What Real Estate Agents Can Do During the Coronavirus Shutdown

Dear friends and colleagues, these are challenging times for us in the real estate industry. As of 8pm on Sunday March 22nd, 2020, all non-essential gatherings of individuals must cease until further notice per Governor Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE executive order.

This means all in-person business activities including open houses, showings, walk-throughs and inspections are cancelled or postponed. All non-essential businesses are to be closed which means we will no longer hold office hours in-person until further notice.

Fortunately, social distancing policies do not dictate what we choose to do at home. For the avoidance of doubt, it is completely legal for you to continue working from home or wherever else you are residing.

As a company we have always preferred a 100% remote workforce with office hours, classes and company events being 100% optional to attend. As a result of this, we are well positioned to withstand these turbulent times together as a team.

We’ve compiled a list of tips, alternatives and actionable items that real estate agents in New York can immediately implement to make the most of the current situation.

We will continue to hold office hours by appointment via video conferencing, and agents can always reach out to management in our private and team chat rooms.

Remember that our buyer and seller clients are eager to hear from us in this era of social distancing. They still have plans to move, buy, sell or rent and many have expressed an interest in still doing so despite market conditions. So let’s make sure to stay in touch with our clients and be there for them when it counts the most.

We firmly believe that we will come together to find a way out of this current situation soon enough, and that our business together will be better than ever.

Table of Contents:

REBNY dues can be delayed

Annual REBNY membership fees are typically due by April 1st of each year. However, due to unprecedented disruptions to members’ ability to do business, REBNY sent an email on March 17th, 2020 essentially saying that they would be happy to extend the deadline for anyone who asks:

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues to impact our communities and businesses, our main concern is your health and well-being. This unprecedented situation has created challenges, both personally and professionally, and we recognize that our members may have difficulty paying dues as a result. If you need additional time to pay your REBNY dues, please reach out to our Membership department at (212) 616-5285 or REBNYMembership@REBNY.com to discuss your needs.

Thank you for being a REBNY member. We are here for you and we will get through this together.

REBNY Membership Team

This comes as a great relief to brokerage managers and agents alike given the repercussions for not paying by April 1st which are typically severe as we’ll explain.

REBNY’s standard operating practice is to send multiple reminders to both agents as well as managers to pay their dues. Managers would receive a list of agents who still had not paid their dues, and would be threatened with removal of their access to the REBNY RLS if they didn’t disassociate any delinquent agents by April 1st.

The Coronavirus shutdown means all in-person activities such as showings and open houses are no longer permitted. Tips & actionable advice for agents now.

As a result, this offer of an extension is a welcome relief to both agents and brokers who have seen their business come to a standstill during the government enforced shutdown.

We recommend emailing REBNY to ask for an extension if you don’t have the means to pay your dues on time. Please remember to copy your manager on the email so they know that you’ve asked for an exception.

Estimated tax payments are delayed

Real estate agents and all self-employed workers can take a sigh of relief when it comes to taxes. The filing and payment of federal, state and local income taxes have been deferred until July 15th, 2020.

This includes the payment of quarterly estimated taxes that self-employed workers typically have to pay on January 15th, April 15th, June 15th and September 15th in lieu of automatic tax withholding on W-2 workers’ paychecks.

This means that if you owed additional taxes for the 2019 tax year that would normally be due by April 15th, 2020, you can defer the payment of these owed taxes until July 15th, 2020 without penalty or interest.

Similarly, any quarterly estimated income taxes normally due on April 15th, 2020 can be deferred until July 15th, 2020 without penalty or interest.

Moreover, all other taxes also will be deferred until April 25th, 2020, including property taxes per an email from REBNY on March 20th, 2020:

Infographic illustrating tips from REBNY on how real estate agents and sellers can safely host an open house, and how buyers and renters can safely visit open houses presuming that a shutdown is not in place.

All personal tax filing deadlines – at the City, State and federal levels – are now extended to July 15, 2020. All other taxes, including corporate taxes and property taxes, are extended through April 25, 2020. The City is also currently waiving all penalties for late filings.

Forbearance on mortgage payments

If you have a mortgage, Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order essentially allowing borrowers to defer payments on their mortgages for three months without penalty or interest.

More technically, banks operating in New York have to grant a forbearance for 90 days to borrowers who experience hardship as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what REBNY had to say on the topic on an email sent on March 21st, 2020:

Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.9 that requires the New York State Department of Financial Services to issue regulations that ensure under reasonable and prudent circumstances that any consumer in the State of New York have an opportunity for a forbearance of payments for a mortgage for any person or entity facing a financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the period of the emergency (currently through April 20).

