Can I buy or sell a home in British Columbia during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Expect some new procedures and safety precautions during real estate transactions
by Virginia Rasch - May 05, 2020
The Kootenay real estate market has fewer properties on the market this spring, making it a good time to list your home for sale as there will be less competition.
People are always moving, whether for job relocations, retirement plans or expired leases, to name a few. But can you move during a pandemic, which might go on for some time?
Yes, you can sell, buy or rent a home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Real estate services in Canada and British Columbia have been deemed an essential service by the Canadian Real Estate Association.
So the next question arises: “How can I buy or sell a house safely during the COVID-19 pandemic?” Real estate agents, buyers and sellers are working together to make transactions run as smoothly as possible.
“Our concern and commitment extend to the health and welfare of both buyers and sellers,” said Sandy Smith of the Sandy Smith Property Group - Royal LePage East Kootenay Realty in Cranbrook. “We are dedicated to serving the needs of buyers and sellers.”
Here are some of the adjustments being made during the pandemic through the buying cycle.
Virtual meetings and virtual tours
Realty offices are open but with precautions and often by appointment only. Many agents are also working from their home offices. Thus, initial meetings between real estate agents and clients will likely consist of video calls or phone calls (if you’re not so tech savvy). Nowadays, buyers and sellers are relying heavily on virtual tours, which let people see inside a home via an online video. Virtual tours can pre-quality the interest of potential buyers to ensure they are not touring a home that doesn’t meet their needs.
“Prior to scheduling an appointment with buyers to view a property, I will ask the buyer to do a drive-by to satisfy themselves with the location,” said Smith. “I ask them to review in full the detailed information on the property and view the photos and request a walk-through video to view the floor plan of the property.
“I ask that all buyers have been pre-approved for financing prior to a showing. If all the above conditions have been satisfied, I will schedule a showing with my buyer.”
In some cases, buyers are even making offers without setting foot inside homes. But most buyers want at least one showing before making an offer.
Physical showings during the coronavirus pandemic
In-person showings are the biggest concern in real estate transactions during the pandemic.
“Real estate associations in British Columbia have called for a suspension of all open houses,” said Smith. “Associations urged realtors to turn to video or virtual reality tours as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.”
But again, all parties are working together for viable solutions if a showing is deemed necessary for the sale. Here’s real estate agent Sandy Smith’s protocol:
“Prior to buyers entering into a seller’s home, we screen both parties as requested through Canadian Real Estate Association directives,” explained Smith. “Has either party been out of the country in the past two weeks? Have they shown any signs of COVID-19 symptoms or been around anyone with symptoms?
“When I take buyers through any home, the buyer is aware to keep their hands in their pockets, and I will be opening any doors, cabinets, touching light switches, locks, etc. I will be wearing disposable gloves when I touch the lockbox, doors, etc.
“As well, the only buyer entering into a home will be the party that will be on a potential Contract of Purchase and Sale. No children will be allowed to enter a home.”
If you are a seller, you can negotiate the safety protocols for physical showings to minimize COVID-19 exposures. The sellers themselves can ensure that all lights are on, interior doors are open and there’s hand sanitizer at the door. This way a buyer and their agent (while social distancing) can enter your home, have a brief tour without touching anything and exit the property.
Then there’s the home appraisal process. If you’re selling, talk with your inspector about what precautions they’ll take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The East Kootenay real estate market during COVID-19
Sandy Smith said the market this year is definitely different because of COVID-19.
“Fewer houses are for sale compared to the previous years in the spring market,” she said. “I have had a few sellers take their homes off the market as they do not personally feel safe having potential buyers come through their homes.
“I have also had a few new listings where the sellers are healthy and trust that the Realtors® who bring potential buyers through have screened their buyers.”
Smith said it’s a good time for sellers. “With fewer properties on the market, it may be a great time to list as there will be less competition with their home. With less inventory, there may be more demand for properties that come on the market.”
Listings will likely rise as we all get more comfortable with physical distancing and other safety protocols.
Advice to home buyers during the pandemic
The lowered interest rates are great news for buyers. But as noted above, don't be surprised by a competitive market.
According to Smith, “There are fewer buyers for our spring market. I have experienced buyers putting a delay on their relocation to Cranbrook from outside our area. They will still be moving here for work; however, they will not be coming on a house-hunting trip until further notice with the pandemic.”
However, there is good news too.
“On the other hand, properties are still selling as buyers still need to have a home,” said Smith. “I sold two houses last week to local first-time home buyers who are still working and excited to be purchasing their first home.”
Some lenders have set stricter criteria for mortgages during COVID-19, which means borrowers with lower credit scores and smaller down payments may find it harder to qualify.
Smith said, “I have had buyers currently not working due to COVID-19, resulting in financing difficulties to purchase a home.”
Remote home closings might be an option for some real estate transactions. That entails electronic signing of contracts. And now safe lawyer meetings might include masks, gloves and sanitized pens.
Our lives have changed dramatically in this pandemic, but the situation is fluid. Stay-at-home orders might be changing so be sure to check with your real estate agent for the latest procedures for staying safe while buying or selling.
Safety and team efforts are the bottom lines. Smith also follows the directives pertaining to managing safety from Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper.
“Together, we can help contain COVID-19 and work to keep the communities we serve safe while providing the essential shelter-related service we are called upon to provide,” said Smith.