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Agents scrapping open houses as real estate industry responds to COVID-19

Visiting a property in person has to be balanced with the greater good
040419-real estate-for sale-realtor
(stock photo)

Myriad businesses serving Nova Scotians from the cradle to the grave have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

Like everyone, those with real-estate needs and the people whose livelihood depends on that industry, must adapt to an evolving public-health situation affecting communities across the province and around the world.

Health officials here are hoping residents, office workers and other employees are complying with social-distancing or self-isolation measures imposed to try to slow and control the coronavirus outbreak.

This time of year is normally when many folks start to look ahead to the Easter long weekend. (Good Friday is April 10.) In the house-buying or property-selling world, the milder, post-Easter period usually sees an uptick in lawn signs announcing homes for sale as demand escalates.

But by any measure, the COVID-19 pandemic means things are at least temporarily not normal.

In this province, the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission is updating its members on the ever-changing status of the coronavirus. The commission is the regulator of Nova Scotia’s real-estate industry.

A March 18 bulletin on the organization’s website provides licensed real-estate agents links to provincial and federal government websites with virus-related information.

“Licensees are to educate themselves and their consumers about the current COVID-19 situation,” the commission says. It adds all licensed real-estate agents in the province must “follow the directives” of government health experts.

The commission says its licensing exam in April is cancelled. Its office, situated in Bedford, is closed until April 1; staff are working from home.

Under typical circumstances, weekend open houses are opportunities for curious locals and the on-site sales agent to meet at a property. Residents get to check out the home for sale, and the agent can connect with potential clients.

RE/MAX Canada, in a statement issued March 17, has “strongly recommended the postponing of all open houses immediately until a future date where it’s deemed safe.”

The company says its agents are exercising caution and “are committed to using technology” to assist clients at this time, which includes “virtual tours of the home or digital presentations.”

Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, which handles high-end listings in many of the country’s wealthiest real-estate markets, is “strongly discouraging open houses in order to protect public health,” a recent blog on its website says.

Matt Honsberger, owner and president of Royal LePage Atlantic, said for all intents and purposes, the industry’s open houses have been scrapped.

“The risk of having too many people gathered, having it be difficult to control who’s touching what, and things like that,” makes such standard events unworkable at this time, he said Thursday.

Honsberger acknowledged his line of work is “a very face-to-face” kind of business.

But due to the COVID-19 turmoil, he said, visiting a property in person has to be balanced with the greater good.

“That’s the balance that we’re trying to strike right now,” said Honsberger, who’s also the president of the Nova Scotia Association of REALTORS.

“And we’re giving agents advice about that, and deciding who should be out there doing that and who shouldn’t – and what’s right morally, and what’s right economically for people,” he said.

Honsberger said, in his opinion, it could be more difficult for the seller than a buyer in a real-estate market operating during a pandemic.

“Population and employment drive our housing market more than anything.

Employment is the part of that we’re watching most closely right now,” he told

As of Friday afternoon, the provincial government says there are five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Nova Scotia and ten presumptive.

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Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth


About the Author: Michael Lightstone

During a general-news career lasting close to 30 years, Michael LIghtstone has covered such things as politics, health matters, courts, labour issues and jazz concerts
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