And just what is forbearance?

Forbearance typically refers to an agreement between a borrower and a lender when the borrower has a tough time making payments. The lender agrees to reduce or suspend mandatory payments for a period of time, and also agrees to not initiate foreclosure proceedings. Typically, the borrower must agree to a plan to get current, though this will vary by lender and how a forbearance agreement is negotiated.

For example, it’s common to expect borrowers to resume payments at the end of the suspension period, plus an additional amount to become current on the missed amounts. This includes any missed payments for principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

Moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and foreclosures

On March 7th, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order halting all evictions for both residential and commercial properties:

There shall be no enforcement of either an eviction of any tenant residential or commercial, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for a period of ninety days.

Here’s what REBNY had to say about the topic in an email sent on March 21st, 2020:

According to today’s Executive Order, there shall be no enforcement of either an eviction of any tenant residential or commercial, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for a period of ninety days. Read the complete Executive Order here.

Days on market for listings are paused

Listing agents and home sellers can rest easy knowing that REBNY has asked all 3rd party syndication partners to temporarily suspend their days on market count during this crisis.

Here’s what REBNY had to say about the topic on an email sent on March 19th, 2020:

Today, REBNY issued an order to stop Days on Market (DOM) calculation across all consumer-facing portals in New York City that participate in the Residential Listing Service (RLS) network. We have notified all RLS partners and expect to disable DOM calculation as of Friday, March 20, 2020 until further notice. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at RLSsupport@rebny.com.

Fortunately, even the popular website StreetEasy (owned by Zillow Group) has complied despite not being a RLS syndication partner (StreetEasy requires agents to manually upload listings on their website as of 2020).

Here’s what’s StreetEasy had to say about the matter on an email they sent out on March 22, 2020:

Infographic with tips from REBNY on how to adhere to fair housing laws and guidelines during a pandemic.

For on-market/active rental and sales listings, the ‘Days on Market’ field will be temporarily replaced with ‘Counting Suspended’ and no longer display a rolling count of days to prospective buyers and renters. This is effective immediately on StreetEasy.com (desktop and mobile web), and will be incorporated into the StreetEasy app soon. We will revisit our policy and how best to reintroduce accurate Days on Market data once this situation normalizes.

A high days on market number is detrimental to a listing as it implies that a listing hasn’t sold yet due to some undesirable factor.

As a result, this policy helps sellers and listing agents by not unfairly punishing them with a high days on market (DOM) count during this period of inactivity.

Remember that if this policy hadn’t been enacted, sellers would still be punished by many portals even if they de-listed temporarily and then re-listed some time later with the same listing agent.

For example, normally StreetEasy requires a listing to be off-market for a minimum of three months before resetting the day count for a re-listed property under the same agent.

Virtual alternatives for meetings and showings

Video conferencing as a replacement for in-person meetings

There are a plethora of video conferencing tools available today, from paid ones such as Zoom to free ones such as Google Hangouts where you can have a face-to-face with a colleague or a client without ever having to leave your home.

For example, recently one of our buyer clients and her husband wanted to chat with one of our agents live for the first time. They were able to do a group video chat and finally meet each other face-to-face, albeit virtually, and have a group discussion about the status of their home search.

At Mont Sky, we will also be transitioning to a virtual office hours model until the Coronavirus pandemic has normalized. Despite the crisis, agents can still expect to have the same access to managers throughout the week, and the frequency and length of our office hours will not change.

Infographic illustrating safety measures and tips for a real estate closing during a pandemic with social distancing measures in place.

In fact, office hours should be more accessible for more of our agents given the lack of a need to commute to the office.

Is all of this really necessary? Are there any exceptions to the Coronavirus shutdown? For example, can I stop by a seller’s apartment to take a video tour or some additional photos during the shutdown?

Unfortunately this is no longer possible per the NYC Department of Health as well as REBNY, who recently clarified in an email sent on March 20th, 2020 beyond the shadow of a doubt that all in-person business is no longer allowed:

“This means brokers must immediately suspend all in-person business operations including showings and leverage technology to ensure business continuity. “

Property videos and tours can easily be made

Listing agents can cope with the Coronavirus shutdown by making sure their listing has a property video or tour. This is one of the best ways to give buyers a dynamic tour of the property without having to make physical contact.

