Royal LePage agents raise over $125,000 in response to COVID-19

Soroya Dempsey
Soroya Dempsey

Royal LePage agents and brokers have raised more than $125,000 for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

When foundation supporters learned that the severity of domestic violence was increasing, that many shelters needed to rent additional space to meet social distancing guidelines, and that children staying in shelters needed supplies and support to keep up with their classmates, they jumped into action, the company says.



Shawn Zigelstein of Royal LePage Your Community Realty organized a “Porch Pics” fundraiser with a local photographer, who used a telephoto lens to take photos of families quarantining together.
Shawn Zigelstein of Royal LePage Your Community Realty organized a “Porch Pics” fundraiser with a local photographer, who used a telephoto lens to take photos of families quarantining together.

Online fundraising challenges, “virtual” events and social media campaigns have taken place across Canada, with Royal LePage professionals hosting and performing live concerts; cutting their own hair and shaving their beards; organizing online game nights and fitness classes; selling gifts, small luxuries and masks; and partnering with local businesses to provide unique offerings – all in exchange for donations to the cause.

Numerous collections were also taken up by Royal LePage brokerages and agents, with some promoting matching gift opportunities to their clients, which doubled the impact of their generosity.

When Royal LePage’s National Garage Sale for Shelter was unable to proceed for the first time in 12 years, agents and brokers made modest “garage sale sized” donations to help replace this lost revenue.  In addition, they organized donations of essential supplies to their local women’s shelters, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cloth masks.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it was heart-warming to hear from so many of our supporters asking what they could do for their local women’s shelters,” says foundation executive director Shanan Spencer-Brown.

Royal LePage Estate Realty raised over $17,000 for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation during an “Unplugged for Shelter” concert featuring Rik Emmett, Motown and Marley’s Marcia Alderson, Joanna Swan, Else Langhans, Liam Dunlop and Dave Dunlop.

Agents at Johnston & Daniel, a division of Royal LePage Real Estate Services, have raised $17,500 for the foundation through a “J&D Safe at Home” social media campaign.

Getting commercial buildings ready for back to work

Clean it and they will come. Don’t and it could cost you your business.

If a customer, client or guest looks into your business and doesn’t think it’s safe to venture inside, chances are they won’t. If an employee has to return to work and it doesn’t look safe, they likely won’t be comfortable and that could affect productivity. That’s why businesses need to figure out their best return to work plan now.



Jarrett Rose
Jarrett Rose

Facilities need to be prepared for the challenge of the new normal, says Jarrett Rose, VP sales, strategic accounts, at Citron Hygiene. The Markham, Ont.-based company has provided workplace and washroom hygiene services for more than 45 years.

“Facilities are ill prepared for physical distancing. It’s a huge challenge. Hygiene is more important than ever,” he says.

According to a Leger study conducted in late May, 86 per cent of Canadians are concerned about a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall and more than 50 per cent of Canadians are concerned about leaving their homes and being in public. Angst is top of mind, says Rose, who has more than 14 years of experience in the facility hygiene industry. He also sits on the board of BOMA Toronto and is a contributor to BOMA Canada’s return to work taskforce.

Some companies are arranging a professional disinfecting service prior to opening.
Some companies are arranging a professional disinfecting service prior to opening.

BOMA gathered experts together to create an in-depth guide, Pathway Back to Work: Commercial Real Estate, Coronavirus and Re-entry. It covers everything from building operations to vendors and supplies to the tenant and building community and human resources.

How can you ensure a smooth and safe transition back to work and how can you keep your space as safe as possible in the long term? How do you find and address gaps? How do you address the fears of employees, clients, visitors and guests?

Start with a plan. Proper planning helps mitigate any fears of returning to work.

Some key considerations:

  1. The building needs to be as contactless as possible, with features such as automatic taps, touchless doors and automatic flush toilets.
  2. Hand sanitizers need to be placed beside high-touch points and in high-traffic areas, including sometimes forgotten places such as board and lunchrooms.
  3. Share enhanced cleaning (physical removal of dirt) and disinfection (using Health Canada-approved products) awareness standards to make people feel comfortable.

To offer guidance and direction, Citron Hygiene is sharing its reopening checklist.

Most buildings had some hand sanitizer placement but have gaps, and companies such as Citron help identify and fill those gaps.

Realize that when you change something, you can create issues in the back end, things you may not have thought of, Rose says. For example, people wear face coverings and gloves to work, so they need a place to properly dispose of PPE. The World Health Organization recommends sealed lid containers. And with elevators limited to just a few riders, more people are taking the stairs so railings and doorknobs must be disinfected.

