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Ethics Guy: Doing business virtually in a crisis

by 5U Designer

covid 19

Ethics Guy: Doing business virtually in a crisis

It goes without saying that we’re expected to look after our clients and not to put them in harm’s way.

I’d think many potential buyers and sellers are sitting things out for awhile, waiting for the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 to subside.

If you encounter a seller or buyer who absolutely has to buy or sell for some reason, know that you’re not obligated to take their business. If you do, however, you become their agent and as such, you’re obliged to follow their lawful instructions so long as they comply with government instructions. 

First, the mea culpa, I’ve never done a virtual deal. My deals were all done with quill pens. But we’re facing strange times so let’s take this “doing business virtually” idea out for a test-drive. 

Let’s start with my definition of doing business virtually.

For me, it means you’re causing something to happen without you being there in person. Think about it, we’ve been doing business virtually for quite a while now. I mean, you’ve been phoning, emailing, texting and Touchbasing your clients and each other for years.

We’ve made your listings visible to anyone on the planet via the web for at least 20 years or more.

Posting photographs, floor plans and virtual tours is commonplace. With access to the wealth of property information from LTSA, local government maps and now, the enterprise version of AutoProp, it’s never been easier to get the necessary information to clients and others. 

For years, you’ve been writing offers with products like Docusign and legally executing contracts. Making counter-offers and other contract changes is also a breeze, since all of the parties go to the same live document to affix their encrypted signatures.

Some members are promoting their listings virtually and handling offers electronically. These offers are being made subject to inspection. This means that the buyer makes the offer based on the listing information, pictures and virtual tour. The deal is established by way of contract, subject only to the buyer inspecting the property in person. Again, the informed consent of the parties for that inspection, with an appropriate nod to the health risk, tenants’ rights and physical distancing, would be absolutely vital.

Most buyer agents have been emailing their buyers’ offers to sellers’ agents for ages. Perhaps less frequent, is the use of products like Facetime, WhatsApp or similar, to present and discuss contracts, documents and other things, without us having to be physically there with our clients.

See. We’re already virtual REALTORS®.

But there’s more we can do because, the times being what they are, we’re expected to do everything we can to keep this infernal virus at bay. For us, this has now become a professional and societal obligation.

That’s why your Board relaxed Rule 3.22 regarding showing availability and continues to strongly recommend that you refrain from holding Open Houses, avoid in-person interactions as much as possible, and adhere to the most up-to-date physical-distancing requirements from our government and public health officials.

These requirements, and they are required, are changing often. We have an obligation to know and follow them.

For example, the provincial government announced  on Wednesday that, while the provincial emergency order is in place, landlords are not permitted to enter a tenant’s rental space (for showings, routine maintenance etc.) without the tenant’s consent. Exceptions were given to protect health and safety or to prevent undue damage to the unit. (Expect more details from the Residential Tenancy Branch early next week.)

Your showings, if there are to be any, must be kept to an absolute minimum, with them being arranged only with the consent of the parties, including any tenants.

Please work with your clients, and their tenants where applicable, to discuss how to responsibly achieve their housing and shelter needs amid today’s public health emergency.

As much as possible, employ other approaches to in-person interactions, such as virtual showings and other technology-based solutions. 

We’re all in a challenging spot and we’re trying to do the best we can given the circumstances. Let’s all do our part.

We’re watching the COVID-19 situation carefully and will continue to provide you with advice as often and quickly as possible.

As I prepare to hit send on this message, I worry that a new government announcement could make my suggestions outdated by the time you read it.

That’s just the times we’re living in.

Stay safe,


PS: Send us your ideas about doing business virtually. Have you built a new mouse trap you want to tell members about? Email me at kspencer@rebgv.org.