RAHB Update for March 24 re: COVID-19

What does “closure of non-essential businesses” mean for REALTORS®?

Yesterday (March 23) Premier Ford announced the closure of all non-essential businesses in the province of Ontario. This will take effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight. This is a drastic, yet necessary, measure to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The provincial government has provided a list of essential workplaces under this direction, which can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces. Please note that under “other Business”, #67 “Land registration services, and real estate agent services and moving services” is included in this list.

Why was “real estate” deemed essential?

OREA asked for the essential service designation and for the Land Registry Office to stay open because there are thousands of transactions in Ontario right now that have yet to close officially. Every one of them is different.

While some may not require the help of a REALTOR® to close, others will. OREA was concerned that if REALTORS® were not permitted to support these transactions, those families and businesses could have been left high and dry.

Many other professional services appear in the essential list, including banking, lawyers, and accountants. Shutting down these sectors completely, like real estate, could have had a huge unintended consequences for consumers and damaging domino impact on other deals.

What does this mean for REALTORS®?

Most importantly, it means that REALTORS®, following the advice of health officials, will be able to support families in this difficult time who need to close on a home.

What it doesn’t mean is that REALTORS® are at liberty to conduct business as usual.

OREA is taking the position – and RAHB agrees – that all REALTORS® should stop face-to-face business, including open houses, in-person showings, and maintaining agents and public office hours.

The government gave the “essential” label to real estate to permit transactions to close – NOT to allow members to carry on with normal business practices during a crisis.

All members should be moving to remote work – full stop.

What about showings involving tenants?

No REALTOR® should, during this state of emergency, participate in a face-to-face showing, especially of a tenanted property. Legally, the Residential Tenancies Act may permit  showings, but for obvious health and safety reasons, these showings need to stop. Instead, OREA encourages members to work with clients who are landlords to show these properties virtually.

To underpin RAHB’s position that no in-person open houses be permitted by RAHB members during the Ontario COVID-19 state of emergency, RAHB has suppressed the open house function in Matrix.

Read important information about showings and virtual showings below.

Today the Premier emphasized that shelter-related business is a top priority; however, this situation is first and foremost a public health emergency, and the government will not hesitate to shut down other workplaces, as necessary to protect Ontarians.

The government has stressed that everyone should work from home when possible and where possible. To help businesses operate remotely, there are several initiatives taking place:

  • The big telecom companies have removed internet data caps amid COVID-19, allowing more Ontarians to work from home without worrying about extra charges.
  • The Premier announced the switch to off-peak hydro for the next 45 days to help Ontarians who are working from home. This reduction will be automatic on the bills of Ontarians. Small businesses may also be eligible for this off-peak hydro rate.

Effect on the RAHB market area  

REALTORS® have always been advocates for their community, and RAHB REALTORS® have been doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by cancelling open houses. It’s the right thing to do.

Currently, it is hard to determine what effects COVID-19 will have on the housing market; specifically, the number of new listings, sales, and average price. We have heard from some RAHB REALTORS® who have seen very little change in activity within our market, and there are others who have clients who are postponing their sale or search for a property until COVID-19 subsides. RAHB will closely monitor the housing market during this time of uncertainty.

As a reminder, RAHB releases weekly statistics every Wednesday on News & Alerts and our monthly statistics are at the beginning of each month.

RAHB Virtual Showings Update & MLS® Rules & Regulations 2.10 (i)

While the provincial government has included “Land registration services, and real estate agent services and moving services” among the list of essential businesses that can continue to operate during the current provincial state of emergency, RAHB emphasizes that this does not mean it is business as usual. We can’t state strongly enough that if the measures advised by health government and officials, such as social distancing and self-isolation, are to be effective, compliance by everyone is essential. Full stop.

That being said, RAHB recognizes that the typical way of conducting business and the rules around how business is conducted are not 100 per cent suited to a virtual world.

With this in mind, during the Ontario COVID-19 state of emergency, RAHB is temporarily relaxing MLS® Rule & Regulation: SECTION 2 – MLS® LISTINGS 2.10 (i).

What does this mean in practice?

  • A listing will not be suspended because a property is not available for in-person showings or inspections.
  • As in-person showings are temporarily prohibited, virtual showings are permitted instead.
  • By complying with direction from public health agencies at the national and provincial levels, RAHB members are individually and collectively helping to slow the spread of COVID-19, thereby  protecting themselves, their families and their communities.

What else do I need to know?

  • Let other REALTORS® know about your virtual showings by including this information within the REALTOR® or public (Client) remarks section of a listing.
  • Remember that REALTOR® contact information is not permitted within the REALTOR® or public (Client) remarks section of a listing – as per RAHB’s MLS® Policies Miscellaneous #5 and #6.
  • There are a variety of online and virtual tools that can easily be accessed to conduct business remotely with REALTORS®, buyers and sellers.

What are some tips and best practices for hosting a virtual open house?

  • Stick to a schedule – start planning now for your current listings and future virtual tours. FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom are great options. If you want your open house to be viewed by the public, social media offers “Live” features that are a great way to reach a wide audience (i.e., Facebook Live or Instagram Live).
  • Practice – trial runs are crucial to make sure both your technology is working and your virtual open house layout is perfect. Walk and pan around the room slowly to reduce pixilation on your video.
  • There is no such thing as being too descriptive – be sure to use as many descriptive words as possible to help a home buyer envision themselves living in the space.

If you have any questions, please contact the MLS® Help Desk at 905.667.4650 or support@rahb.ca.

Public Health Recommendations:
For information on COVID-19 – including current state, vulnerable populations, additional resources, etc. – please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html.

Please be diligent in keeping up-to-date and following the recommendations and guidance of our health officials and governments.