Once the gaps have been identified and filled, it’s important to ensure access to an adequate supply of products and services. Rose says to choose a business partner that has access to supplies so you can open and stay open.

Check those supplies to make sure they are Health Canada-approved (hand sanitizers should contain at least 60 per cent alcohol, for example). Rose says to look for products that have a National Producer Number (NPN) and Health Canada registration.

Citron’s hand sanitizer is 70 per cent alcohol, which is the minimum requirement for hospital use as well, Rose says.

He also says to beware of pretenders – companies that may pop up during these times but don’t have disinfection experience.

When shopping for a hygiene/disinfection company, ask what type of equipment they are using to disperse the disinfectants. Electrostatic sprays wrap around the surfaces, versus a spray bottle in which the product hits the front of the surface but not the back.

Ask about product safety, as well as the downtime involved. Rose says electrostatic systems work instantly, while some applications may result in kill time and delay return to work. Some applications are also “wet” and may not be suitable for use on electronics.

Some companies are arranging a professional disinfecting service prior to opening, with frequency thereafter depending on the specific business. “Some disinfect daily, some every two weeks.”

Citron Hygiene also has a guide outlining what customers should do before and after disinfecting.

Citron, which will do a full assessment, has been helping businesses plan for reopening for the several weeks. Gaps can be identified and filled within a couple of days to a week.

For other checklists, including Citron Hygiene’s Back to Work brochure and a Back to Work webinar, visit www.citronhygiene.com.

This is your wake-up call!

In these trying times, concentrate on what you can do to optimize your business and life to stay focused on the things you can control.

You need to be proactive in keeping your business going and still provide a high level of service to buyers and sellers. Here’s how to keep your business thriving while optimizing the time you’ve been gifted by COVID-19.

Mentality:

A leadership mentality is what we all need right now. We need to be strategic, proactive and responsive.

Everybody’s in a different place. Some have a positive outlook about getting through this trying time, while others are stuck with a negative outlook that is burdening them. No matter what you are feeling right now, if you develop a responsive mindset, you’ll be stronger, more positive and able to help others. It is absolutely vital for leaders to be responsive to what’s going on around us. When people are experiencing fear, or stress, you must adjust to an optimal mindset as soon as possible.

The formula for an optimal mindset is E+R = O. That stands for an Event that occurs, your Response to it and the Outcome you want to come from it.

The power of this equation is that the outcome is what we focus on. If we’re responsive, we’re focusing on the outcome we want.

If you’re not in an optimal mindset, you’re not responsive, you’re reactive. This means your decisions will be based on fear, stress and negativity rather than the ease and calmness you’ll find when your decisions are based on being responsive.

If you lose your power to impact an outcome in your life, you lose all power you have in the situation.

Adaptability:

Realize that you can’t change everything, but you can change some things. Spending this time, whether it’s two weeks or 12 months waiting around for the market to get back to normal, for our lives to get back to normal, is not ideal.

You can’t fight what is. The world has changed, our circumstances have changed. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can adjust.

People are pivoting fast, using their adaptability skills. If you sit around and wait for change, you’re losing the momentum you can build now, and you won’t be prepared for the potential market change once this is all over.

You make do with what you have, to create more.

Your goal is to make sure you’re coming from positive energy. If the highest energy wins, you want it to be because you’re ready. You have educated yourself and you are a consultant and want to serve.

Sometimes when something is causing anxiety, you have to think how you’re going to be feeling after this is over and how it will be a memory in your past. Right now it feels like it’s never going to end but it will, and it’s important to focus on the small things you can do to put your future self in the best position.

We all have the ability to change and develop right now. After this storm has blown through, we can have a better quality of life, we can have better client services, we can absorb this tension to persevere. But only if we choose to.

Communication:

There are concerns when it comes to communicating with clients right now. There are a lot of different ideas and guidance surrounding this issue. The danger is that all of these are getting put into the same pot.

You want to send communication that shows empathy, You can’t under-communicate with your client, you want to make sure they’re hearing your perspective and you are proactive with their immediate concerns. You want to bring care and concern for the market, to bring goodwill.

Teams and businesses are still getting leads and it is still necessary to respond to these leads.

If you’re calling a follow-up from before the outbreak, build a stronger rapport. Have a softer call, ask how they’re doing, if they need anything. Only then should you feel out talking about real estate. It would be very insensitive and tone deaf to call and only talk about real estate as if nothing in our world has happened or changed.

Don’t forget to stay organized and write detailed notes in your CRM.

