Pandemic shifts property sales into digital realm

Virtual home tours have become common, while online auctions are planned

(Left to right) Chantal Kowalski, managing broker, with managing partners Greg Paddy and Theo Birkner of North Vancouver’s Harcourts brokerage | Rob Kruyt

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted businesses around the world to shift a lot of transactions online.

Some are convinced that the online transition will fundamentally reshape the Metro Vancouver real estate sector, although some established marketers remain skeptical.

Realtors have progressively provided clients with online videos of homes for sale, and websites such as have started to add property listings that have virtual tours to give buyers a better sense of what homes look like. The pandemic has accelerated demand for virtual tours as some buyers and sellers want to limit physical access to properties.

The new reality for some realtors is that they speak with clients on smartphones as they walk around homes, and show the clients the property via video on FaceTime or other apps.

Vancouver’s “condo king,” Rennie Marketing Systems principal Bob Rennie, however, doubts that B.C. real estate buyers will turn to online auctions to execute property transactions.

“Auctions don’t work in Canada,” he told BIV.

He added that he has no plans to “implement a long-term solution for a short-term problem.”

Rennie’s senior vice-president, Greg Zayadi, said the pandemic has prompted the company to provide buyers with more information on the phone or in emails before the buyers make appointments to visit sales centres.

“The amount of sales we’re getting off the appointments has increased,” Zayadi said. “People who are interacting with [sales centre representatives] are much more serious and qualified.”

Others believe that online auctions will increase.

The North Vancouver branch of New Zealand-based Harcourts has been selling B.C. homes in online auctions since 2017.

Five bidders took part on July 9 in a Harcourts auction for a Squamish home. They were able to see the most recent bid in real time and to continue bidding until the auction closed. An accepted bid is now in the process of closing.

Among the homes Harcourts has sold in online auctions are a luxury home at 4310 Rockridge Road in West Vancouver for more than $5.5 million in 2018 and homes at 14210 Malabar Avenue in White Rock for almost $1.8 million and at 2350 Ottawa Avenue in West Vancouver for more than $2.4 million, last year.

Upcoming auctions are set for July 23 and August 6, although no Metro Vancouver properties are likely to be in online auctions until later in August, Harcourts principal Greg Paddy said.

“The actual auction livestream is only a small part of the sales process, but it does allow people to participate from wherever they may be," he said.

“We’ve had inquiries for [future] auctions from as far away as Invermere, Prince George, Kelowna, and Vancouver Island. We get more calls in a week from people who are looking for another solution for selling their homes than we’ve ever had before.”

He acknowledged that, in the past, most B.C. online auction property sales were for bare farmland.

Indeed, Burnaby-based Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (TSX:RBA; NYSE:RBA), which has operations in 12 countries, has sold B.C. farmland in online auctions.

“The vast majority of what we do is sell equipment and trucks,” Ritchie Bros. spokesman Ian Malinski told BIV. “When it comes to real estate that we’ve auctioned, it’s mainly just farmland, but we occasionally sell some recreational properties, and some maybe property related to a business.”

He added that the company has no plans to get into the business of selling B.C. homes.

Harcourts is, however, poised to get some upstart competition.

B.C.'s Lambert Premier Auctions, which originated in Kelowna, has partnered with Vancouver’s Luxury Alliance Group (LAG) to create Vancouver Luxury Real Estate Auction and hold a series of online auctions for up to nine luxury Metro Vancouver properties starting in late August, Lambert CEO Alec Lambert told BIV.

Lambert has auctioned six B.C. homes since 2013, with most of those sales involving Okanagan properties at physical auction sites.

He developed an online platform last year and is partnering with LAG, he said, because LAG principal Craig Stowe has a “significant database” of high-end buyers in Metro Vancouver who may want to buy real estate.

“We’ve got it to the point where we’re confidently going to be able to do multiple homes per year, and multiple homes at one time,” Lambert said. “We have three homes for the first auction.”

Properties in the auctions are expected to be in North Vancouver, West Vancouver and the west side of Vancouver, while dates for the auctions have yet to be set. •