Navigating a Real Estate
Transaction During COVID-19

If you are in the process of buying or selling real estate, or thinking about entering the market, the thought of how COVID-19 and the provincial lock-down may affect your transaction, has probably been ‘top of mind’.

Having completed numerous real estate transactions in the current climate over the past few months, we wanted to share some observations we’ve made during this time, and offer suggestions to help make your transaction proceed as smoothly as possible.

Social Distancing and Signatures
While most documents in a real estate transaction can be signed using DocuSign programs (including the Agreement of Purchase and Sale), closing documents signed with a lawyer still require a “wet” signature, meaning, documents still need to be printed and signed.

To allow for the signing of closing documents while social distancing, lawyers are now able to meet with clients virtually to witness clients sign documents. Arrangements need to be made for the delivery and pick-up of the signed closing documents, after signing has taken place. This has required that meetings with clients take place much earlier in the process and well in advance of closing.

Home Inspections and Walk-Throughs
We have had many discussions with clients regarding what their rights are to either walk-through a property or restrict a buyer from entering their home, during this pandemic. Whether you as a buyer have the right to a walk-through of the home or you as a seller have the right to object to having a buyer walk-through your home, depends on the wording in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale. Unless the wording in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale provides the seller with the right to prevent the buyer from walking through a property, the buyer can insist that they complete their walk-through prior to closing. However, the seller can insist that proper safety precautions be taken (such as the wearing of PPE’s, confirming that they do not have any symptoms of illness, or have not travelled or been around anyone known to be sick in the last 14 days), prior to admitting a buyer into their home.

If you as a buyer are being restricted from entering the property, when you have the right to do so, you should speak with your lawyer immediately. Failure by a buyer to walk-through a property prior to closing, could result in missing out on identifying recent damage caused to a property and limit the remedies available to rectify such issue.

Land Registry Office Registrations
Over two months into the provincial lockdown, lawyers and the Land Registry Office continue to be deemed ‘essential’ services and remain open. We are cautiously optimistic that the Land Registry Office will continue to remain open and prevent any obstruction of real estate transactions.

Banking Transactions
Banks have shut down certain branch offices and limited their hours of operation. This reduced service coverage has forced most real estate lawyers to turn to electronically wiring Closing funds. With the bank’s limited hours, you should give yourself adequate time to withdraw purchase funds from your account, prior to closing and provide the funds to your lawyer in advance of closing.

Final Thoughts and Suggestions
Our final observation is that real estate transactions are still closing! Despite the reported doom and gloom of the market downfall (The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board reported a 69% [year over year] drop in sales in the first half of April, 2020), we have successfully closed every real estate transaction scheduled for the months of March, April and May.

This indicates that banks are still lending money, buyers are still closing purchases and sellers are still moving out of their homes. While we can’t speak to whether the number of transactions will increase over the next few months, those that are scheduled to close, appear to be closing on time and without (too much) issue.

  • Be Proactive. Give yourself ample time. Being properly prepared will ensure that if there is a hiccup along the way, you still have time to get things sorted and back on track

 

  • Walk-Through Just Prior to Closing. As a buyer, insist on having your final walk-through of the property just prior to the closing date. This is an important last measure for ensuring the sellers have not inappropriately removed any chattels from the property and that the property will be left in the state of repair, as agreed upon

 

  • Sellers – Establish Safety Protocols for Home Visits. As a seller, you can insist that proper safety precautions be taken before admitting a buyer or their representatives into your home

 

  • Read the ‘Agreement of Purchase and Sale’ Thoroughly and Understand It. Most real estate disputes stem from an improper understanding of the terms of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale

 

  • Talk to Your Lawyer Early in the Process. From our experience, a 10-15-minute phone call with your lawyer to review the terms of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale will go a long way in preventing possible conflicts down the road.

Learn More
If you’d like to read more on the subject of how COVID-19 is impacting real estate transactions, we have linked several articles below discussing similar issues, including our blog post ‘A Practical Guide to Navigating Real Estate Transactions During COVID-19’.