Active buyers and sellers need to hear from you. They need to hear your new reformatted protocol for how you’re supporting buyers and sellers safely, and what requests you’re making for outside agents showing the property.

Sending out emails is a wonderful way to keep your clients connected, talking about the updates on tax deadlines, mortgage rates and emergency government programs, keeping them in the loop.

With so much happening, it’s important to keep your circle informed and proactive.

It’s nice to want to wait until we have all the information, but things are changing daily, sometimes hourly. It’s okay to realize that your strategy from yesterday doesn’t work today, and you need to update it.

Using these three categories will allow you to become more proactive and productive with your business, brokerage or team.

Remember, there are no hard stops with fast starts. We are creating our future outcomes now. Set your routine, focus on top priorities first and spend this time or “pause” creating the life and business you want in the future.

Only you can decide if this time will be an investment in your business or a cost. What if you woke up 12 to 18 months from now grateful for this wake-up call? What if you looked back and saw these moments as integral to a better quality of life and improved business?

Keep your hands on the wheel, look where you want to go and stay focused in that direction.

Stay safe and stay strategic.

Creative real estate marketing during the lockdown

Lasswell says it’s all about leveraging what you have and making the most of it.

COVID-19 has forced a new reality as agents work from home and market their properties virtually. But what hasn’t changed is the importance of finding creative ways to make a property stand apart from the rest.

Eileen Lasswell, broker at Chestnut Park Real Estate in Toronto, says, “I’m trying to come up with unique ideas that allow the public to enjoy a particular house without having to leave their home. Most agents are doing 3D tours and videos and I am as well, but I think it is more important to be innovative to try and grab a buyer’s attention, to tell a story of the home and help the buyer visualize themselves living there.”

When marketing 44A Maple Ave. in South Rosedale, she went back to why her client bought the home in the first place. He loved the sunlight and that there are so many walls on which to hang art.

She decided to stage to attract high-end, art-loving young buyers or downsizing buyers who no longer need a 4,000 to 6,000-square-foot home but want a Rosedale location. She wanted to evoke a luxury feeling at the property.

Sensing a state of emergency might be coming, she had a real estate photographer shoot the empty, newly renovated house. She had it virtually staged – five times – because she says she “didn’t like the cheesy art” the virtual stager added.

She came up with the art exhibit idea when talking to friends about the challenges of the various industries in which they work. One person on the call was an art dealer and Lasswell decided an art exhibit would be perfect. As luck would have it, 44A Maple’s owner is a well-known, award-winning artist in his own right.

Two rooms adorned with art will be featured in the 3D art gallery.
Two rooms adorned with art will be featured in the 3D art gallery.

Owner/photographer Koray Erkaya and Lasswell worked in partnership. Erkaya, a photographer, has exhibited his work internationally, most recently in Tokyo, London and the Ukraine. One of his beach scenes was used by the Turkish government as part of a tourism campaign.

As Erkaya collected some of his works from family members living in Toronto, Lasswell had a security system installed.

Since tradespeople were not available due to the lockdown, it was lucky that Erkaya is handy enough to hang his art himself. Another stroke of luck – being a photographer, he took the photos of his house himself. Lasswell says it’s all about leveraging what you have and making the most of it.

Two rooms adorned with art will be featured in the 3D art gallery.

“It will offer art lovers a new exhibit and at the same time show how beautiful this completely renovated home is and how a potential art lover could adorn its walls.”

She is posting photos of the home in three stages – empty, virtually staged and complete with original art. It’s all about creating interest now in preparation for when restrictions are relaxed, she says.

The timing worked out well for this sale and having a homeowner who is not only a well-known artist but who could do a lot of the work himself was lucky.

Real estate is on pause, but Lasswell says it’s important to put the time to good use by preparing and looking forward.

Her clients are sending photos of their home and she provides room-by-room notes about what they can do to declutter and prepare their home for sale. “This gives the homeowners something to do at this time.” They also don’t have to rush.

Get ready for net zero homes

At this disorienting moment in 2020, as our industry grapples with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to believe the dust will settle. But it will. For usually busy Realtors who are looking to fill the disquieting pause, there’s an unusual opportunity right now to get up to speed on emerging aspects of the market.

Take net zero homes for example. A decidedly niche category, when normal life resumes and fuelled by legislative change and changing consumer preferences, this is a space to watch, say industry observers.

Sonja WinkelmannSonja Winkelmann

“It’s coming. I have no doubt about that,” says Sonja Winkelmann, director of net zero energy housing for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA). “PV (photovoltaic solar panel) technology has improved so much and we’re getting so good at building these net zero homes,” she says.

