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Real Estate in a Coronavirus World

March 25, 2020
by admin

Most Frequently Asked Questions

First, itshould be noted that this is not business as usual. There is nothing usualabout the situation we are all faced with as a global community. HAR stronglybelieves that everyone should act safely and responsibly and should conductbusiness virtually in any and every way possible. That’s why we removed theopen house function from the MLS and stopped displaying open houses on HAR.com.That’s why we cancelled all in-person classes and converted them to webinars asof March 18. That’s why we have encouraged our members to use the transactionmanagement and e-signature options available to them as member benefits. That’swhy we are strongly advocating for virtual showings, video tours, and virtualopen houses. We are even working around the clock to develop the HAR.com Liveplatform that will be launched shortly. We are looking into ways to provideadditional virtual tools for our members since we know many of you cannotafford to go without a paycheck for an extended period of time. We encouragevirtual closings and virtual notary, if allowed and as directed by the titlecompany involved. Our own staff is utilizing Microsoft Teams to communicate aswe are all working remotely, and we useZoom for our advisory group meetings and board meetings.

This is the newvirtual world in which we live. We are providing the following FAQ to try tohelp guide our members during this time since we know much of this is confusingand unclear. Please note that we are not attorneys, and nothing written hereshould be construed as legal advice. You should consult your broker or attorneyregarding any legal issues.

I’m in _____county. Can I still work? Am I considered “essential”?

Currently, mostcounties in our primary service area have included real estate services asessential in their orders (Harris), have provided clarification that realestate is essential (Galveston), or have not issued any stay at home orders (Montgomery,Waller) that would prohibit you from continuing to conduct your business—in asafe and responsible way. The first exception is Fort Bend County, but we havebeen in contact with them and hope to have real estate services included in anamended order. Until that time, the existing language in the order wouldsuggest that real estate has not been included as essential, so you should waituntil further clarification before leaving your house to provide real estateservices in Fort Bend County.

For reference,the Harris County Attorney’s Office provided the following:

“Realestate services” as listed in section 2(b)(xvi) of the Harris County Stay Home,Work Safe order dated March 24, 2020, mean real estate services (including butnot limited to real estate brokers and agents, inspectors, appraisers,surveyors, title, mortgage, photographers, etc.) may continue the sameresidential and commercial sales and leasing functions but in a virtual mannerwhenever possible and complying with the ordered social distancing and safetyguidelines.

The GalvestonCounty Judge’s office provided this clarification:

TheReal Estate industry is essential and those businesses that provide services toyour industry are essential. We request that you operate safely and do yourbest with social distancing to continue assisting in preventing the spread ofthe virus.

Brazoria Countyissued an order, which includes real estate services related to current realestate transactions as essential. That would suggest that only activities forlistings that are currently under contract would be allowed. Polk county hasissued similar guidance that any activities related to getting a property toclosing would be allowed but not showings or open houses.

Liberty Countyhas also issued a Stay Safe Executive Order for its residents. It does notinclude real estate as essential.

Even incounties that have not issued any stay at home order, everyone must comply withthe mandatory social distancing and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC,WHO and governmental entities.

Please alsonote that none of the orders say you cannot conduct business. They say that youcannot leave your house to conduct business, unless it has been identified bythat county as being essential. You could even have virtual listingappointments to continue to generate new business until we return to normal. Astrict interpretation of the orders could also mean that you can leave yourhouse to practice real estate, where it has been deemed essential, but regularresidents would not have an allowable purpose for leaving their homes to attendan in-person open house or showing. This is again when virtual options shouldbe used whenever possible.

I’m anappraiser, inspector, mover, photographer, title agent, etc. Can I still work?

We have beentold that real estate services includes these professions under the variousorders, aside from Fort Bend County until advised differently and in BrazoriaCounty only if it is related to a current real estate transaction.

Do the ordersjust mean we should complete closings, or can we still be listing new homes?

The currentorders do not distinguish the status of a transaction, aside from BrazoriaCounty, which limits activities to those related to current real estatetransactions. Pending sales should definitely proceed to closing, and you areallowed to do what is necessary to get to closing. Whether you decide to list anew property for sale or lease at this time in counties which allow it shouldbe discussed with the homeowner. You would want to make sure to advisethem that the market may be different for a period of time because of thecoronavirus pandemic and related stay at home orders. If you do list a propertyfor sale or lease, we would strongly encourage you to utilize virtual showings,virtual open houses and other tools for you, your clients, other agents, andtheir clients to stay as safe as possible.

Should I still attend my clients’ closings?

Plan NOT to attend closing. Address any concerns with your client aheadof closing and be available by phone while your client is at closing. If yourclient cannot attend closing, then the client should speak to an attorney orthe title company about a power of attorney specifically drafted for one tosign documents at closing for the client. You, as the REALTOR, should not be onthe power of attorney. Alternatively, seek to delay the closing by amending thecontract to change the closing date or using the recently created addendum fromTexas REALTORS to delay closing (Form TXR-2520).

Are you sure we are still allowed to practice real estate because theorders include “…when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandatedactivities or to further Essential Businesses, Essential Government Functions,or Critical Infrastructure.”

