How We Are Leveraging Technology to Adapt to COVID-19
Wednesday May 06th, 2020
These are troubled times and are likely to become increasingly challenging in the months ahead. Our ways of life have been derailed, our businesses disrupted or shuttered, and we have been robbed of much of our basic human interactions. Everything we perceive seems through the lens of the virus, and all most conversations converge to the singular context. However, rather than conceding defeat, and hiding under our beds, we must drive forward, and keep the economy moving.
At Unsworth Real Estate, we are adapting and implementing technology to facilitate safe and effective real estate transactions. Social distancing requirements were imposed upon us, which make physical showings of properties cumbersome. Open houses were made illegal. Some brokerages took the position that the risk to public health made it impossible to conduct any business, leaving their clients without options for professional representation for buying or selling, in some cases regardless of the urgency with which it was required. Some espoused moral superiority with this blanket practice and threw up their hands, asserting that nothing could be done. We on the other hand, regarded the constraints as a challenge which could be solved.
Real Estate is an Essential Service
Real estate sales and the required services to prepare a property for sale are held as essential services in the province of Ontario. There are many people who had just recently sold their properties and were required to buy, and perhaps equally those who must sell for a myriad of reasons. We all need housing, and timing does not always align as we would like; few foresaw the black swan of the Coronavirus. We had several clients who needed help, and conferring with many other Relators across the Province, it was clear that we needed some solutions to make transacting safe and effective.
I Proposed the Idea of Hosting Live Virtual Open Houses on Realtor.ca
Last month I presented the idea to OREA and worked with their development team to allow Realtors to market virtual open houses on Realtor.ca. This allows to Realtors to provide live video broadcasts so that consumers can remain at home in safety and convenience. We walk through your home to take video using a smartphone mounted on a hand-held Gimbal (tripod with gyroscope for stability) and describe the home in real-time. We are using the Facebook Live platform which allows people to ask questions and have them answered in real time, just as if they were physically present. You may now logon to Realtor.ca and see if a listing has scheduled virtual open houses and add them to your calendar. They remain a working progress, and rather crude, but they provide a realistic experience of the actual property without the distortive polish of fancy promo’s.
Zoom Meetings for Video Conferencing
In addition to virtual open houses, we use video conferencing, including Zoom Meetings, to ensure effective and rich communication with our clients. Nothing beats the experience of face-to-face meetings, but video conferencing is probably the best alternative for most of our clients. This is nothing new, and we have been enjoying the benefits for nearly twenty years with Skype and Google, but Zoom seems be winning the marketing war for now, so we’re happy to embrace it as our clients prefer.
We are finding increasingly that operating remotely can be as effective as meeting in common workplaces and traveling great distances for meetings is becoming less feasible and less logical. So far, we have had success in implementing Zoom meetings with our clients, when working internally within our brokerage, and engaging with other professional services to assist in sales; it’s here to stay.
Physical Showings Are Still Possible and Safe
For serious clients we continue to facilitate in-person house viewings following strict COVID-19 protocols. It is certainly not the usual oysters and champagne experience that many have come to enjoy, instead we have substituted rubber gloves and face masks. We ensure that homes are prepared in advance by disinfecting door nobs and counter tops, clients are provided with rubber gloves, and required to wear face masks, and are asked not to touch anything. Additionally, we ask that clients sign a declaration pledging that they are not in a high-risk category of being ill etc. It is with simple practical measures that we can optimize our safety while driving forward.
Safe and Effective Sales
We are still able to stage our clients’ homes, including painting, and required cleaning services, professional photography, and 3-D Matterport tours. By vetting serious buyers from nosy-neighbors, we can limit the foot-traffic and reduce the risk of exposure. We also use paperless signing technologies for all our transactions for safety, security, and expedience.
Sales are down circa 70% in the month of April, but listings are equally down, presenting an opportunity to sell soon. There is very low inventory in the GTA, and we are at the start of what is likely to be a prolonged recession. Therefore, we suggest that if one wishes to sell, one should do so sooner than later. The market remains in shock, and without the efficiency of downward price adjustment, which is likely on its way. I will write more on the state of the economy in a later post.
Please get in touch with questions about how we can help navigate the ever-evolving path.