Winkelmann says the Canadian home building industry is in a kind of sweet spot – tech costs have come down, builder capabilities have deepened and pricing will in turn become more attractive to consumers. For interested Realtors, here are five aspects of this emerging sector to explore:

The basics:

So what exactly qualifies as a net zero home? While they are sometimes equated with being “off the grid”, that’s actually not the case. Not all net zero homes are the same, but they do have basic commonalities. According to the CHBA’s definition, “Net zero homes produce as much clean energy as they consume. They are up to 80 per cent more energy efficient than typical new homes and use renewable energy systems to produce the remaining energy they need.”

You may also hear references to “net zero ready” homes. These are homes built to comply with net zero standards, but that don’t yet have renewable energy systems installed.

Pending regulatory changes:
Dale Rott
Dale Rott

Announced changes to government legislation and Canada’s building code are a key reason why net zero and net zero ready homes are expected to surge. “We’re going to see things on the legislative front that are changing, so there will be more stock available and it will be more of a common item,” says Dale Rott, a co-founder of Edmonton-based Effect Home Builders, and also a member of the CHBA’s Net Zero Energy Housing Council.

Specifically, Canada’s federal government has indicated it is working with provinces and territories to develop net zero energy ready (NZER) building codes by 2030.

“They’re developing what’s called a tiered or stepped building code,” says Winkelmann. While the building code typically gets an update every five years, this time around, she says, “they’re telling builders they’re going to be developing tiers that go all the way out to 2030 and they’re progressively going to continue to specify more and more higher energy-efficiency targets.”

The value proposition:
A net zero townhome by Sifton Properties in London, Ont.
A net zero townhome by Sifton Properties in London, Ont.

On the real estate side, in terms of marketing net zero homes, getting familiar with the full range of benefits is a great start, says Rott.

Beyond sustainability, Rott says, there are multiple other benefits for homeowners. “One is you’re saving money from a home operating costs perspective. Secondly, your indoor environment is more comfortable. It’s hard to quantify, but it’s a ‘feel good’ thing, it literally is. It’s quieter, the heat is distributed much more evenly so you don’t have cold spots.”  Add to that superior indoor air filtering and, says Rott, “If you’re concerned about climate change, then you have an environmentally responsible building as well.”

Built to higher standards than conventional new builds, “This boils down to just a better quality product,” says Winkelmann.  When a house is built with better insulation, windows and mechanical systems, she says, “your utility bills will be lower and stay lower all year round. The more that energy prices go up, the more this house can buffer you from those prices.” Finally, she says the house will be more durable than conventional homes.

Shifting consumer preferences:
The Northgate by Doug Tarry Homes in St. Thomas, Ont. was a Net Zero Home Award Winner in 2017.
The Northgate by Doug Tarry Homes in St. Thomas, Ont. was a Net Zero Home Award Winner in 2017.

Increasingly, says Winkelmann, today’s home buyers value sustainability features. The CHBA’s annual consumer survey has been confirming the shift. In 2018, for example, Winkelmann says the CHBA’s Home Buyer Preference Study saw “certified by an energy program” make the top 10 list of consumer preferences, along with four other energy-efficient features (including appliances and windows).

When working with buyers, Rott says it’s important not to make assumptions but to really listen for their priorities.

At Effect Home Builders, one of several progressive Edmonton builders who’ve made that city a hotbed for net zero construction, Rott says buyers of net zero homes come with all sorts of motivations. They might have deep environmental concerns, geekiness about mechanical performance and solar panels, or be seeking fine details and luxury construction. “We get the broad spectrum of people.”

Industry changes:

Finally, for Realtors, a couple of additional things are set to make serving clients a little easier. First, there’s more net zero housing stock coming. Beyond the luxury sector where larger budgets have typically made it easier to wrap in energy-efficient materials and mechanical systems, Winkelmann says increasing affordability is pushing net-zero towards the mainstream. More builders, she says, are becoming trained and certified. And as a result, more houses today are being renovated to net-zero compliance and more affordable condos and townhome communities are sprouting up.

Winkelmann says CHBA’s Net Zero labelling program – which builds on existing federal programs like R-2000, EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR – supports broader adoption. “A lot of the builders in our industry were familiar with their programs,” she says, noting that through the program, CHBA provides not just building science training, but also sales training so they can articulate the unique features of net-zero homes. This is something she’d like to extend to the real estate industry too.

