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Before reading our guide to selling your home during the coronavirus pandemic, you may want to check out our blogs: The New Normal – Life in a Coronavirus World and The New Normal in Real Estate.


Things are different these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sell your house or condo during the coronavirus pandemic. As the Ontario economy begins to re-open and the Toronto real estate market ‘unpauses’, we’re all adjusting to a different way of life and that includes differences in how homes are bought and sold. It’s the ‘New Normal’ in real estate.

We’ve written this Seller’s Guide to help you understand what to expect if you list your home for sale during coronavirus.  

 

Preparing Your Home for Sale During COVID-19

Home Preparation 

In a coronavirus world, it’s still important to prep your home for sale, but you may not be able to do everything you had planned.

Keep the following home prep tips in mind: 

  • Market conditions are unpredictable and you’ll need to weigh the benefits of completing your home prep list against the risks of waiting to list your home for sale. Nobody knows where the market (or the virus) is headed – the only thing we know for sure is what’s happening right now. 
  • Not all home service professionals are able to legally work in the current state of emergency. Some must be hired by your REALTOR, so you may need your agent to help coordinate things. (Note you can still pay them directly). 
  • Be ready for longer-than-usual wait times and potentially higher costs, as many home pros are electing to pause a bit longer.
  • Safety protocols: Before hiring anyone, ask about their safety protocols, especially if you are still living in the home. 
  • Focus on the most important fixes: this is probably not the best time to be undergoing big renovations. 
  • If you’re in a condo: check with your property manager about any restrictions on non-residents entering the condominium building. 
  • It’s still important to declutter: you may not be able to donate unwanted items as many organizations are not currently accepting donations, so make sure you have a Plan B.
  • Your home may need to be vacant: Many home prep helpers will require your home to be empty when they do their work, so make sure you have somewhere safe to go while they paint, re-grout the shower or clean.
  • Professional cleaning/disinfecting is a VERY important step in your home prep these days and many agents (like us) include it as part of their services. 
  • Talk to your REALTOR – they’ll be able to guide you through what to do/what not to do 

Staging

You already know that most Buyers house-hunt online, but in a COVID-19 world, what Buyers see online takes on even greater importance. Making your home look its’ absolute best helps Buyers connect emotionally – and emotional Buyers buy houses.  

In Ontario, stagers fall under the REALTOR ‘essential services’ designation, so staging can happen if it can be done safely. Many real estate teams (like us) have staging warehouses full of furniture and accessories and employ their own staging/design staff.

Keep these staging tips in mind:

  • Good stagers have safety precautions in place, including proper use of personal protective equipment, cleaning/disinfecting protocols for furniture and accessories and restrictions and delays on re-using items in between homes
  • Great stagers recognize how Buyer priorities have changed Dedicated work-from-home spaces, kid play/school areas, private outdoor living spaces, comfortable kitchens for home-cooked meals – they’ve taken on new meaning for today’s Buyers. Great stagers will transform your home to showcase how it can operate in a COVID-19 world. 
  • Virtual staging Technology can help a property look staged in photos. Virtual staging involves essentially photoshopping furniture into the photos – but in our opinion, it isn’t nearly as valuable as real staging. Altered photos are prohibited from being posted on the Toronto MLS, so most potential Buyers won’t see the virtually staged rooms. And if they do? They’re set up for disappointment when they see the home in person. Virtual staging isn’t all bad – and sometimes, it’s the only option. But if you can get the real thing, it’s worth it. 
  • Be ready to wait: Not all stagers are working right now and the ones who are are busy, so you may have to wait longer than usual to schedule home staging. Alternatively, hire a REALTOR who provides staging in-house so you don’t have to wait. 
  • Be careful if you hire a REALTOR who moonlights as a Stager: Some real estate agents stage their clients’ homes themselves, but their usual tactics of buying items at Homesense or IKEA/leaving the price tags on/returning the items after the sale don’t work in the New Normal – and you probably don’t want them recycling their personal furniture in your home right now either. 
  • Ask a lot of questions: Find out about the stager’s safety protocols and policies, any requirements for staging day (eg an empty and disinfected home).
  • Know that it might not be possible to stage your home: Condos and occupied homes pose special challenges for stagers right now, and it may not be possible to have your home professionally staged. In these situations, some agents (like us) offer virtual staging consultations and DIY guidance via Zoom or Facetime.  
  • Lower your expectations: If you’re selling in the early days of the pandemic, there’s a lot that’s still being figured out and staging is evolving as the economy re-opens. Everyone is doing their best – but it may not be the same ‘best’ they were able to deliver pre-COVID.

