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B.C.'s road to recovery: Pandemic could usher in online era of property sales

Buyers and sellers will face changed market landscape after lifting of restrictions
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Assessed values for single-family homes in Whistler rose, on average, by five per cent last year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WHISTLER REAL ESTATE COMPANY

Buying real estate is likely never to be the same as it was before COVID-19 restrictions were introduced into the marketplace.

Significant logistical limits to buying a home are currently in place, but with an expected easing of pandemic-related health advisories over time, a new online buying and selling landscape will emerge as the new norm, according to Dinnell Real Estate Group.

Real estate sales have been declared an essential service in B.C., and property sales have continued during the COVID-19 lockdown – although in significantly limited capacity.

The sector is one of a few that has not entirely shut down, so buyers and sellers have had to quickly adapt.

Until at least some public health advisories are lifted, B.C. residents can expect a slower and different process to buying and selling a home as the Real Estate Council of British Columbia (RECBC) encourages limiting in-person interactions, which are typically the norm for transactions. The most apparent shift has been the cancellation of open houses – not a legal requirement but rather a recommendation of the RECBC and one that is supported by the BC Real Estate Association (BCREA) via the cancellation of bookings and notices on the Multiple Listing Service website.

Realtors Angela Dinnell and Chris Dinnell said virtual open houses will likely persist, but they hope that in-person viewings will not become a thing of the past.

Angela Dinnell, however, sees realty services being pushed further into the digital realm.

"How can we evolve and do the same things in our business as we did before and do them online? We're doing that now," she said.

The Home Inspectors Association of BC has published guidelines for inspectors entering homes. In the near term, inspections may be delayed as a result of owners who are sick, isolating or have had possible contact with the ill. Inspectors are to conduct an inspection alone, with various precautions.

And expect to see more online documentation regardless of when restrictions ease.

For instance, the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia is now allowing remote witnessing of affidavits in support of land title applications. This practice enables only lawyers and notaries to remotely witness affidavits, at the direction of the Law Society of BC.

As restrictions ease and people become more accommodating to online interactions and sales activity picks up, buyers, sellers and realtors will need to make more judgment calls.

"Common sense is important," Kim Spencer, BCREA manager of professional services, said in a BCREA podcast.

"Since real estate is an essential service, professionals are relieved of liability if someone contracts COVID-19 at a showing, unless of course there is "absolute negligence."

He advises everyone to document health advice and known health risks.

This story is part of a series on the next steps for B.C. businesses across a wide range of sectors as the province edges closer to the easing of COVID-19 safety measures. Check out all previous stories in this series, and stay tuned for further stories being published throughout this week.<

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