I’m not really one for anniversaries.
And when it comes to a relationship, aren’t there already enough days that require celebration?
My wife’s birthday. Check. That’s one I try not to forget.
Valentine’s Day. Ugh. I guess, check. My wife knows it’s a date invented by the flower/chocolate/diamond consortium, but she sets her baseline expectation at a simple card. If I can’t do that, then I don’t deserve her.
Wedding anniversary. I guess it’s an occasion worth nothing, but does it too require a card or flowers? How often? Like, every year?
First meeting anniversary. Okay, now this is getting to be too much. Yes, we met on Halloween of 2010. But can’t Halloween simply be about miniature chocolate bars that get smaller and smaller every year and the dwindling number of costumes that are not found offensive in today’s society? Does Halloween really have to be a reminder of when we first met?
Anniversaries come in all different forms and have different meanings to different people.
Some anniversaries are good and some are bad. I shudder every September when I hear the words “9/11” and “anniversary” used together, as I’m one of those people who sort of feels there’s a positivity associated with an anniversary, but the word “anniversary” isn’t inherently positive
How about losing a loved one, and celebrating that person’s life every year on the anniversary of their passing? That’s making a negative into a positive via an anniversary.
So how did you feel last week when we had the first real COVID “anniversary?”
The anniversary of the first known case of COVID in Canada was back in January, and we could go back to early-January or even into December if we want to talk about anniversaries of breaking news, or declarations of a “pandemic” worldwide.
But for me, the date that’s etched in my brain is March 17th. That’s the day the world started to turn in the other direction.
On Monday, March 16th, 2020, the world was turning just fine, and our real estate universe had remained relatively unscathed from a pandemic perspective. That night, I was reviewing offers on a Regent Park condo listing I had. I distinctly remember sitting at my desk in my home office – the very same desk I’m sitting at right now, as I type this, without a clue what was about to transpire the next day.
I just looked in my file for that property and the Excel spreadsheet with the summary of offers was last saved at 11:24pm on March 16th, 2020. How ironic! At that time, I was putting the finishing touches on a $624,000 sale, after eight offers, on a $499,000 list price, representing a new record in the building for either a 1-bedroom or on a per-square-foot basis.
And the next day, the world changed.
The next day, on Tuesday, a state of emergency was declared! We were all in the office, not really sure what to make of this. But suddenly the idea that we’d avoid disruption to our market and our day-today-dealings in it was quickly put to rest.
By Wednesday, my team was boxing up their computers and taking them home. I remember my marketing manager, Sneha, coming by my house to pick up a folding table (one that I used for chicken wings, dip, and chips when the boys came over – something we haven’t done since…) so she could set up her computer and monitors at home. I stood on the lawn, waving as she drove away. “It’ll only be for a week or two, don’t worry!”
I didn’t see her in the office again until August.
The real estate world stopped turning on March 18th, and I had to tell all of my clients that we weren’t proceeding with listings. I didn’t list another property, or sell to another buyer, for the rest of March. And in April, I had one listing, which was a “need to sell,” not “want to sell.”
From March through June, something interesting happened: we all learned how to navigate the Toronto real estate market. People simply couldn’t stop buying and selling. It wasn’t practical. The show had to go on. So buyers, sellers, agents, home inspectors, stagers, photographers, and the like all had to learn how to change their ways in order to stay safe and be responsible.
Here we are, almost one year later, and the way that we list, buy, and sell real estate has changed.
Some of these changes are temporary, and others are here for good.
Let me run through the biggest changes as I see them, and the ramifications and unintended consequences of each…
It goes without saying that the way we have changed as a society, in our day-to-day lives, is going to change how we look at real estate.
I haven’t gone inside somebody else’s house or condo without wearing a mask since March of last year, but then again, I haven’t gone inside anywhere without a mask since then!
Just as we’ve adopted mask-wearing as a part of our new normal, we all do this in showings. As we should.
But we’ve also come to terms with any and all instructions from the sellers, whereas we used to roll our eyes and sigh.
I showed a property two weeks ago where the listing agent insisted that we put out both hands so he could personally squeeze hand sanitizer into each of our hands, and he said, “Rub it,” and watched, as though we were in Silence of The Lambs. Or jail. Not sure which…
I recently received a small opus in place of “showing instructions,” which detailed, among other things, that we were to wear masks, gloves, and shoe covers, but most importantly: dispose of them OFF-SITE!
Simply put: whatever the seller says, goes.
Pre-pandemic, dare I say that some buyers and buyer agents would take on the “This is stupid,” attitude, as though the sellers’ wishes didn’t matter. But today, nobody would dare.
So what are the ramifications, if any?
Two weeks ago, I showed a property to buyers that had massive showing restrictions – only three days out of seven, as well as a laundry list of protocols. Showings were also only 15-minutes long (more on this later). I think that the combination of the quick showings, inflexible schedule and protocols meant far fewer buyers got through the property, and as a result, only two offers came through on the scheduled offer date. My buyers got a sweet deal there.
