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Virtual Reality’s Role in Global Real Estate Market Expands Due to Coronavirus – Barron's




As the global impact of the coronavirus expands, real estate agents are finding creative ways to continue connecting buyers and sellers.

Guidelines for social distancing and mandatory closures have changed daily since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, with real estate agents adapting continuously to attempt to keep transactions moving. Virtual reality and virtual tours provide a way for buyers to continue their property search from their homes.

“Real estate agents and brokerages are chameleons and entrepreneurial by nature, so we’re quick to adjust,” said Eddie Shapiro, CEO of Nest Seekers International. “In addition to virtual reality and virtual tours that are already available on many listings, we’re using Google meetings, YouTube Live and Facebook Live to orchestrate virtual open houses.”

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Conventional open houses, typically held for several hours on a weekend for anyone who wants to see a property, usually don’t meet the social distancing guidelines of keeping six feet from other people. Many jurisdictions have banned gatherings of more than 10 people at a time, which many open houses would violate. In addition, many people are voluntarily staying away from other people in general to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Approximately 60% of Nest Seekers’s listings have a video component now and they anticipate reaching 100% of listings soon, Mr. Shapiro said.

International Buyers During Pandemic

Since other countries experienced the virus a little before the U.S., the assumption is that international buyers may come back to the real estate market sooner than domestic clients, said Rory Golod, New York regional president of Compass real estate brokerage.

“Foreign buyers have been engaging in virtual reality showings for a long time, so they’re used to searching for properties this way,” Mr. Golod said. “Over the past four or five years, we’ve seen more international clients purchase homes sight unseen, especially if they know the specific building or neighborhood. Right now, most domestic buyers use virtual tours as a screening tool, but we’ll see more domestic buyers purchasing sight unseen too, I think.”

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While most of the globe has yet to see the epidemic peak, China’s economy is beginning to rebound.

The number of cases of the coronavirus in China reached 80,928 with 3,245 deaths, but the number of daily new cases has been dropping since Feb. 12 and has now dropped to near zero.

Chinese buyers, like other international and domestic buyers, are now relying more than ever on virtual tours. In February, there were about 350,000 virtual tours per day by Chinese real estate agents and buyers, which was about 35 times the amount of virtual tours in January, according to SupChina, a global news site that focuses on information about China.

Meanwhile, Chinese builder Modern Land recently live-streamed a sales pitch to prospective buyers that generated 600 contracts in five locations in one day, according to the South China Morning Post.

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Chinese buyers represented 11% of international real estate investment in the U.S. in 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors, purchasing the highest dollar amount of international buyers at $13.4 billion last year.

Chinese buyers have purchased the highest dollar amount among international buyers for the past seven years.

On the other hand, social media inquiries and web traffic from Europeans and people from the U.K. have been increasing in the past week or so, with traffic from Asia dropping, said Mr. Shapiro, who acknowledged that it’s too soon to know the details of how this situation will play out in the real estate market.

Remote buying is already common in California’s Silicon Valley, said Redfin real estate agent Kalena Masching.

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“Virtual tours are well-suited to the luxury market because sellers want to attract attention from buyers all over the world,” Ms. Masching said. “All our listings have 3-D walkthrough tours and floor plans that allow people to tour each level online.”

Until now, though, most buyers have asked a trusted friend or relative in the area to do a physical tour of a property before an overseas buyer finalizes the sale to make sure the virtual tour is accurate, Ms. Masching said.

“I had one client who purchased a $5 million house site unseen because both partners were traveling in different parts of the world,” Ms. Masching said.

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New Reality for Real Estate

Now that a number of areas, including the San Francisco Bay Area, is under a shelter-in-place order, it’s an advantage to have virtual reality and virtual tour capabilities in place, Ms. Masching said.

Many real estate companies are quickly increasing their use of virtual tools and training their agents to use them.

“Most of our listings have videos and virtual tours, but we’re also holding online classes for our agents to provide them with tips for how to do video tours and how to upload them to share with clients via email, Instagram and Facebook,” said Mr. Golod, of Compass.

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Jessica Swersey, a real estate agent with Warburg Realty in New York City, said she has a new listing she’s preparing for the market now.

“I’ll be doing a video walkthrough as a first line of defense and then hopefully we’ll be able to get a serious buyer into the place to see it in person,” Ms. Swersey said. “One buyer recently saw a video and signed a contract without seeing the property, but that’s still not the norm.”.

So far, virtual reality is mostly used as a screening tool to cut down on showings, said Anthony Askowitz, a broker with RE/MAX Advanced Realty in Miami.

