Fraser Valley REALTORS® working through a pandemic

by Baldev S. Gill, Chief Executive Officer

Not everyone is in lockstep agreement on how best to respond to the current coronavirus pandemic. 

Admittedly the science keeps emerging with new information and messages that have been shifting over the last few weeks. People are doing their best to adapt to new developments amid conflicting information, social media falsehoods, and the many yet unknowns about how this particular virus, COVID-19, will behave. 

What we do know for sure is that staying home and staying put is key to flattening the curve of the outbreak, but where does that leave you and your clients, many of whom are under intense pressure, both financial and social?

In speaking to some of our member REALTORS®, we found there are slightly different approaches to the current crisis, and we are sharing them here to keep you informed, rather than discourage or encourage members, one way or the other.

Ty Corsie, of D & T Homes Group at Royal LePage Wolstencroft, says he has closed his office for at least two weeks and is waiting to see if the viral outbreak situation improves. He provided only the essential services to clients who didn’t have a choice but to complete a transaction, though he was self-conscious just doing that. 

“Look, you can’t have the prime minister say, everybody stay home, and then have me out there hustling business when we’re being told to stay home. We are leaders in our industry and in the community and I would not be helping the cause if I ignored the rules and what we’ve been told,” says Corsie. 

“We are on pause with our listings and our sellers don’t want people in their homes anyway. I feel comfortable with that.”

That Realtors are leaders in the community and must be examples of community responsibility by doing what is necessary to protect their clients, their colleagues, and the community, is a value that is being mentioned frequently right now.

So in practical terms, what does that mean? 

Open houses

The Real Estate Council of BC has recommended a temporary end of open houses, as have other real estate boards including Fraser Valley and the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV). In the meantime, the measures being introduced by officials to restrict interpersonal contact and public movement are only increasing.

Setting public health orders aside, what risks do you, as a Realtor, face if you hold an open house?

  • Your reputation may suffer if you are perceived as not joining the fight against the pandemic and ‘doing your part’, which could lead to a loss of business after the critical stage of the pandemic is over.
  • In any pandemic of this scale, there are always lawsuits and criminal charges that arise when people do not follow the orders of public health officials. Even if the risk of that is slight to none, who wants to be the subject of a claim for exposing a client or the public to a health risk?  And by the way, Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance would not cover you given that E&O has never covered issues related to the transmission of disease or sickness.

Private showings

This is another dicey area. Statistically, there is less chance of putting clients at risk when one or two people are touring a home that has been disinfected, and the seller has agreed to it. But the fact is, there is always a risk of infection. Protocols such as asking people if they have been symptomatic or have travelled recently only go so far. Most people are responsible, but not necessarily everyone. And remember that people who carry the coronavirus may not know it, and not be aware they are infectious to others.

Virtual tours

Virtual reality (VR) tours are popular among some Realtors because they reduce the amount of time and effort that open houses require, and because they have the effect of filtering out people who are not yet serious about buying a home.  

VR tours can be done in-house by a brokerage, or they can be produced by the many vendors that provide that service. The costs of a virtual tour of an average sized two-bedroom condo can range from a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, all in. The price breakdown will depend on the size of the home, and the detail and sophistication of the virtual experience.

So why not replace open houses with virtual tours?

We don’t yet know how the market will play out, but what we do know is that people do not buy homes without having had an on-site visit, even after a virtual tour. The very rare exception is when an overseas investor wants to park their money in our real estate and is satisfied to do that without a personal visit. 

Or perhaps an out of town buyer needs to find housing for a relative here in Canada and can’t arrange an on-site visit, and therefore will buy ‘sight unseen’.

But these circumstances are very rare especially since BC’s foreign buyers taxes kicked in.

“Sure, virtual tours are a great tool for getting exposure and impressing your seller,” says Corsie. “But it’s like buying shoes online. You need to try it on to know for sure it’s going to fit properly.”

“You can do all the virtual tours in the world. But everybody still has to come in and decide if they want to spend a million dollars. They want to see, feel and touch it.”

The downside to virtual tours, apart from the fact they don’t close the deal, are buyers and their agents’ complaints that there was little ‘virtually’ accurate about the tour. It can be a problem if the VR tour was packaged at an earlier time when the property was in better shape, or when changes hadn’t been made. Sometimes the virtual tour can make rooms appear larger than they really are.

Also, to produce a virtual tour, someone has to enter the home and spend at hour or two capturing images, which itself may present a risk at this time.

Doing what you can, how you can

FVREB’s past president Darin Germyn, who has embraced new technology and takes full advantage of virtual tours to enhance promotion and save time, says that despite the benefits, there is nothing like being there.

“A virtual tour is too far away for people to make a major buying decision. It does bring in people who are serious, but most people want to pull into the driveway and see and feel it, and get into the home to know this is what they want.”

Katrina Amurao of RE/MAX 2000 Realty in Surrey, says she has not closed her doors to business because she says many of her clients still need her. But she ended open houses before it was recommended by the real estate industry, and agrees that Realtors have a special role in the community especially in extraordinary times like these.

“I’ve declared that we have to be leaders in our community,” says Amurao. “We can’t be part of the problem.”

In spite of current constraints, Amurao says she has no intention of closing her business entirely.  She is an enthusiastic user of virtual tours, and “cinematic video” for her listings. Years ago she invested in the equipment so that she has in-house capability. She was prompted by the out-of-town buyers flooding real estate a few years ago; prior to the province’s foreign buyers’ measures dampened that part of the market. 

She is doing virtual open houses to showcase homes, and has even posted a video on social media showing others how it can be done. But she concurs that virtual and video home showing only gets buyers so far. She agrees that they want to be on-site in order to make a purchase.  

She recently arranged a private showing whereby a seller was comfortable with a promising buyer going through the house. The seller agreed to take recommended precautions such as, screening questions, no touching, masks, gloves, and sanitization of the home before and after the showing. 

“It’s not the usual way of business, but we have to do our job in a way that is responsible while still taking care of our clients when and how we can.”

Amurao says some clients have questions about how to put a pause on their mortgage, or they have concerns about taxes or other matters, so she gives them information or points them where to get help.

“We try to reach out and stay in touch with past clients. Not to do with real estate, but just on a personal level because so many people are feeling anxious right now.”

It is anticipated that in the next few years virtual reality technology will be available to provide a customer experience much closer to being there in person, including the sensations of touch and smell. 

But we are not there yet. And certainly not now.

Currently, the best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to be an expert on how to provide expertise within the rules and guidelines in place, and have the patience to ride it out. 

Resources for ‘essential service’

Although it does not remove the obligation to follow public health orders, BC has listed real estate services as ‘essential’. This permits transactions for those sellers and buyers who don’t feel they have a choice whether to buy or sell. They can include:

  • Buyers who have sold their home already, and need to buy another home to move to
  • Divorce, separation, death, or change in income that requires a sale

If your client is facing a burden like this, the New Brunswick Real Estate Board has provided a very useful list of procedures it recommends to Realtors: Real Estate Transactions during state of emergency

The FVREB has published a number of useful NewsReal articles about doing business during this pandemic including: Conducting your business as an essential non-health service during COVID-19and Key COVID 19 Updates

The Real Estate Council of BC has provided some excellent information and advice on the subject here.

BCREA has provided information about contracts during this pandemic COVID-19 FAQ: Dealing with Contracts and Disclosure Requirement.  Also, check out CREA’s New2Mebulletin. 

What about you?

Tell us about your experience as a Realtor during this state of emergency. How are you coping? Is your office still open? What kinds of services are you providing to clients, if anything? Share your thoughts by emailing: We would appreciate hearing from you.