No Double Bookings
This is, hands-down, the biggest change since the pandemic began, and it’s had the biggest impact as well.
Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to have six different buyer agents book a viewing at the exact same time, and we saw no problem with this!
Four agents booked for 5:30pm, two more at 5:45pm, and three at 6:00pm? No matter! Just give them all the lockbox code, and hope they know how to share!
I swear, half the time, you’d just show up and the door would be open, but nobody knew who had the key. It was an open house without being an open house, and while this sounds scary to some of you home-owners, the alternative was to drastically reduce showings, therefore reducing the number of offers you’d receive, and thus the price while you’re at it.
Once in a while, I’d go to book a showing and I’d get a non-confirmation: “NON-CONF APPT SCHEDULED SAME TIME NO DOUBLE-BOOKINGS PLS REBOOK.”
Really? No way! Must be a mistake!
Agents, myself included, would go nuts over this! How dare that listing agent play God with the front door! Imagine he or she not wanting agents to go at the same time? Do they know how busy the market is?
Today, no reputable brokerage allows double-bookings. And to be honest, when I receive an email from the listing brokerage saying that my appointment is confirmed but there’s another showing at the same time, it’s always one of the also-ran brokerages.
So what are the ramifications, if any?
Oh, it’s madness.
I just spoke to a listing agent for a property that’s not even on the market yet, but for which his “FOR SALE” sign is up, and he’s already getting calls. He said that I can call his brokerage to pre-book a viewing, since the listing isn’t on MLS until Wednesday, but showing times will book up fast!
If a new listing hits the market on a Monday morning at 9am, by 1pm, all of the showing-times from 4pm to 9pm that night will be booked. Guaranteed.
No longer can a client email us and say, “It’s short notice, but can we go in an hour?” We can, I suppose if nobody has booked that time-slot already.
Time-slot. That’s probably the 2021 real estate term of the year.
Time-slot. Book ’em now, or you’ll regret it!
I can’t tell you how often an agent in my office will lament, “My buyers wanna get into Riverdale but there are no showing times until Friday!”
As a result, some buyers are making offers on properties sight-unseen, but that’s a sexier story than it is a reality. I know of two agents who have actually done this, and yet I’ve heard the proverbial tale a dozen times.
So when the pandemic is over, will we go back to double-bookings? Or did we figure this thing out?
I had over 60 showings on my Bloor West Village listing in the space of one week. Could I have had 80 if there were double-bookings? Would it have mattered? Would a buyer who is serious about this property not go out of their way to see it on Sunday at 10am, or Friday night at 7pm?
The jury is still out on this one…
Half-Hour Showings Only (Sometimes Less…)
In January of this year, I met at a semi-detached house on Balliol Avenue with new clients. This was the first house they had seen.
It was a 4:00pm showing on a Saturday. That much, I remember.
Upon entering the home, they both slowly took off their coats, hats, and scarves, and neatly folded them and placed them on the couch.
They slowly took in the sights, and then looked at each other and said, “Where should we start?”
My mind runs at a different speed altogether, and I realize that many people think I’m insane. But this was a speed with which I was unfamiliar, and it was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
They were both new to real estate; one of them from New York, born and raised, the other coming home after years away. They made themselves so comfortable in that house, I swear I thought they were going to crawl into bed.
What was so ironic about this was that every showing we go out on, in 2021, happens in fast-forward. Every showing is a half-hour in length, just as there are no double-bookings, and if you’re inside the house at 4:00pm on the nose, you can guarantee that a buyer or his/her agent is on the front lawn by 4:20pm, lurking, and then is up on the front porch by 4:25pm.
In the case of my clients at Balliol, the irony of all ironies, there didn’t seem to be a showing after us!
So by 5:00pm, when the next showing was taking place, and that agent was gently waving at the front door, my clients looked at each other and said, “What do you think? Should we go through again, or do you want to head out? Have we seen it?”
They had absolutely no idea how lucky they were to get an hour in a Toronto property in January of 2021. But trust me: I explained it to them once we got outside.
That was the last time they ever had that experience.
The next property we saw, there were three groups of people waiting out front, one agent who said she had a showing confirmation, but wouldn’t show me her iPhone, and agents were barking at one-another minutes before showing times expired.
These clients and I saw another dozen houses, all with 30-minutes or less.
And the last house we saw was the best: fifteen-minute showings only.
I told them in advance that these were the instructions, that the tenants were a nightmare, and that the listing agent’s assistant had to meet us there. But after sixteen minutes, the assistant didn’t tell us to leave. Not after seventeen, not after eighteen. It wasn’t until we’d had a full half-hour that she said, “Ya know………I………..ugh…………sorta gotta………..ummm,” and by that time, we’d seen the house.
