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Can Real Estate Agents Do a Showing with Shelter-in-Place Orders?

How is the COVID-19 health crisis changing real estate showings with Shelter-in-Place Orders?

As the spread of COVID-19 continues across the United States, most citizens are impacted by both federal and state orders to shelter-in-place. President Trump has extended social distancing until at least the end of April, banning non-essential gatherings of 10 or more people and encouraging non-essential industries to either close or allow employees to work from home. 

Many states have enacted their own orders as well, with over half implementing different versions of lockdown. All of these new restrictions bring up a poignant question for real estate agents: is real estate considered an essential service? And if so, are home showings allowed — or even advisable?

Here’s an in-depth look at real estate agents’ legal options for marketing homes for sale, as well as what to consider on a case-by-case basis from a public health perspective.

Where Real Estate is Considered an Essential Service

Each state defines its own list of essential services. In addition to healthcare and food production, financial services are typically included as well. However, in the case of real estate services, not every state includes the industry as part of the essential list. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are among the states that do not recognize real estate services as an essential business. However, on March 30, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security included “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” as part of the federal government’s list of essential services. 

Because federal and state guidelines don’t always match up, consider reaching out to your state’s professional real estate association regarding whether or not it’s appropriate (and legal) to continue offering your real estate services, particularly for non-virtual activities.

Guidance on Home Showings During Shelter-in-Place

Assuming your state does indeed consider real estate an essential service, you can use your best judgment on whether or not to conduct showings. First, check with your seller on their preference. They may not want people in their home, particularly if they’re living in it. Vacant homes may be more appropriate to show since no one is living there to risk spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Next, be sure to limit any showings, particularly open houses, to 10 or less people. This is in direct observance of federal social distancing guidelines. If you’re in the home with the buyer, maintain a minimum distance of six feet.

Also, keep sanitary products on hand for you and your clients. Masks, gloves, foot booties, and hand sanitizer can go a long way in preventing the spread of COVID-19. While buyers want to get an in-depth look at a home they could potentially buy, discourage them from touching surfaces as much as possible.

Protecting Your Clients — And Yourself

You’re not required to put yourself in a situation that makes you feel unsafe and you should also use your best judgment to protect your clients. Pay careful attention to those who are older or may have underlying health conditions.

The NAR also advises that it’s appropriate to ask if a client is currently sick or if they’ve traveled recently. To protect yourself, however, be sure to ask all individuals the same series of questions in order to avoid any discrimination claims.

Get Creative with Real Estate Showings During COVID-19

Even in states that deem real estate an essential service, agents are likely to have a difficult time conducting business as usual. Embrace the changes for what they are and incorporate new methods and techniques for working with your clients.

The good news is that many people have more time to research real estate now that most are under stay-at-home orders. If sellers are comfortable having you in their home, go by yourself and give a FaceTime tour to your buyers. You can also use technology to create virtual 3-D tours. If you do conduct an open house, consider requiring buyers to book appointments. This helps you control the flow and ensure you meet group gathering requirements. 

Finally, while everyone feels the financial, medical, and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, view yourself as a sincere resource for your clients. Stay on top of changes in contract addendums that offer new protections for buyers who may be impacted by the coronavirus. 

Create content with relevant information for your clients, whether it’s on social media, a newsletter, blog, or even a quick text. Even if you might not be earning tons of commissions right now, you can earn your clients’ trust — which will pay back exponentially when life begins to normalize again.

Bottom Line

Despite real estate markets slowing down across the country, agents and brokers are more than likely deemed to be essential. That means it’s time to start adapting to a new business model while using your best judgment to keep your clients (and yourself) as safe as possible.

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