VICTORIA -- Realtors throughout Greater Victoria are using technology to keep buyers and sellers safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual tours and livestreamed open houses are now the preferred method of creating interest in properties for sale. Skype, FaceTime and Zoom meetings are also the new way for buyers and sellers to keep in touch with their agent.

"There are people who still have to buy and sell real estate," said Victoria Real Estate Board president Sandi-Jo Ayers. "Our members have really embraced the use of technology."

Most buyers can now find more pictures of properties and more details about neighbourhoods online. The goal is to give a prospective buyer information that they may have had to get in-person prior to the pandemic.

"They used to drive by and then want to go in. Now they are seeing everything inside that property," said Ayers. "What we are seeing is people doing their homework, then they are making an appointment to go through that property."

In some cases, sellers have asked realtors and buyers to wear masks and gloves prior to entering a home. There may also be a checklist with inquiries about prior travel and basic health questions.

"It has made for much stronger communication between buyers, sellers and realtors," said Ayers.

Despite all the efforts by real estate agents to move to an online world, local sales are down 58.8 percent from the same time last year.

Last April, 696 units sold compared to 287 sold in April 2020. Ayers was quick to point out that even though sales are down, there has been activity in the market during the COVID-19 crisis.

"There were people that had to buy and had to sell," said Ayers. "We were deemed an essential service because I think the government realizes how important we are."

The real estate board forecasts sales will rebound as the government begins to ease some of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus. As more businesses reopen, the board expects the number of listings to increase and the demand to rise.

"This is our busy time of the season and I think a lot of people have had to put things on hold," said Ayers. "People are watching what this trajectory in our community is going to be from this pandemic."

When things do begin to open up, it will not be business as usual for the real estate industry.

"I think going forward we may see us using this virtual world a lot more," said Ayers.