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As Toronto and Peel Region enter Phase 3 today, the Ontario government has given the green light to public open houses….but just because we ‘can’ do something, does it mean that we ‘should’?

As a team, we’ve been debating the pros and cons of bringing back open houses during a pandemic. What purpose did they serve? Were our open houses effective? What do Buyers and Sellers want and expect when they work with a top team? 

After much debate, we’ve decided that BREL will not be embracing open houses in Phase 3. Here’s why:

1. How Buyers Shop for a Home Has Changed

For years now, real estate has been a hobby in Toronto. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for REALTORS to show homes to people who weren’t financially qualified or even in the market to buy a home. Our open houses would often attract 50+ people and were full of curious neighbours and what we affectionately refer to as ‘professional open-housers’ – people we see repeatedly over months and years, who have no real intentions of buying a home. 

COVID-19 changed everything: 

  • Buyers now house-hunt from the safety and comfort of their homes and have embraced new tools and online experiences. 
  • These days, Buyers only see a home in person if they are qualified, motivated and interested – which means Sellers get fewer showings, but from more serious Buyers. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to have 50 or 60 showings booked in a week and get 4 or 5 offers on ‘offer night’. Today, we often get the same results with just 10 or 15 showings. 

These changes in consumer behaviour aren’t just in real estate – we don’t browse in stores like we used to either. We do our research online, get in the store, locate what we want and get out.  

This is good news for Buyers, Sellers and REALTORS too – it means we don’t have to go running back to the old ways of doing things and can embrace change.  

2. We Are Still in the Midst of a Pandemic

While we’re excited about many Phase 3 re-openings, we all know the virus is still with us and we don’t want to be responsible for contributing to a second wave and another lockdown. At the BREL team, we go to great lengths to show and sell homes safely and inviting 50 random people into a home that’s for sale just doesn’t feel like a responsible thing to do – especially when there are better, more effective marketing alternatives. 

3. We Have a Responsibility to Protect Our Sellers 

Understandably, Sellers are nervous about inviting people into their homes these days and most share our goal of restricting access to qualified and motivated Buyers vs opening the flood-gates to the masses. Sellers don’t want to expose their families to the virus either. 

Frequent cleaning, mask-wearing, hand-washing and sanitizing aren’t fool-proof and it would be nearly impossible to monitor it all during a busy open house. There are also the additional challenges of maintaining a contact-tracing list, protecting our Sellers’ personal property while physically-distanced and managing the wrath from angry neighbours. I just don’t see how we can adequately protect our Sellers during an open house.

4. We Have a Responsibility to Protect Our Agents Too

Conducting an open house has always been a high-risk activity for REALTORS – I can’t imagine many homeowners would personally welcome strangers with fake names and phone numbers into their home. There have been too many stories of assaults and robberies during open houses and we ourselves, have had more than a few run-ins with questionable characters. 

Enter COVID-19. Now, it’s not just personal safety we’re worried about – it’s our health too. Our agents have the training, systems, equipment and policies in place to show homes safely to Buyers – but we aren’t security guards. It just doesn’t make sense to put our agents in the middle of mask battles and stranger confrontations at open houses when that’s not what we’re trained to do. 

5. There Are Better Ways to Sell a Home Than an Open House

Truth: Most open houses were never about selling your home – they were an opportunity for your REALTOR to meet potential Buyers.

Any honest agent will tell you that the chances of selling a home to someone who attends an open house are extremely low – the National Association of REALTORS gives them a 6% success rate. The chances of your agent meeting an unrepresented Buyer at an open house? 90%. It’s easy to see why REALTORS have been promoting them for so many years.

One of the best outcomes of the pandemic has been forcing digital and virtual on outdated industries like real estate. Video, virtual tours, floor plans, virtual open houses, immersive online experiences – there are so many better ways to expose a home to potential Buyers. And it’s working! While the BREL team has always been digital-first, we’ve experimented with new ways of reaching Buyers during the last few months and have been astounded at the results. In fact, I’d argue that our ability to expose a home to the right Buyers is far greater than it ever was pre-pandemic. 

As I write this today, I’m not just a REALTOR – I’m an active Seller and a Buyer too (you can see the listing for my house here). 

As a Seller in this market, I want to maximize my price and minimize how long it takes to sell my house. As an experienced REALTOR during a pandemic, I know this is best accomplished by hiring a REALTOR who:

  • Embraces digital and virtual over in-person (it’s what the Buyers want)
  • Has a proven track record of marketing homes on AND off the MLS
  • Creates a safe environment for Buyers and their agents to see my home
  • Makes the safety of my home and my family a priority by focusing on serious and qualified Buyers vs. looky-loos.
  • Embraces new strategies that work instead of reverting to old tactics that were never very effective and were not really about selling my home

As a Buyer right now, I know that I can explore homes online, and when I find one that’s a contender, I can schedule a private showing with a REALTOR, at a time that works for me, with all the right safety precautions in place. 

When the pandemic arrived in March, we were part of the drive to ban open houses across Ontario. With the arrival of Phase 3, we are supportive of the cautionary guidance from OREA about open houses – it’s just not right for us. 

Find out more about Selling with BREL here.

Find out more about Buying with BREL here

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