VANCOUVER -- COVID-19 is changing the way real estate is bought and sold in B.C. Things may have slowed down over the past couple of months but some real estate agents have been very busy.

Open houses have been put on hold as buyers and sellers have been reluctant to come in contact with each other – preferring to hold off and keep their distance – but business hasn’t stopped. It’s just changed.

“Open houses are a big deal and it’s how we generate interest in a home,” said Sheila O’Brien, co-founder of The O’Brien Group.

That’s why she and her team came up with an innovative idea designed to get people in the door without any health risks.

They have been conducting virtual open houses, streaming them live on Facebook. O’Brien and her business partner Ashley Tsai work together; one conducts tours through the property, while the other is online, responding to questions and comments in real time.

“People can just type in The O’Brien Group on Facebook and pop up on the video here,” said Tsai, demonstrating how it works.

The two agents invited CTV News Vancouver along on a recent realtor’s open house for a property they have listed in Kitsilano. Agents popped in and out of the live stream and members of the public can show up too, virtually.

O’Brien repeated her tour several times throughout the half hour, while Tsai continually responded to inquiries with more information about the property.

The livestreamed tours get recorded and are posted online so that interested buyers and agents can return to the page for another look.

Some of the tours have had hundreds of views.

“We had an offer as a result of our first one,” O’Brien said.

At first there was some resistance to the idea.

“It didn’t go over well with the board initially because we’re not meant to advertise ourselves and Facebook is all about ourselves, but they quickly realized it was a great way to bring the public in without having them in person,” O’Brien said.

She pointed out that other agents are now giving it a try and if sales statistics are any indication, it seems to have helped. While sales are still down from a year ago, in May they were up 34 per cent over April.

And Warren Mirko with the Real Estate Council of British Columbia, says his organization supports virtual showings. 

"Since March, RECBC continues to advise real estate professionals to prioritize virtual/electronic options over in-person interactions including open houses, in-person showings, and strata meetings, in order to protect the health and safety of British Columbians," he said in an email to McLaughlin On Your Side.

But no one is buying property on a virtual tour alone. O’Brien says the team is very careful to book appointments only for qualified, interested buyers to view the property in person, in order to limit contact and reduce public health risks.

For instance, if there’s something peculiar about a property she says they make sure to tell potential buyers about it in case it’s a deal breaker. That includes things like accessing outdoor space through a master bedroom, no double sinks in an ensuite bathroom or anything else that might not tick buyers' boxes.

“It’s great to innovate and stay on top of things. We feel good about it,” she said.