The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the residential real estate industry across the country as brokerages – big and small – are adapting to the realities presented by the current crisis.

Small boutique and independent real estate brokerages have been hit hard but the industry is turning to technology to weather the massive turbulent storm during these times and set the foundation for the future.

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Adam Stern
Adam Stern

“Although we’re dealing with substantial sales volume being down, a very big problem for brokerages is how they operate in a new climate with such an emphasis on digital now,” says Adam Stern, president of resale at PSR Brokerage in Toronto.

“Digital technology has always been kind of like a nice addition to our business. This has made it really obvious that it’s crucial without it . . . I think we’ve always known as an industry there’s going to be disruption. I think what COVID has done is put that disruption on steroids and made it to deal with the now.”

PSR was started in 2010 but Stern and his partner took over the brokerage in 2018. It has three offices in Toronto with about 100 real estate agents.

“The big thing about PSR is we have a very substantial pre-construction division as well. On top of 100 resale agents, we represent developers selling their units on projects. That provides a very different type of business model for PSR in comparison to others,” says Stern, who has a background in old-school brokerages, having worked in management and trained 3,000 sales reps.

In April, sales in the GTA decreased by 67 per cent compared to last year. New listings are down by 64 per cent.

“That hurts. All brokerages, all real estate companies,” says Stern. He says his firm is about to launch a proprietary mobile and desktop app “which creates a virtual brokerage essentially. That’s the good news of COVID for a company like PSR. It’s really positioned us well to show people what we’ve been thinking.”

He says the new app is “like a digital marketing agency in the palms of all our agents’ hands. We take care of all their digital content, all their branding, all their paid advertisements on social media for their listings, helping to expose their listings digitally to different audiences.”

Jared Chamberlain
Jared Chamberlain

Jared Chamberlain, broker of Chamberlain Real Estate Group in Calgary, says the lack of sales obviously has been the biggest impact on the brokerage.

“I’m not really concerned about these couple of months, it’s more June, July, August when we should be having a ton of possessions and a lot of people making transitions. So when we’ve typically been used to having hundreds of families move into their new homes, I do feel like we’ll hit those numbers and still be able to help because we’ve invested a ton of money on our online marketing and growing our business that way,” says Chamberlain.

“That’s also allowed us to be really creative during this time. We’ve had to cut back on hours of staff, and as transactions are happening we can add hours in. We’re just being really, really conscious of cash flow.”

Chamberlain and his wife Rebecca started in real estate in 2004-2005. At the end of 2017, the independent brokerage was established. It has 11 Realtors.

When COVID-19 hit full force, the brokerage was able to pivot quickly. It was one of the first in the market to do virtual open houses.

“It really positioned us in the sense of saying we’re not shutting down. We’re going to pivot and be unique and keep on pushing,” says Chamberlain.

The brokerage has also used the digital space to do creative and fun activities such as an Easter egg hunt online on Easter weekend, where digital eggs were hidden in houses. It also started a blog series on its website, telling stories about what its Realtors have been doing while working at home.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Robert C Simpson,

    I find your comment is unfounded for the most part.

    Realtors are in the same boat with most Canadians: both listings and sales are down 60-70% amid the covid outbreak across all markets, which directly affects Realtors’ livelihood.

    Realtors were deemed essential service providers under covid-19. If anyone out there needed to move (caught in between selling and buying a home, divorces, estate sales, lost income, job relocations) during covid-19, their Realtor would not tell them “sorry, you are on your own, I can’t help you”.

    Any Realtor worth their salt, donates to charity and, in the light of the covid outbreak, many came forward offering both financial and emotional support to those in need.

    I recently came across a list of supporters of a Canadian charity operated by a Real Estate corporation. There were THOUSANDS of names on that list. All of them were Canadian Realtors.

    Real Estate is a regulated industry, so if a particular Realtor’s behavior during these difficult times does not sit well with you, I suggest that you address it with them and their managers.

    Please check your facts prior to posting publicly.

    P. S. Most if not all public events, including conferences in “New York LA or Paris”, have been cancelled. Again, please check your facts.

  2. Apps virtual showings and new business approaches may help but the industry as it was known is forever changed. Now more than ever consumers are highly aware of their debt and how close to financial ruin they really are. People have also learned how to make do with what they have and how much excess crap they really unnecessarily have. Lots of time to clean house over the past two months.

    The flash and sizzle of the Mercedes driving agent and expensive offices combined with international awards events is all funded from the equity of homeowners who have worked hard to attain is no longer seen as success. Its simply disgusting.

    The brag and showy social media is a turn off. Family medial practices are at risk of not reopening, medical doctors who have studied for decades to specialize in heart brain and cancer treatments and surgeries have not been paid other than virtual patient consultations. Large chain retailers are closing stores (The Bay) in 2 major cities, Government Relocations have been stopped and or delayed. People don’t want to see posts of overpriced luxury homes and home office video productions of look how great I am and look what big commissions can buy.

    This pandemic will force many out of the business and that is a good think. Hopefully some of the more established long term brokerage owners will pull back on the flash and sizzle and bragging posts. Perhaps fund the food bank over over attending a “Conference” New York LA or Paris. Seriously agents train online and sell a house. Leave the international conference to the scientists and researchers trying to find a cure or vaccine for COVID-19.

    A more modest approach will be the successful approach. As house prices and sales volumes settled to new lower levels so should commissions. The new home and development sales Adam Stern refers to is simply adding yet another surcharge to a nee home and for what? So the buyer adds another $50k to their mortgage to cover his commission? Buy direct and avoid the additional costs.

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