While thelanguage may be confusing, we have been assured by the counties that includedreal estate services as essential that the intent behind the language was forthe practice of residential and commercial sales and leasing and realestate-related services to be able to continue.

Sellers don’t want to allow showings in somecases. How can I let other agents know and still keep it Active on HAR.com for consumers?

If a seller does not want to allow showings butwants to keep their listing active so interested buyers may view it online, youmay select Temporarily No Showings in the Showing Instructions field in Matrix.The DOM would continue to accrue in this scenario. If you and the seller wouldlike to stop DOM from accruing, you may withdraw the listing temporarily untilyou are ready to put it back on the market as available for sale.

Can you pause or stop counting Days on Market(DOM)?

HAR leadership considered many factorsin making the decision to continue counting DOM for all Active listings.

  • No competitive advantage or disadvantage is created for any agent; the pandemic is impacting every listing the same.
  • DOM will continue to be displayed as “days on site” on Zillow, Realtor, Trulia, Homes and broker sites.
  • HAR.com will display to consumers the following message on every listing:

“Due to the current situation, the Days on HAR.com may not accurately reflect typical market conditions.”

  • Agents will always have access to the archive report to determine when a property was listed.
  • Stopping DOM on Active listings distorts the accuracy of the data. We should be able to look back at the data and see the effect the pandemic had on the market.
  • It may be seen as less than transparent and may not be in your client’s best interest if there is a future legal issue or government assistance.
  • HAR worked to try to ensure real estate services are an “essential” service so that agents may continue serving their clients and keep the market moving.
  • Most all major MLSs across the country have made the decision to continue counting DOM on Active listings.
  • You may use the “Withdrawn” status to stop counting DOM.

Are hourlyreal estate staff essential?

This would be adiscussion to have with your broker.

What doesHAR recommend we do if questioned by law enforcement while out conductingbusiness?

While we do notthink the police in any jurisdiction will be pulling people over without cause,you can certainly cite the order for the particular county in which you are. Inthe event we are relying upon a letter from a county that providesclarification beyond the order, you may certainly show that.

Will youprovide certification that says that we are essential in case questioned?

HAR is not agovernmental entity, so in the unlikely situation that you are questioned, lawenforcement would be much more likely to understand that real estate serviceshave been deemed as essential in that particular county’s order.

Can I stilldo an in-person open house?

Just becauseyou CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. That being said, youtechnically can hold an open house, but NAR, TAR and HAR all strongly recommendagainst this. If you still believe an open house should be held, you shoulddiscuss the pros and cons of it with your seller. Again, we advise against itat this time. We have removed the open house function from Matrix and are notdisplaying them on HAR.com until further notice. We are currently developing aplatform to allow for the broadcast and promotion of virtual open houses onHAR.com and hope to launch it soon. If you do decide to hold an open house, youshould continue to abide by the CDC, WHO and governmental guidelines of socialdistancing by maintaining at least six feet between you and any other person, don’tserve food, disinfect any surfaces before and after the open house.

Be aware thatwe have heard reports that concerned neighbors have called the authorities abouta couple of open houses that continued to be held recently.

NAR has acomprehensive set of FAQs just about open houses that may be viewed HERE.

Can I stilltake clients on showings?

We believe atthis time that showings would be allowed in all counties, except Fort Bend andBrazoria. We would first recommend virtual showings. Then, we would recommendonly doing in-person showings of vacant homes and avoiding them in occupied homesto minimize the possibility of being exposed to the coronavirus. If you do haveshowings, please continue to abide by the ordered guidelines and follow bestpractices. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t need to be touched. Wear gloves.Don’t touch your face. We recommend no more than two people attend plus theREALTOR and still maintain the six feet distance in between each of you. Wealso recommend against driving your clients or riding in the same car.

Are youdoing anything about MLS fees/dues?

HAR previouslyannounced that MLS subscribers (brokers and agents) who are current with theirsecond quarter MLS fees would have their third quarter fees waived. This is anaggregate of $4 million being saved by our subscribers.

Why did HAR advocatefor real estate to be included as “Essential”? Aren’t you putting money overlives?

We take thecurrent pandemic very seriously. We have taken all of the above-mentioned stepsto help slow the spread of the virus. We strongly encourage our members to practicesafe real estate and to utilize virtual methods of conducting business wheneverpossible. That being said, there are 13,000 pending sales in our MLS worth $2.4billion. Those sellers and buyers need to be able to close those transactions.

I’m abroker. Will my E&O policy cover claims due to the coronavirus?

We have heardfrom brokers in other markets that they have been notified that claims relatedto the coronavirus will be denied. We would recommend that all brokers contactyour E&O insurance carrier as soon as possible to get some guidance sincethat may cause some brokers to alter how they operate during this time.

For additionalresources, you may visit:

https://www.texasrealestate.com/about-us/newsroom/coronavirus-information-and-updates/

https://www.nar.realtor/coronavirus-a-guide-for-realtors

https://www.cdc.gov/

Source: Houston Association of REALTORS®

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