As the Omicron variant continues to drive a spike in COVID-19 cases across Ontario, there may be an impact for those in the real estate industry or those looking to complete a purchase or sale before or after the upcoming holidays.
This blog post will look at how the Omicron variant wave and COVID-19 public health restrictions are impacting:
- First time homebuyers;
- Condominium corporations; and,
- Residential real estate transactions generally.
In many ways, the real estate industry has been somewhat immune to the restrictions imposed by governments in response to the coronavirus. Real estate sales have been considered an essential service throughout the pandemic. The Milton and Mississauga real estate markets have, if anything, become even more heated as the pressure for space associated with work from home has caused people to purchase larger homes farther out from their workplace.
However, in other ways, the pandemic has changed the Ontario residential real estate process. Technology has played a much bigger role than before. It was unheard of to purchase or lease a property after only viewing it virtually, but we are seeing more and more situations like this. Additionally, electronic signatures and electronic documents are increasingly becoming the norm.
First-Time Homebuyers are Impacted by Omicron and COVID-19 Restrictions
For first-time homebuyers, the real estate process is all new, so it can be hard to distinguish what is normal and what has changed due to the pandemic and public health restrictions.
Open houses are traditionally a time where buyers can view a property without an appointment and can attend without their buying agent during a designated period of time – often on a weekend afternoon. Many properties are currently being sold without traditional open houses due to the pandemic.
However, even when there are open houses or scheduled home viewings, homebuyers may be asked to take precautions that wouldn’t have been in place prior to COVID-19, such as:
- Hand sanitizing stations at the door or throughout the property;
- Realtors advising or even signs indicating you are not permitted to touch areas of the home including doors, cabinets, blinds, etc;
- COVID-19 symptom screening; and
- Requirements to wear personal protective gear, including masks, gloves, etc.
All of this, combined with vaccination status, can make the home buying process more complicated, especially for first-time homebuyers.
As of October 25, 2021, there are two options for open houses – sellers can impose a vaccine mandate with fewer public health restrictions, or sellers can host open houses without a vaccine mandate, but with more extensive public health restrictions. We will discuss the provincial rules for each of these in detail below.
In the event the seller chooses to host an open house and requires proof of vaccination to enter the building, the government’s restrictions are more limited. At the time of writing, the primary requirements are:
- The seller must verify vaccination status;
- The seller must ensure there is conspicuous signage indicating that vaccines are required; and,
- Individuals must maintain physical distance on the property.
For open houses without vaccine mandates, the seller and seller realtor must limit the number of people inside and must operate the open house in a manner consistent with local public health guidance. The selling real estate agent must also screen people prior to entry, require masks, manage the line outside to ensure physical distancing and have a safety plan available for viewing about how they plan to reduce the risk of transmission during the open house.
It is not only first-time homebuyers who are being impacted by changing public health restrictions. Condominium corporations that manage common areas are being impacted by changes to indoor and outdoor gathering limits.
As of December 19, 2021, the Ontario Government implemented new restrictions on indoor gatherings and outdoor gatherings. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people.
Condominium corporations who manage indoor amenities such as pools, gyms or party rooms must ensure that there are no more than 10 people using those amenities at one time. Condominium corporations who manage shared outdoor amenities such as playgrounds or shared rooftop terraces must ensure there are no more than 25 individuals using those spaces at one time.
Many condominium corporations are choosing to close common elements. Please note that there is nothing in the new public health orders or guidance that requires those common elements to reopen.
Omicron Impacts Residential Real Estate Transactions
If you are engaging in a residential real estate transaction, this can be one of the largest purchases or sales of your life. Yet, somehow you may end up with less than a single piece of paper.
Electronic signatures have been permitted in Ontario residential real estate transactions since 2015. However, the move to electronic signatures has accelerated during the pandemic. Moreover, realtors are moving to QR Code-based information sheets during open houses and showings in place of the glossy brochures we may have seen before.
When it comes to the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, it is important that you understand it and have it reviewed by an experienced lawyer. As we have discussed here, if you are a buyer and you attempt to back out of a signed Agreement of Purchase and Sale, you may be responsible for significant costs associated with the breach. This is the case regardless of whether it is a paper Agreement of Purchase and Sale or an electronic Agreement of Purchase and Sale.
Real estate transactions are often the biggest transaction an individual will undertake and the Omicron variant and COVID-19 related restrictions can complicate these transactions.
The team of real estate lawyers at Prudent Law in Mississauga and Milton are a trusted resource for advice on real estate transactions and other real estate-related legal issues. We provide practical advice for buyers and sellers of residential real estate. If you are a first-time homebuyer or have a real estate issue and you’d like to discuss it with one of our experienced lawyers, please call us at 905-361-9789 or contact us online.