Real estate in Muskoka is a huge industry, generating millions of dollars in sales and employing hundreds of people. It is also a very hands-on and personal business that is is not easily conducted when a pandemic is forcing the world to shut down and stay home. Now is not the time to be walking through a stranger’s home to determine if you wish to buy or to invite strangers into your home in hopes of selling.
But with real estate deemed an essential service by the Province, it put pressure on brokers and realtors to create protocols to protect buyers, sellers and agents.
Over the past weekend, some of the brokers in Muskoka put their heads together to come up with a collective agreement of protocol. Through a virtual Zoom meeting, a letter was scripted to provide agents with detailed directions on how to operate in this unprecedented and exceptional situation, said Scott Morrison, broker and partner with Coldwell Banker Thompson Real Estate.
“A lot of real estate agents were confused about what they were allowed to do,” Morrison said. The letter was designed to provide a clear and consistent message to all brokerages so that agents could inform their clients.
Included in that letter were the following protocols.
No person-to-person meetings of any kind between agents and clients (existing or prospective) are permitted until at least April 8, nor are showings or agent previews.
No in-person showings or previews of any kind (exterior or interior) of any multi-unit building such as condominiums or co-ops are permitted.
While properties can continue to be listed and buyers engaged, that should be done only if urgent and if it can be done virtually with no in-person meetings of any kind. The listing agent can attend the exterior of the property only, to take photos, for example.
No exchanging of paperwork from person to person is permitted—all signing must be done through a digital signature provider.
Current transactions that require items such as home inspections or final walk-throughs should be done with the utmost care and ideally virtually if possible.
Agents are encouraged to contact their broker if they are presented with any scenario not covered in the letter which is cause for concern.
Morrison stressed that they are working hard to help buyers and sellers with transactions that have already been started. If someone has sold their house and was waiting to find a new property and is suddenly facing homelessness, then yes, they will work with them, said Morrison. “We have a duty to serve our client and find them a home.”
It is the non-essential buying and selling that is being dealt with. “People are still looking to buy. A lot of people don’t quite get it,” Morrison said, referring to the need for self-isolation and staying home.
“The response from the agents has been amazing,” he added. “Our agents are very involved in the community. They help bring a lot of people to the area. It was like a collective sigh of relief when we released the letter.”
Morrison said part of the impetus for the letter was a directive from the president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, Sean Morrison, which encouraged all Ontario realtors to avoid face-to-face meetings with their clients at this time.
The agencies that are on board in Muskoka include Coldwell Banker Thompson, Royal LePage Lakes of Muskoka, Remax Professionals, Sutton Group, Enjoy Muskoka Realty, Chestnut Park, Harvey Kalles, and Johnston & Daniel Rushbrooke Realty.
The slowdown of the real estate market at this moment in time does not mean a housing market meltdown. “We expect that the spring buying season will be delayed to August, September and October,” said Catharine Inniss, president of the Lakelands Association of Realtors, a membership-driven professional association focused on the real estate industry. Inniss is also a sales representative with Johnston & Daniel Rushbrooke Realty in Port Carling. “Data is a rearview mirror, but looking forward optimistically, we expect a robust late summer market, going into the fall,” she said.
This economic quarantine will not last forever and Inniss said the real estate industry does not react as quickly as the stock market when a crisis strikes. “We have a strong market,” she said. “There are still a lot of people in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe who want to retire in Muskoka.”
Morrison echoes her observations that what is happening now will eventually come to an end. Morrison has been in the industry for 16 years, and his business partner, Brent Stapleton, for 27 years, and neither have ever seen a situation such as this. And while there is no end date and uncertainty is prevalent, there are a lot of positives to look forward to. There is not enough data yet to show what is occurring, but it may be that more people will want to move to Muskoka, he said. “People seem to feel safer up here.”
What is definitely happening is a spike in website traffic as people are viewing what is available for listings. “There has been a surge,” Morrison said of activity on the Coldwell Banker Thompson website. “There are more eyes on screens.”
Morrison said he hopes that the steps they are currently taking, while perhaps drastic, are steps leading back to where we have to be. “Basically it is the health and safety of our family and friends, agents and clients,” he said. “We hope to flatten the curve with as little possible sickness and death.”
Options are still open for what will happen on April 9. Morrison said they will revisit the situation and if necessary implement other measures to keep everyone safe. “Limiting face-to-face contact unless necessary,” he said. “Encouraging proper sanitation procedures.”
“If we look at the situation globally, we can see that we need time following safety protocols to flatten the curve,” Inniss said. “If people follow safety measures, we expect a rebound in a couple of months. We, of course, do not know the exact timing.”
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