COVID-19 has changed the way Canadians buy real estate. Say goodbye to open houses, Realtor showings and in-person paperwork with your mortgage broker, and say hello to virtual tours, video conferencing and e-signatures. Industry experts say technology was set to play a larger role in the homebuying process anyway, but social distancing has accelerated the pace. Here’s how tech is helping get Canadians home.
As any house hunter knows, real estate listings rely on more than just photos these days. Slideshows, video and 3D renderings are visual elements that buyers have come to expect. While most serious buyers say they would want an eventual in-person viewing, a May 2020 Nanos/Ontario Real Estate Association survey shows that 42% of Ontario house hunters would be open/somewhat open to buying a home using only online tools to view it.
Anurag Kumar and his wife took possession of their first home in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Kumar says he and his wife were already amenable to tech-based house hunting strategies: “We went on virtual tours, and video conferences and e-signatures were the other major tools we used,” along with a few socially distanced home viewings.
Home inspections were down 50 to 70 percent during this year’s early spring real estate market, however, home inspectors were able to work by following social distancing and by donning hazmat suits and respirators. Communication with prospective homebuyers was maintained via phone or video call. If Canada sees another wave of coronavirus this coming fall/winter, this may be the workaround the industry continues to use.
For homeowners seeking mortgage refinancing, appraisals are heading towards tech-based collaboration between homeowner and home appraiser. Guidelines from the Appraisal Institute of Canada direct homeowners to take interior photos, and to conduct video-based walkthrough “inspections” for appraisers via video-call using apps like Zoom, Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp.
The financial side of homebuying has experienced a similar fast-tracking of technology, says 8Twelve Mortgage COO and Principal Broker, Akber Abbas – although some organizations have been better equipped to respond than others.
“As a mortgage brokerage, we were well-suited for COVID. We were moving towards a paperless environment and being cloud-ready in Canadian data centres. Back in 2018, we had started putting plans together to enable us to maintain our operations and continuity,” he explains.
“When COVID hit, everyone [at 8Twelve Mortgage] was able to literally pick up their laptops, being in a secure environment, and start working from home. We were able to service clients. We were still able to get approvals moving forward,” says Abbas, contrasting that with tech-adverse companies that were ill-equipped for social distancing. “Some brokerages in Canada didn’t have CRM solutions in place, or e-signatures, or even Zoom video conferencing. These were all part of our repertoire,” he says.
COVID has forced those who were caught by surprise to catch-up fast, whether it’s home mortgage lenders embracing video conferencing, or banks onboarding businesses faster for remote deposit capture of checks to facilitate electronic payments.
Canadians are living in unprecedented times. For companies like 8Twelve Mortgage, tech solutions have proven pandemic-ready, helping first-time homeowners secure the best mortgage rates and established homeowners restructure a mortgage without delay. “The market is catching up to where our business capabilities were,” says Abbas.
According to first-time homeowner Anurag Kumar, technology is only as good as the people wielding it. “We can use all the technology we want, but the human touch is different – trust me, I work in IT, so that’s something I am not supposed to say. Our 8Twelve Mortgage agent, Muhammad Mirza, helped us throughout the process by answering our calls at night, our emails, and through video calls and so on. He gave us his professional help and guidelines,” every step of the way, says Kumar, sharing his experience via email from his first home in Milton, ON.