Woman using a house key on the front door. Close up of he woman’s hand. She is turning the key in the lock. Back lit. The key ring has a house icon on it.

Open houses should be avoided

by Baldev S. Gill, Chief Executive Officer

We have had a number of exchanges with members expressing the view that the FVREB should mandate members to suspend all Open Houses due to concern over exposure and spread of the COVID-19 virus.

To that end, last week we suspended the Rule of Cooperation 3.22, in order to permit REALTORS® to severely restrict showings while keeping properties on the market.

Then, at noon today (Wednesday March 18) the Province of BC declared a provincial state of emergency. That raises the stakes even more. The announcement only further drives home the reality that we are and will continue to be in constant state of flux. Financial institutions, property appraisers, and insurance brokers alike are reviewing their policies in light of current conditions.

The undeniable reality of a dangerous pervasive public health threat is turning our world upside down, and we are called on to find a way to work through the turbulence, not against it.

The countervailing force is the plunging lending rate, which has given the real estate market a major shot of adrenaline.

This is the challenge for us now. I don’t want to suggest that you close your business due to the virus. At a moment in time when interest rates have motivated buyers and sellers alike, your expertise is wanted and needed now more than ever.

But, at a time when the government is taking drastic measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including ordering certain businesses to suspend trade, limiting the size of gatherings to ten, and urging us to self isolate, it could be argued that conducting an open house is too risky at this time.

Explain to clients that we are an industry that constantly interacts with great numbers of the public. Also, the high percentage of Realtors and their clients are frequently mobile, locally, and beyond. This makes Realtors and their clients prime candidates for exposure to COVID-19 and potentially contagious to others.

As much as we need to serve clients, we also have a responsibility to inform them of what our profession is strongly recommending in terms of practices and how these practices are designed to protect them. It is at your discretion to what extent you and your clients follow those recommendations.

At 12 PM on Wednesday, we noted that Paragon is showing 950 Open Houses scheduled this week through to Sunday. Please, reconsider plans to host open houses through discussions with your clients, strongly urging them to delay or reschedule to a time when risk has subsided.

RECBC has stopped just short of banning open houses but that may change at any moment. Ultimately, we still believe this decision is something between a Realtor and their client. We urge you to have serious discussions with your clients regarding open houses, and showings in general.

Advice for Realtors

Consider the individual context of your clients’ situations. Are your sellers or buyers of an age or health condition that would cause greater risks if exposed? Do they really need to sell right now? Is exposing the home to people traffic worth the risk? If it isn’t, we strongly discourage members from doing open houses.

When agents are asking to show your listings you have every right to screen them as to whether they or their clients have recently been out of the country, and other pertinent questions. A single open house can equal hundreds of interactions. While it is within the purview of your brokerage to make any final decisions, it is strongly recommended that you consider the following recommendations that come via the REALTORS® Association of Hamilton-Burlington.

Recommendations for Realtors:

  • Cancel, reschedule and/or severely limit showings and open houses, especially if the occupants of the home are ill or where there is unnecessary exposure to risk.
  • If showings and open houses proceed:
    • Limit the use of washrooms in the home.
    • Have cautionary signage and messages at the entrance of each property.
    • Ask potential open house attendees to not attend if they are sick.
    • Have hand sanitizer, face masks, and protective gloves available for attendees of open houses for their and your protection.
    • Limit touching physical items throughout a home during open houses and showings.
    • Encourage homeowners to thoroughly clean their homes with disinfectant after showings and open houses.
    • Ask attendees to e-mail you their contact information, to limit sharing of pens, etc.
    • Ask attendees of showings or open houses to notify you if they become ill within two weeks of the open house or showing.
    • If an attendee becomes sick or is diagnosed with COVID-19, be sure to communicate this with the homeowner, other open house or showing attendees, their Realtor and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.
  • Refrain from greeting others with handshakes or hugs or any other physical contact.
  • Encourage fellow Realtors to provide information digitally.
  • Be sure to regularly sanitize your phone, tablet, or any other digital devices you use.
  • Avoid sharing items such as pens, paper, phones, tablets, etc.
  • If you are over the age of 65, severely limit your interactions with others, and stay home.
  • If people won’t cooperate with the above instructions, deny them entry.

This is an ideal time for us to embrace the technology at our disposal. Virtual tours rather than in person showings are a good example, as is video conferencing. Many of your clients need to buy or sell in the coming months, and they are depending on you to make that happen, so be creative.

While we all have a responsibility to consider the needs of our clients; and of course you also need to think about your own health and that of your family. Concurrently, as professional Realtors, we need to be socially responsible.

There can be nothing wrong with considering what you are prepared to do in terms of exposing yourself to risk. Even if it costs you business in the short run, ensure that your behavior serves you and your clients in the long run. Our health is one of the most important things we have and this is a time when we should take every reasonable caution.

Here is a link to an excellent e-blast from Council on March 18, with great information for licensees and consumers.

See also an important video message from our current Board president, Darin Germyn.

An evolving situation for our real estate industry is reflected in this latest news post, Metro Vancouver real estate brokers cancelling open houses.