Information Sources and Links

BNN Bloomberg. ‘Signs of life in Toronto housing as sales surge 53% from April’

Toronto Regional Real Estate Board. ‘TRREB Releases May Resale Housing Market Report’

Toronto Star. ‘Toronto region home sales suddenly tumble by 69%’

Globe and Mail. ‘For home buyers, backing out during COVID-19 crisis is not an option’

BNN Bloomberg. ‘How COVID-19 is changing the way Canadians buy and sell real estate’

Financial Post. ‘How to buy and sell a house in the time of coronavirus, from virtual tours to hazmat home inspections’

Toronto Storeys.  ‘How COVID-19 Could Impact Hamilton’s Real Estate Market: RE/MAX’

How to buy and sell a house in the time of coronavirus, from virtual tours to hazmat home inspections

Toronto Storeys.  How COVID-19 Could Impact Hamilton’s Real Estate Market: RE/MAX

 

A MESSAGE FROM NICHOLS LAW

April 8, 2020

The Provincial Government has deemed Legal Services as an essential business. Accordingly, we continue to remain open for business.  However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, how we conduct our business has had to change. We have therefore instituted the following procedures for the foreseeable future:

Contacting Us and Our Employees:

All members of Nichols Law remain available by telephone and email correspondence. A number of our staff are working remotely. For those staff working remoting, all calls to our office will be forwarded to those staff working off-site.

We have suspended all in-office meetings, for the time being. Meetings with clients are to take place by telephone or video conferencing.  Our office is currently using the following apps for carrying out video conferencing: 1) Zoom app; 2) Skype; 3) Facetime; and 4) WebEx.

Nichols Law will also be providing future COVID-19 related messages on our website.

New Matters:

New matter intakes will be handled by our new receptionist and intake coordinator, Rachael Squire.  Rachael has replaced our long-time receptionist Stephanie Angheloni, who retired in February.  Rachael can be contacted at the following email address:(rachael@markhamlaw.com).

Corporate Matters:

Corporate matters have long used telephone and video to conduct business.  Electronic signatures are an acceptable procedure.  Other than not being able to meet with you in person, our corporate business will largely continue as it has been.  (lynn@markhamlaw.com)

Real Estate Matters:

The Land Registry Office remains open and real estate closings continue to be completed.  Video conferences will be the method used to review and sign closing documents. Arrangements will be made with clients prior to closing, to setup video conferencing. Closing documents will be emailed or couriered to clients prior to meeting over video. Clients will need to return signed closing documents to us, by either courier, email (scanned) or in-person drop-off at our office. With respect to purchases, funds may be dropped off at our office or directly transferred into our Trust Account.

Keys may have to be left at the property which is being sold, and we are working with real estate agents to make that happen.  Alternatively, keys may be left with us and picked up from our office when appropriate.  (mary@markhamlaw.com)

Wills & Estate Matters:

As of April 7, 2020, the requirement for Wills and Powers of Attorney to be signed in the presence of two witnesses has changed. The Province has passed an emergency order allowing for Wills and Powers of Attorney to be witnessed over audio-visual communication  (real-time video conferencing), provided one of the witnesses is a lawyer.

For the time being, all client meetings relating to the preparation of Wills and Powers of Attorney will be conducted by phone or video conference. Once prepared, Wills and Powers of Attorney will be witnessed and executed over video conference.

The Superior Court is still accepting probate applications. Meaning, we will continue to work with clients and prepare probate applications.  However, the timing for how long it will take the Courts to process applications is uncertain. (diane@markhamlaw.com)

Delivery & Pick-up of Documents

Our office remains open, however, clients and the general public are no longer permitted entry, without prior appointment. We have converted our front entrance into a courier depot.  Documents and packages are being delivered and picked up from the wood dry sink located in our entrance.  Your cooperation is needed until we can again meet face to face.

We ask for your patience and we promise to do our best for you.  As things evolve, we will update our messages, which you can find here.

If you would like to receive future additional Nichols Law information, including COVID-19 messages, news, and information related to our services, please check the box below.

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