Related: Staging FAQ


Marketing

Coronavirus has changed the ways most companies market their products and services, and real estate is no exception. As the New Normal evolves, “virtual” is quickly replacing “in-person” and everyone is trying to reduce their potential exposure by limiting the surfaces they touch and the number of people they congregate with. We predict we’ll see the end of:

  • Door-knocking
  • Flyers and postcards 
  • Feature sheets
  • Public open houses
  • Agent open houses

The good news for you as a Seller? Most of those old-school marketing tactics have survived the last decade more out of habit than because they’re effective. There are far better ways to reach potential Buyers. 

Pre-COVID-19, the best agents were already embracing digital marketing on the web and have proven strategies to expose their listings to the right people. There’s a lot more to marketing a home than announcing it’s for sale on the MLS, and these days, you should expect, at a minimum:

  • Gorgeous HDR photography
  • 3-D walk-through tours and video
  • Floor plans
  • Beautifully-written property descriptions
  • Advertising on all the property search sites Buyers are using
  • Targeted promotion via email and social media 
  • Immersive home tours on the agent’s or brokerage’s website

Pro Tip: Hire a digital-first agent or team with proven online marketing experience. 


Pricing Your Home During Coronavirus

As we watch the Toronto real estate market come back to life, we don’t know what path it will take. We can build an argument where we see prices increase because of pent-up demand just as easily as we can argue that the real estate market will crash because of lost jobs and immigration. It’s the first pandemic in 100 years, and economists and housing experts are in unchartered waters as they attempt to predict what will happen. 

What do REALTORS know about pricing and the market right now? We know:

  • The current market conditions and how much demand there was last week
  • The prices of homes recently sold in your neighbourhood (recently = the last few weeks)
  • How long it’s taking homes to sell at the various phases of the pandemic
  • The types of properties that tend to always be in demand, and which ones are harder to sell no matter the market conditions
  • The types of pricing strategies that are working right now (eg price for a bidding war/price above asking and negotiate/price at market value)

Most importantly, we know that market value is the meeting point between what a Buyer is willing to pay, and how much a Seller is willing to accept.

What’s not helpful in pricing a home during coronavirus?

  • Sold prices at the height of the market in February
  • Pricing strategies that don’t account for current market realities or buyer 

When you list your home for sale these days, you’ll likely decide on the asking price and strategy the day before you list your home for sale. Things are changing that fast – and it’s that important to reflect what’s happening and get your price right. Hire an experienced agent who is on top of everything that’s happening in the market.


Safe Showings

In pre-COVID days, our goal was to get the most number of people to see your home in person. These days, safe sales mean minimizing the number of people in your home and maximizing the number of right Buyers who see it in person. To do it right, your agent will need to do 3 things:

  1. Creatively find ways to let Buyers safely experience your home from the comfort of their home, virtually reproducing the experience they used to have during their first in-person showing or open house visit
  2. Strategically screen potential Buyers to ensure only financially qualified, motivated and healthy individuals enter your home
  3. Provide safe in-person showing experiences to encourage the right people to venture out and see it. 

1. The Virtual First Showing

The agent you hire to sell your house during this pandemic will need to provide gorgeous photos, 3-D walk-through tours, virtual showing tools and digital marketing to maximize the virtual eyeballs on your home. They’ll need to overload potential Buyers with information and use words to tell stories and evoke emotion. 