Furthermore, listing agents will have more stylistic control over the way their property is presented during a virtual tour by choosing the music, cut scenes etc.

All listings at Mont Sky already have or will have a property video. If you are working on a listing at Mont Sky that for some reason does not already have a property video added to the listing, please contact management and our graphics team will create one right way.

3D tours can potentially replace showings entirely

At Mont Sky, we are in the process of implementing 3D tour technology through vendors such as Matterport. Agents can also create a virtual tour for free using just their iPhone and Zillow’s 3D Home App.

For the latter, they’ll just need a recent iPhone and a tripod or monopod. Agents can enhance the experience by buying a special, 360 degree camera to create even more immersion.

Given the current restrictions on social distancing, we recommend listing agents asking sellers to download the free app by Zillow and doing the 3D filming themselves.

Board packages and co-op board interviews can be done remotely

On the bright side, the extreme social distancing measures we’ve seen have finally pushed old fashioned co-ops and condos to consider more environmentally friendly ways to handle the board approval process for co-ops and the right of first refusal process for condos.

Instead of old fashioned listing agents demanding to review hard-copy drafts of the board package in-person with the buyer’s agent, and instead of printing out up to 10 copies of a 300 page board package for each board member, perhaps this crisis will push the old fashioned real estate community to start using the plethora of online tools that have been available for decades now.

Per guidance released by REBNY on the electronic handling of board packages and minutes:

Board packages used to screen potential purchasers or tenants should be distributed to Board members without person-to-person contact. Several options exist to do this through electronic document exchange services that ensure security and efficiency (for example, Board Packager). The same principle of using technology should be utilized for the purchaser’s review of the Board minutes, which can also be done under confidentiality agreements.

REBNY also had the following to say about how board interviews should be handled:

Board interviews can occur using alternative and reliable communications systems such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Google Hangout, among others without the interview being recorded. Please coordinate the tool of choice with all parties involved and schedule Board interviews accordingly.

Contracts can be e-signed and closings can be done remotely

The e-signing of purchase contracts has become quite routine in recent years in New York, especially since contracts of sale do not need to be notarized.

Closings however have been more tricky to virtually implement, with one of the primary impediments being the requirement of a notary being physically present for signatures at closing.

This has just been addressed via an Executive Order by New York’s Governor. Here’s what REBNY had to say on an email sent on March 20th, 2020:

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order that allows notarization – a critical component needed to conduct real estate transactions – to occur using audio-video technology. This is a huge step for our industry, and we are proud we were able to advocate for and achieve this necessary change during this crisis period. To support a smooth transition from in-person real estate transactions to remote or “virtual” transactions, we have created the Recommended Practices to Facilitate Remote Real Estate Closings Using Technology. Please read the complete guidelines here.

Virtual Continuing Education Courses

Real estate agents can fulfill their continuing education requirements through free, online courses offered by a variety of our title insurance, legal and lending partners. For example, Langdon Title has started offering all of its courses via Zoom Webinars until further notice and REBNY has always offered a variety of paid, online courses. Agents at Mont Sky can access all of our free continuing education courses taught by our partners here.

Can I get an extension on my continuing education requirement?

Here’s what Neil Garfinkel, REBNY Broker Counsel, had to say about this in a recent Legal Line Question of the Week email:

Question:

I am a real estate licensee and my license renewal due date is coming up. I have not completed the required 22.5 hours of continuing education (“CE”) for my license renewal, and several CE courses are being canceled due to the coronavirus (“COVID-19”). Will I be able to renew my license if I am unable to complete the required hours as a result of COVID-19?

Answer:

For situations in which a real estate licensee requires additional time to complete their CE requirements for license renewal, New York State Law contains a provision that allows for an extension waiver. Specifically, Title 19 NYCRR §177.6 states that the New York State Department of State (the “DOS”) may grant a waiver to a real estate licensee who provides evidence of a bona fide hardship precluding completion of their CE requirements prior to the time the renewal application is to be filed. The DOS will grant a waiver of up to six months to real estate licensees who are unable to complete their CE requirements due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e. illness, being quarantined, courses being canceled or other circumstances relating to the COVID-19 crisis).

To seek such a waiver, you must file your license renewal application through eAccessNY as usual and indicate that you did not complete your CE requirements. You must then upload documentation demonstrating such hardship together with a written request for such waiver. You will be notified by the DOS if the waiver is granted.

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