OREA Guidelines to protect the health and safety of our clients, colleagues and communities
As Ontario enters Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen and allows for real estate open houses, OREA is providing some guidance to Members on the government’s framework to protect the health and safety of our clients and colleagues.
We know that a large portion of Ontario REALTORS® are in no hurry to start hosting open houses. Digital tools and virtual home tours have proven extremely effective over the last year, and many REALTORS® should continue to rely on these tools to help their clients buy and sell homes.
We encourage Members to conduct services remotely and to utilize technological alternatives such as virtual safe showings and electronic signing of documents first and to the greatest extent possible. Let your clients know about available alternative marketing opportunities that will allow you to continue to serve them and market their home while reducing the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Open Houses should be used as a last resort to market a home and only employed at a seller’s request and with the seller’s approval.
We have provided some considerations and guidance below for safely hosting an open house.
It is OREA’s number one priority to protect the health and safety of our REALTORS® and their clients. As we move into Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen, we trust that our Members will continue to put health and safety first while doing what you have always done best – helping Ontarians achieve the dream of a great place to call home.
The Government of Ontario will allow, as of July 16, 2021, almost all businesses and facilities to reopen provided they meet any specific public health requirements set out in the regulations during. For example, many businesses and facilities will be subject to capacity limits and particularly high-risk activities such as large sporting events, night clubs and cinemas will be subject to additional operational requirements and specific capacity limits that are different than those in place for restaurants or retail facilities. It is important for every such business or facility to determine what its specific restrictions are.
Guidance for Real Estate Open Houses in Step 3
During Step 3 of Ontario’s reopening, real estate open houses are permitted. As with many other businesses, there is an explicit rule applicable to open houses. It requires the person responsible for “any open house events” and the real estate agency who “hosts, provides or supports” to limit the number of people at the open house by ensuring every person can maintain physical distancing of 2 metres.
On the assumption that the listing brokerage and agent are hosting and organizing the open house, both the brokerage (firm) and the agent(s) physically at the open house should consider how they will ensure that is the case, and in the case of the brokerage, what documentation is appropriate to provide to its agents and to retain in order to demonstrate compliance.
Please note that the obligation applies to anyone who “supports” the open house event, even if they cannot be said to be the host or organizer.
The Province’s general requirements for how all businesses also remain applicable to an open house. These include the obligation to operate the open house in accordance with the recommendations and instructions of public health officials, such as those related to cleaning and disinfection. REALTORS® will be required to comply with the requirements for posting the mandated signs, actively screening people prior to entry, requiring mask or face coverings, manage outdoor queuing and to have to posted in a visible place a written safety plan that contains the measures which have been implemented to reduce transmission risk.
With the option to host an open house available to you, be sure to consider the following:
- Are you and your client comfortable with hosting an open house? REALTORS® should continue to use digital and virtual technology to interact with clients wherever possible to market or show a home. We strongly encourage you to continue speaking with your clients openly about their comfort levels with allowing or conducting in-person showings and open houses. You should only proceed with an open house if your client has approved it as part of your overall marketing plan to sell the home. If your client would like to proceed with open houses but you, as a REALTOR®, are not comfortable hosting them, consider requesting assistance from a colleague in your brokerage who is comfortable with offering this service.
- What is a practical limit on the number of people allowed through an open house? Other than members of the same household, every person must remain 2 metres apart. This means the buyer’s sales representative must maintain that distance from the potential buyers as well as from the listing REALTOR®. We strongly recommend setting a reasonable limit of one group of two people (ideally from the same household), plus the buyer’s sales representative if attending, in an open house at any one time. This limit will make it easier to manage flow of members of the public throughout the home.
Safe Open House Practices
Post a clear protocol outside the residence for open house guests to follow to avoid transmission of COVID-19. Have a safety plan prepared and posted inside the open house. Follow that safety plan, including active screening of all attendees. If possible, distribute this information electronically before the open house. At least the following should be considered in your safety plan and protocols in conjunction with all relevant and applicable advice, recommendations, and instructions from public health officials:
- Request self-screening of COVID-19. Post signage on the property entryway door stating that if people have been ill, have symptoms of COVID-19, have come in contact with a person with symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19 they should not enter the home.
- Set a time limit. Limit the time each group spends inside the residence to ensure all guests have the opportunity to see the home during open house hours.
- Set a limit on guests. While indoor gathering limits have increased, limit the number of people in the house to a maximum of three people (including the buyer’s sales representative if they are attending with the buyers), to allow for physical distancing.
- Require PPE use. Ensure masks or face coverings are worn inside at all times, as physical distancing may not always be possible. Consider providing this PPE outside the entrance of the residence. Municipalities may have by-laws regarding the use of masks where business is being conducted. Be sure to review any such by-laws in your municipality.