2. Screening Potential Buyers

Agents and brokerages continue to experiment with processes to ensure that the people seeing your home in-person haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 and aren’t showing any symptoms. There’s still so much we don’t know about the virus that this doesn’t eliminate all the risk – but it hopefully dissuades the wrong people from entering your home. 

3. Safe In-Person Showings

Most home Buyers won’t commit to spending hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars on a home without first seeing it for themselves; they want to see it, smell it, touch it; they want to experience the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood. Emotional connection plays a critical role in the home buying process – most of us have experienced the feeling of walking into a house or condo and ‘just knowing it was the one’. Allowing Buyers to experience that feeling is still important. 

Understandably, one of the top concerns of home Sellers these days is safety. How do you keep your family safe while showing and selling your home during the COVID pandemic? 

Here are our top tips for safe showings:

  • If you can, find somewhere to stay while your home is for sale. Pack the kids and the pets and head to your parents’ house, a cottage or hotel. At a minimum, ensure that any high-risk members of the family are not home during the sale. 
  • If you can’t move out, you will be at some risk and will likely be asked to sign a liability waiver. You can reduce some of that risk by leaving your home at least an hour before a scheduled showing and returning 1-2 hours later; spray all surfaces with disinfectant when you return; wash your hands with soap and avoid touching your face.
  • Minimize the number of surfaces the Buyers and their agents will touch: leave all the lights on, open all the doors (including closets), leave curtains open, open the door to the electrical panel and provide easy access to storage areas, garages and crawlspaces.
  • As always, lock away your valuables. Agents showing your home will need to remain physically distant from their clients and won’t be able to watch what’s happening in the same way they used to. 
  • Restrict the number of people seeing your home in person to just the Buyers who would be on the title – no kids, friends or family members. Fewer people in the home = less risk. 
  • Don’t allow multiple groups of people through your home at the same time. 

Pro Tip: It may be possible to list your home for sale without in-person Buyer showings at all, in advance of an offer. Some Buyers may be prepared to negotiate an offer with you, conditional on seeing it in person after the terms have been sorted. This strategy may not get you top dollar, but it will reduce the number of people seeing your home in person, and thus your risk. The success of this strategy depends on the current market conditions, the amount of demand for a home like yours in your neighbourhood and the ability of your agent to market and negotiate this unique situation.  


Choose Your Listing Agent Wisely

Hiring the right agent to help you sell your home during coronavirus is critical – and the top REALTORS pre-pandemic may not be the best people to help you in the New Normal. 

We’re seeing huge differences in how agents and brokerages have adapted their processes and incorporated safety protocols into their business. Some REALTORS are doing things in the same ways they’ve always done them, some are muddling through it and making it up on the fly, and others have strategically put plans in place. 

If you’re interviewing agents to sell your home during coronavirus, make sure to ask:

  1. What home prep and staging services are you currently offering? Are there any restrictions? Are they included in your commission? 
  2. How have your partners adapted their businesses? (mortgage brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, stagers, cleaners, photographers, etc.) 
  3. What safety protocols do you have in place?
  4. How do you market your listings online beyond the MLS? What kind of results do you get?
  5. How have you changed the way you market homes to reflect the New Normal? 
  6. How are you handling virtual showings? 
  7. How are you providing safe showings?
  8. What will you need from me as the Seller?
  9. Who would help if you got sick or were forced to quarantine? 
  10. How are you staying on top of what’s happening during the COVID-19 crisis?

Selling your home during coronavirus is possible – but you’ll need to be flexible and partner with the right REALTOR. Be realistic about how things have changed and set your expectations accordingly. And above else? Channel your inner zen.


Are REALTORS Essential Services in Ontario?

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, real estate agents were designated as ‘essential services’ under the provincial guidelines. That allowed us to help facilitate closing sales that happened before the state of emergency and gave us the flexibility to help people who needed to buy or sell urgently. Ancillary services such as stagers, photographers, cleaners and home service professionals were deemed to fall under our essential services designation at the beginning of May 2020, provided they were able to operate safely and were hired by REALTORS. As Ontario begins to re-open, REALTORS are still essential services and are able to legally operate. 

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