Speaking to the CHBA’s labelling program, Rott says clear standards make things easier for Realtors too. “The more this is taken on, it should help Realtors and the housing market to be able to know that a house is qualified. And so it would help on the marketing end, from a Realtor perspective, to know that they don’t have to do all the research.”

Commercial tenants and landlords and COVID-19

My experience during COVID-19 drew upon two “laws” I learned early in my law career: what’s legal isn’t always fair and contracts are as good as the parties who sign it. Why am I telling you this?

Because COVID-19 showed me that, notwithstanding one’s legal rights, landlords and tenants can co-operate, especially since their survival was interdependent. This is especially true during the height of COVID-19, as replacing a tenant or moving to a better location simply wasn’t an option.  As such, if you find that you do not have the ability to suspend rent payment by invoking a contractual right or terminating the lease due to a common law principle, not all is lost. While the law may not be on your side, the economic reality of interdependence is.

Generally, there are two ways tenants may find relief from their contractual obligations – one under the force majeure clause and the other under frustrated contract principle.

Force majeure “rights” are derived from your contract and this right allows you to not perform a covenant under the contract because of circumstances that are beyond your control. This right doesn’t exist unless it’s in your contract and the nature of the right – that is, what obligations you don’t have to perform – depends on the language of the force majeure clause.

There are two types of force majeure clauses – specific and general.

The general type of clause typically states that a party will not be liable for failure to perform a covenant/contractual obligation due to an event of “force majeure”. General clauses typically reference “Acts of God” and will not provide detail as to what a force majeure event happens to be; these clauses are likely to give rise to the most amount of litigation as enterprising lawyers will attempt to expand the definition “Acts of God” to include pandemics.

The second variety of force majeure clauses – a specific clause – is identifiable because of the exhaustive list of events that are defined as “force majeure” events. A robust specific clause suggests, according to case law and general contract law principles, that the parties have turned their minds to what a force majeure event could be and have specifically decided to include and exclude certain events. As such, if your specific clause does not include a pandemic, you may not have the ability to rely upon the force majeure clause to get out of performing a certain obligation, such as paying rent. Of course, attempts will be made to shove COVID-19 into other listed events, such as “government intervention” and I suspect that today’s more sympathetic courts may agree.

Assuming that COVID-19 qualifies as a force majeure event, you must understand which obligations you don’t have to perform due to the event. Most leases specifically exclude rent payments, meaning that even if COVID-19 is a force majeure event, you still have to pay rent. Let’s say, however, that your force majeure clause allows you to not pay rent, you still have to prove that COVID-19 makes it impossible, not just inconvenient, to pay rent. This means that if paying rent just hurts your bottom line but isn’t impossible, then the force majeure clause doesn’t apply and you have to pay rent.

In addition to proving impossibility, you have to prove that the pandemic, along with the consequences that have affected your ability to pay rent, were beyond reasonable foresight and your skill to foresee when you entered into the contract. For this reason, if there is anyone who’s entering into an agreement in today’s economic climate, it would be unreasonable to assume that they’d be able to rely upon the force majeure clause as the economic impact on one’s business is simply obvious. But wait, there’s more…

The courts do not look favourably upon a party to a contract who is leveraging a certain situation in order to get out of performing an obligation. In other words, you have to try and make arrangements to ensure that you can reduce the impact of the intervening/unforeseeable event on your inability to meet an obligation under your lease. This means that you’d have to figure out how to change your revenue streams, take advantage of all government programs and negotiate with the landlord before you can rely upon the clause.

Finally, these clauses typically have strict notice requirements. A phone call, text or email may not qualify as proper notice and the notice may have to be provided within a specific number of days after the event. Timelines, as many of us in this business know, are critical to pay attention to as failure to meet the notice obligations will likely bar your ability to rely upon the clause.

Tenants who did not have a force majeure clause then asked if they could rely upon the doctrine of “frustration”. This common law doctrine applies when a situation arises, the parties have no clause in their contract to address this situation and performance of the contract becomes “a thing radically different from that which was undertaken by the contract.”

Unfortunately, this concept is much more difficult to prove than showing that a force majeure clause should apply. This is because “it is not enough that the contract become more onerous, or even significantly more difficult, but still possible to perform”.  In other words, “a party must show that the original purpose of the contract has been frustrated, and it would be unjust for them to be bound to the contract under the existing circumstances”.

Since what you’ve contracted to do – pay rent – hasn’t changed completely due to COVID-19, I suspect that paying rent during these times may be unjust, but the law won’t give you relief. And this is why it’s important to sign contracts with parties who are reasonable and willing to work towards a common solution, regardless of what the law says.