- Manage the flow of traffic. If a line forms outside, people should be staggered 6’ apart. Consider signage or markers to this effect. In the home, plan and direct safe traffic flow by considering an alternate exit to the entrance and posting signage informing guests of the traffic flow through the home. Have an assistant manage physical distancing outside and inside the home and for people registering. While a showing is in progress, place a sign on the door to indicate that and ask other guests to wait in a queue or their cars.
- Sanitize hands before and after. Provide hand sanitizer at the door and require guests to disinfect before entry.
- Ensure proper ventilation. Where possible, ensure that the property’s AC unit has been turned on, or open windows to ventilate the space.
- Enforce ‘no touching’ rules. Open all the interior doors and closet doors and turn on lights so that any open house visits can be completed without touching these surfaces. The listing REALTOR® should be available to open cabinets, storage spaces, blinds, etc.
- An alternative is to provide gloves as people enter the home so guests can touch without the risk of outside germs. If this alternative is used, all other steps outlined in this document still need to be taken out of heightened precaution.
- Sanitize. Disinfect surfaces, door handles and parts of the house that guests come in close contact with both before and after the open house.
- Protocols for multi-tenanted properties. For multi-tenanted properties like condominiums, discuss with the seller whether building management has any COVID-19 safety protocols to be aware of and incorporate those into your plan. Also, enlist the help of an assistant to manage entry to the building and other common area, and ensure physical distancing can be maintained between consumers in common areas.
Preparation for possible contact tracing after an open house
Identifying everyone who attends an open house will be even more important to assist with contract tracing if someone in attendance reports they contracted COVID-19. Provide a means of contacting all open house attendees but be clear that any personal information collected will only be used for the purpose of notifying them of any health concerns (note that under Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act personal information can only be used for the purpose you disclosed when collecting it).
Before they enter, guests should provide the listing REALTOR® with their address, phone number and/or other contact information. A good way to limit contact with REALTORS®, is to ask guests to text their name and number to a designated phone number before entering the home.
You should also ensure that, before entering the home, guests sign a declaration or verbally confirm they have no symptoms of illness (i.e. cough, fever, sore throat) and that they have not knowingly been in contact with anyone with symptoms.
Impress upon guests the importance of providing correct information for their own safety as well as others.
Additional Guidance for Real Estate Transactions in Step Three
Model Home Viewings
The opening of a model home should follow the same protocols and procedures as an in-person open house.
Tenanted Properties and Condominiums
REALTORS® should endeavour to use digital tools and remote interaction with clients wherever possible. However, if needed, there are simply no prohibitions in Ontario law, including the State of Emergency Orders, against in-person showings or open houses of listed condominium or tenanted properties, but there are certain requirements.
In order for private showings to proceed they must comply with all recommendations, advice, directives and instructions from public health officials (including local public health officials), especially with respect to physical distancing, use of personal protective equipment (such as masks and gloves), cleaning and disinfecting before and after the showing.
OREA strongly encourages landlords and REALTORS® to work with their tenants to accommodate their needs, do virtual showings wherever possible and ensure they are not in the property during showings or open houses. No one with an underlying health condition should be forced to permit strangers into their home during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. In these instances, it is critically important that REALTORS® work proactively and positively with tenants to accommodate their concerns around health and safety.
REALTORS® should take every care not to put tenants at risk and to try and schedule showings to limit the amount of times people are going through the property. In particular, REALTORS® should work with landlords to get to know the tenant and if they have any underlying health issues.
REALTORS® are encouraged to work with condominium management, landlords and tenants to minimize conflicts and health risks.
Please visit the OREA COVID Information Hub for a recent communication from OREA on real estate showings.
Disclaimer. The information contained in this post is not meant to be relied upon as legal advice by REALTORS®, or others. Members wishing further clarity or advice should seek independent legal advice specific to their circumstances. Due to the quickly changing regulatory environment during the COVID-19 emergency, this document may not be current or accurate by the time it is read.
The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS®, and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA.
The following link to ‘Public Health Ontario’s Covid-19 Public Resources’ provides specific advice with respect to, amongst other things, mask use, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting and situations where self-isolation is necessary:
The Ontario Government’s Resource Page (link below) includes guidance on such things as the use of personal protective equipment, appropriate controls and distancing issues, etc.
Please note that local (municipal) public health officers may have augmented any advice, recommendation and guidance provided by the public health officials of the Province of Ontario.
It is also crucial to note that COVID-19 advice, recommendations and instructions, are regularly revised and so REALTORS® must take all appropriate steps to inform themselves with respect to the current advice, recommendations and instructions.