Avoid in-person open houses during pandemic's second wave, realtors told

Open the door to a house with a key for real estate showings in pandemicThe Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) is calling on realtors to avoid in-person open houses during the pandemic’s second wave.

“With cases in Ontario on the rise again, we must continue to limit face-to-face interactions as much as possible and use virtual tools,” TRREB president Lisa Patel said in a statement. “We all have to do our part to be successful in confronting this challenge in order to protect the health and safety of realtors, their clients and the general public.”

TRREB’s advice came on the heels of new restrictions announced by the provincial government on October 9 after Ontario broke the daily record with more than 900 new Covid-19 cases.

Apart from limiting open houses in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel to 10 people, the new restrictions, which will be in force for at least 28 days, include the prohibition of indoor dining in food establishments and the closure of indoor gyms, casinos, indoor cinemas, performing art centres and spectator areas in racing venues.

“We are seeing the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 rising, hospitalization rates are growing, and community outbreaks are entering our nursing homes and vulnerable congregate settings," Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a statement. “We need to act quickly, and we need everyone to follow the public health guidelines if we are going to stop the spread and contain the second wave.”

Sean Morrison, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA), also recommends stepping the brakes on open houses. During the first wave of the pandemic in April, OREA said it has called on the province to stop open houses.

“As we enter this second wave, we are once again asking the government to ban open houses provincewide until the pandemic becomes more manageable,” Morrison says.

According to TRREB’s document on best practices for open houses, real estate professionals should use alternative marketing strategies such as video and virtual tours, including streaming open houses live. They must inform clients of the risks associated with hosting an open house. If the decision is to proceed with an open house, realtors should document clients’ agreement with the safety protocols needed and any responsibilities they have agreed to before and after an open house.

Exposure risk can be minimized by limiting open house attendees to serious buyers, such as consumers who have already listed or sold their current home, are working with a realtor and are prequalified for financing. Encourage pre-registration as far as possible, and prepare personal protective equipment needed for both the realtor and open house attendees.

As well, real estate professionals should plan traffic flow to ensure that physical distancing is maintained at the open house. Possible considerations include providing an alternate exit to the entrance, putting up barriers to rooms, taping the floor and posting signage to inform consumers of the traffic flow through the home.

If the client or any attendee displays Covid-19 symptoms, realtors are obligated to refuse entry, reschedule, or even cancel the open house if necessary. They should also be prepared to respond professionally to concerns from others in the neighbourhoods where open houses are hosted and communicate clearly the safety precautions taken.

Other safety measures, says OREA’s guidance on showings, include limiting the time that viewers spend in the home, conducting conversations with buying agents and prospective buyers outside the home, opening windows to improve ventilation and scheduling enough time in between showings to minimize interpersonal contact and disinfect the home.

Jean Lian is Head of Communications and Brand Marketing with HomeLife Realty Services Inc. in Toronto. Contact Jean at marketinghomelife@gmail.com.