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.
“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, 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.