.

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“A lot of realtors think we’re home for three or four months and then we’ll get past this, and people will always need to buy. Our teams sold three homes last week. Two of them were in the process before March 13.

“There will be real estate trading, but volumes will vary,” she said. “We need to prepare for that and each deal will be harder to put together. Another listing just came out and there was a strong offer. The seller took it and the buyer lost their job the next day and now it’s gone. These are the things we have to get used to.”

Mr. Zayadi said despite the market slowdown, prices haven’t yet been impacted.

“This isn’t a financial crisis yet. The banks are still willing to lend money. We’re not seeing prices fall off a cliff or anything.”

March had seen a 46-per-cent jump in sales over the previous March. And even after the province declared a state of emergency on March 17, nearly 1,000 people purchased homes, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Adds Mr. Wong: “We will get through it. The thing about real estate is we have all done so well from [2009] to 2018. So, it’s [about] supporting the industry by keeping employment, and it will be lucrative again. It’s just short term. It could be six to nine months.

“It’s a short-term roller coaster.”

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