Many of you must marvel at the insanity of dropping $1,600,000 on a house that you saw for fifteen minutes, but that’s the market in 2021.
Will this stick around?
I’m not sure. If we implement a “no double-bookings” policy long-term, then it’s possible…
No More In-Person Offer Nights
The year is 2018.
You’re out for a jog on a crisp night in October.
Upon passing down the street, you can’t help but notice that there’s one block, on one side of the street, where a procession of Mercedes, BMW’s, Audi’s, and Lexus’ are all parked, with drivers sitting in the front seats, and the interior lights on.
“Ahhhhh,” you think as you try not to slip on those wet leaves, “There must be an offer night for that house that’s for sale.”
This was very, very common in Toronto for a long, long time.
And as of 2021, I’m here to say that this process is gone and I don’t ever think it’s coming back.
For years, we would present our offers in person, either at the house or at the listing brokerage. On the buy-side, I loved this. I relished the opportunity to watch the sellers and/or the listing agent and try to pick up cues and clues. I once presented an offer for a house in the Junction and the listing agent had the one competing offer sitting on the chair next to me. I saw the price, and when she suggested that I improve my offer, I refused. I wouldn’t have got that if I weren’t in person.
I’m not a poker player, but I was very good at watching body language in these cases. Is the seller biting the pen-cap? Did she flare her nostrils when the listing agent read out our price? Honestly, I was at a dining room table once when the seller said, “Wow-wa-wee-wa” when his agent noted our offer price. The agent literally face-palmed, and then looked up at me as if to say, “Well, I guess our cards have been shown, right?”
On the sell-side, I have zero use for in-person offer presentations. In fact, I prefer to avoid them altogether for the reasons I just mentioned above.
Since 2017, I’ve been doing an overwhelming majority of my “offer nights” over email, and it’s only when a seller requests an in-person presentation, or when I think it can be used to my advantage (ie. a higher-price property where the buyer agents see each other in the lobby of our brokerage, and competitive juices start flowing) that I’ll actually have the procession come through the living room of the house or the conference room of the brokerage.
I prefer a controlled environment, behind my computer monitors, with my earphones in, and no distractions.
It’s also far more efficient and the sellers prefer it.
If you have twenty-two offers on a listing, you know most of them to have no shot of being “the one.” So do you really want twenty-two buyer agents trekking through your home?
I will almost certainly never go back to in-person presentations, and while some folks will suggest that this makes it too impersonal, I honestly don’t believe that more than a handful of sellers want to know each and every name of every would-be buyer for their home.
So what are the ramifications of this new virtual offer presentation?
It saves us a lot of time, energy, effort, and emotions on behalf of both buyers and sellers. A buyer no longer has to submit an offer at 7pm and wait until midnight to find out his or her fate. Many agents are doing offers mid-day now (personally, I don’t do any 7pm’s anymore), and some agents have the property sold within a half-hour.
There’s no question that this is a better system, in my mind. But you know there are a lot of agents and buyers out there that are ego-maniacs and miss the power-trip of watching all those sad-sacks plead their cases…
No More Keys With Lawyers
Last, but not least, a small change of note: we are no longer having to deal with lawyers and their inability to deliver keys on time.
I shouldn’t say that. It’s not the lawyer’s fault, or at least not all their fault.
Traditionally, the seller would provide keys to his or her lawyer, who would then courier the keys to the buyer’s lawyer, and the buyer’s lawyer would give the keys to the buyer upon closing.
Can you see how easily this gets screwed up?
Factor in multiple paralegals, assistants, and agents who say they can help facilitate, and it’s an epic mess.
Now, what about the buyer who uses his friend’s uncle based in Barrie? How helpful is that when you want the keys for a Friday-closing before a long weekend?
I have never understood this system, and honestly, I tried to improve it!
For years, I suggested that my sellers leave the unit keys, mailbox keys, parking FOB, and door access cards/fobs in the unit on the kitchen counter, and then leave one unit key in my lockbox. When the deal officially closes, we can release the lockbox code to the buyer’s agent, and VOILA! Easy-peasy!
Try telling that to a power-tripping lawyer, or an old-school lawyer, or a power-tripping old-school lawyer.
Nope. No dice. They want the keys in their hands, because, wait for it, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Do you know how many times my buyers have closed on a property and not received the keys that day because their lawyer’s office was closed?
Well, good news! The pandemic has minimized person-to-person contact, and thus a new system has been adopted.
Oh, and you’ll never guess what the new system is.
Well, it’s simple! Sellers leave the unit keys, mailbox keys, parking FOB, and door access cards/fobs in the unit on the kitchen counter, and then leave one unit key in the lockbox.
So will this change catch on, long-term? I see no reason why not!
The Globe & Mail editorial board put out an article about it being “time” for a capital gains tax on primary residences.
Anybody want to write the Friday Rant for me, or should I just let nature take its course?Back To Top Back To Comments