Real estate market slows to a crawl during pandemic

WELLINGTON COUNTY –Real estate agents are working through the COVID-19 epidemic, but business is slow, said Matt Bennett-Monty, president of the Guelph and District Association of Realtors.

“We’ve seen recessions, but you can always still try and hustle through a recession. With this, the vast majority of us are not hustling as we look at the big picture. This is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” he said in a phone interview April 2.

Bennett-Monty said anyone with a closing date that falls within this time period can still make their move, even while the province is in a state of emergency and people are told to stay home.

“The sales can go through. The land registry office is open, and solicitors are still processing these transactions. And we [real estate agents] are still involved in that. But the numbers are not coming through the pipe,” he said.

Most agents can provide virtual showings for their listings, but most buyers don’t want to buy based on a virtual tour on its own. There are a lot of lookers, but not so many buyers right now. And rightly so, he added.

“We are respecting physical distancing,” Bennett-Monty said. “We’re working from home and doing our work electronically.

“But if a showing becomes necessary, with permission from the homeowner and the other agent, [home viewings] can be arranged. It seems to be going well,” he said. “But sellers can also seek a suspension of their listing and we’re seeing a lot of that, too.”

Bennett-Monty said the market before the pandemic was hot and fundamentally, that hasn’t changed.

“People still haven’t quenched their thirst for real estate,” he said. “There’s a pent-up demand and a lack of inventory. When this is over, recovery could be a year or a year-and-a-half away. But I think the market will bounce back, and I think the local market will bounce back before that.”

Audrey Dyce Peacock, an agent at Royal LePage in Arthur, said she’s not showing homes and not holding or attending open houses while the country is in lock-down.

“There’s definitely a need for realtors to be working – people need homes – but this is not the time for us to be knocking on doors and drumming up business,” she said.

Dyce Peacock said she’s taken a financial hit personally as home sales have plummeted as a result of social distancing, but not as hard as other agents she knows. She said so far, there’s no emergency relief packages coming from Ottawa aimed at helping real estate agents.

But she worries more about the long-term impact on the economy and how that will shake out for individuals and families once the pandemic is over.

“When the mortgage rates rose to 22 per cent (in the early 1980s), a lot of people lost their homes and I worry the same will happen.

“This is a major catastrophe people have to live through. It depends on how long this lasts, but I don’t think we really know yet what the impact will be,” she said.

Dyce Peacock said it was a seller’s market before the pandemic hit and it really depends on the government’s continued aid once it’s over as to whether home values will hold or crash.

“If the government helps people hold on to their houses, homes should retain their value. But if they don’t, we will see a lot of Power of Sales and then the value won’t be stable.

“Canada has been lucky that the government put into place what they did to avoid personal debt. Because who is going to take the worst hit? It’s people who were in weak financial situations to start with,” she said.