Keep coronavirus from infecting you, and your business

Realtors are facing an unusual new challenge in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. After all a Realtor’s business is people, and two of the qualities clients most value in a Realtor are approachability and trust.

We’ve all been given the same advice about washing our hands, not touching our face, avoiding large gatherings, suspending cruise vacations, as well as foregoing travel to countries of significant outbreaks.

Is it a problem then, that some experts are also telling us to maintain social distance from one another until this pandemic has passed?

Perhaps in the short term. Maybe the normal exchanges between yourself and others may, by practical necessity, be curtailed at least until the current viral outbreak subsides.

Given all the talk of close personal contact, how ironic that the Dutch Prime Minister spoke at a news conference this week asking people to use alternative greetings to help prevent spread of the coronavirus and then proceeded to shake the hand of the official standing next to him before realizing what he’d done.

 “Sorry! I can’t do that anymore,” the prime minister said sheepishly. The incident prompted a CBC broadcaster to quip, “I guess some habits are hard to shake.”

So how do you conform to the new protocols of human interactions without being rude?

Historically, bigotry is a by-product of a public health crisis. And to that point, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the United States is warning its members not to discriminate against people based on where they live or their nationality, in relation to this latest viral outbreak. NAR makes the valid point that any change to your business practices should be applied equally to all clients.

We have used portions of NAR’s website content to provide our members with suggestions that reflect our Canadian context.

Is it acceptable to ask my clients or others I interact with in my real estate business if they have traveled recently, or have any signs of respiratory illness? 

Yes, it is well within the bounds of civility for managers and brokers to ask people in their offices, and their clients, to volunteer information about their recent travels, particularly to areas identified as having an increased risk of coronavirus. But this should be asked of all office members and clients equally, based on advisories from public health authorities.

Is it okay to refuse to drive potential clients to view homes?

Yes. You may decide to stop driving clients in your car altogether, and simply arrange to meet clients at a property. Or you may only refuse to drive clients who show signs of illness or reveal recent travel to areas of increased risk of coronavirus. If you do continue to drive clients in your car, it is a good idea to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces like door handles and seat belt latches, and to ask clients to use hand sanitizer when getting in and out of the car. Provide the hand sanitizer as a courtesy!

Should I still conduct open houses on my listed properties?

Speak openly and honestly with your seller about the pros and cons of holding an open house. You could propose alternative marketing opportunities for your seller’s consideration, such as video tours and other methods to virtually tour a property. If you do hold an open house, consider requiring all visitors to disinfect their hands upon entering the home, and provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entryway, as well as soap and disposable towels in bathrooms. After the open house, recommend that your client clean and disinfect their home, especially commonly touched areas such as doorknobs and faucet handles.

One enterprising broker ordered small bottles of hand sanitizer and branded them with his name and contact information. He offers them at the door of his open houses.

What precautions should brokers consider taking in their offices?

Make available hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes at the entryway of your office for visitors to use. It also doesn’t hurt to post signs thanking visitors for their cooperation in using these products.

Brokers should implement a mandatory “stay-home” policy for any Realtor or staff person exhibiting any sign of respiratory illness, or other corona virus symptoms.  Holding virtual meetings or potentially postponing or cancelling in-person meetings or events may be good measures to take, in order to limit close contact between individuals.  Everyone working in the office must be encouraged to be open and honest about any recent travel to infected areas, and/or coronavirus symptoms.

Social distancing

The headlines tell the story: ‘When Keeping Your Distance Is the Best Way to Show You Care’ declares the Atlantic magazine, and the New York Times reads, ‘The Handshake is on Hold’.

It can be very awkward to avoid personal contact such as a handshake, especially with a new client with whom you have not established a rapport.

But there has been so much coverage about the contagious virus lately that most people will quickly understand and appreciate declining to extend your hand to them.  But a brief explanation may make it a bit less awkward for a Realtor greeting a client or colleague. Maybe something like this would do:

 ‘I’m so happy to meet you! And I would like to shake your hand, but I’m mindful of the advice against handshakes with the virus going around.’

Protect your community

People may not be aware that they have come in contact with the novel coronavirus, especially if they have returned from travelling abroad. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) asks those people to monitor themselves for signs of fever, cough and difficulty breathing for 14 days after arriving in Canada. Anyone showing these symptoms, is asked to call the public health authority at 811 where they can get advice on what to do to take care of themselves and protect their communities.

Follow the BC Centre for Disease Control daily updates on its website ( or via Twitter @CDCofBC.  You can also monitor national coronavirus outbreak updates at Canada’s Public Health Agency website or call this information line 1-833-784-4397.