“Two years ago I sold a luxury condo entirely sight unseen, but that’s a rarity,” Mr. Askowitz said. “Most people like to use all five senses and see a place in person before they buy.”

Investors, however, are more likely to buy via a virtual tour since they don’t plan to live in the property, he said.

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“The top real estate forms have used online virtual tour slideshows for years,” said Corey Burr, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “More recently, video tours have been used, along with 3-D navigation. These tools are of the utmost importance if buyers’ access to a property is curtailed and they need to rely on computers to do home shopping.”

Not everyone agrees that virtual tours are a replacement for in-person showings.

“For the last 10 to 15 years we’ve had sophisticated property search sites that allow buyers to see floor plans, photos of staged properties and images of virtually staged properties,” said Rachel Ostow Lustbader, a real estate agent with Warburg Realty in New York City. “Adding a virtual tour or virtual reality won’t add much to what’s already available.”

No one wants to buy anything if they can’t actively see it, Ms. Lustbader said.

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Most of Ms. Lustbader’s international buyers search online for property and then see it in person when they come to New York on business.

“I can’t imagine buyers purchasing property in any price range sight unseen, so if we are forced into a lockdown, I believe the market will be put on hold for a short period of time,” Mr. Burr said.

Technology’s Impact on the Future of Real Estate

As video tours and virtual reality become more common, they should also be more realistic, Ms. Swersey said.

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“If you want buyers to purchase based on a video, it needs to be more than just sparkly and showing the highlights,” Ms. Swersey said. “You need them to be more nitty gritty and granular so people can see the baseboards and watch someone turn on the faucets to make sure they work. Technology means you can make everything look perfect, but serious buyers want a more detailed experience.”

For now, said Ms. Swersey, this technology is meant to keep the conversation going and generate interest in properties. But she pointed out, there’s pent-up demand that will generate more sight unseen purchases depending on how long everyone needs to continue social distancing.

“Virtual reality is seen as an alternative marketing tool for now,” said Mr. Golod, “but I expect it will grow in popularity as people see how helpful it is during times like these.”

This article originally appeared on Mansion Global .

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Real estate pause could hit city budget hard – Toronto Sun



With the ongoing coronavirus outbreak hitting the pause button on Toronto real estate sales, there is concern the crisis may deal a serious blow to the city’s bottom line.

Approved earlier this year, Toronto’s $13.6-billion 2020 budget includes an expected $800 million in revenue from the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT) — accounting for 7% of the city’s operating funding.

The budget already included a $77-million hole expected to be filled by federal funding commitments to pay for the housing of refugees — commitments made long before coronavirus made worldwide headlines and paralyzed economies across the globe.

Relying on MLTT can be a risky venture for cities — in 2018 lower-than-expected real estate numbers produced a $84.5 million hole in the city’s budget, according to briefing notes.

With land sales in the city frozen due to COVID-19, MLTT revenue is expected to fall to levels far below that.

While requests to the city for year-to-date MLTT revenue numbers went unreturned, a statement from the Mayor’s office said the impact of the outbreak on city coffers won’t be known for some time.

“Mayor Tory and City of Toronto staff are working to make sure we do everything possible as a municipal government to help Toronto residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the crisis is over,” read an emailed statement.

“We know there will be an economic and financial impact on the City itself and our finance officials are working right now to understand how big that impact will be over the coming months.”

The TTC alone, said the statement, is losing about $20-million per week in revenue — one of many financial hits the emergency is dealing upon Toronto.

The TTC alone is losing revenue in the amount of roughly $20 million a week and that is just one of the financial hits the City is experiencing as a result of the ongoing emergency.

“Right now, our focus is on stopping the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to deliver essential and critical services and working with the other governments to rebuild the economy as quickly as possible.”
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume

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Video: Homeless man hosed down in front of Gastown commercial real estate office –



Some Vancouver residents have expressed outrage over social media in connection with how a homeless person was treated in Gastown.

Video on social media shows a person spraying a garden hose to remove the man from the front door of 305 Gore Street.

The real estate office is part of an 11-storey mixed-use condo complex called The Edge, which was developed in 1999 at 289 Alexander Street.

One of those who tweeted about the incident was Harsha Walia, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

She described the use of the hose as “despicable anti-homeless violence”.

(Warning: the video includes swearing.)

It’s increasingly difficult for the homeless to find a place to rest in Vancouver as a result of the closure of libraries and most community centres, as well as the conversion of fast-food outlets and other restaurants to takeout joints.

For more on that, check out the tweets below by homeless resident and Straight contributor Stanley Q. Woodvine.


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



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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