How Does the Stay Home, Stay Health Order Affect Real Estate Sales?
This information is accurate as of March 26th, 2020. Please check for updated postings frequently.
Things are changing day by day, moment by moment. This FAQ from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service explains a little bit more about what real estate brokers, buyers and sellers are allowed to do as of today March 26th under the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order from Governor Inslee. By the time you read this, everything may have changed again.
What is the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), effective midnight on Wednesday, March 25th, Governor Inslee issued a statewide "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order. The Order will initially last for two weeks and requires the closure of all "non-essential critical infrastructure businesses." Workers that are considered non-essential and who do not have in-person contact with others, can continue to work remotely from home only. The Order may be extended and may be modified.
Are real estate brokerage services considered “essential”? No. Real estate brokerage services are not on the list of essential services. Real estate brokers may:
Provide services to their clients remotely from their house; and
Use technology services that enable remote business, including online forms, electronic signatures, virtual tours, videos, and similar tools that can be used from home.
Can real estate firms continue “Basic Minimum Operations”? Yes. Real estate firms can continue to process payroll and benefits, preserve equipment, ensure security, and support brokers’ ability to work from home. Social distancing guidelines must be followed. This exception is to continue only basic, minimum business functions for identified essential workers. This is not an exception to the prohibition against a broker leaving home to provide real estate brokerage services.
Can lenders, title, and escrow continue to operate during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Yes. The “Financial Services Sector" has been deemed essential. This includes workers who are needed to process and maintain systems for processing financing transactions and services and insurance companies including mortgage lenders, escrow and title insurers. Because the Financial Services Sector is considered essential, real estate transactions that are under contract may be able to proceed to closing. Of course, there could be delays, which is why the parties should use the new Force Majeure and Closing Addendum (Form 22FM).
Can appraisers conduct in-person appraisals during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Probably not. An appraiser can certainly conduct a remote appraisal, if acceptable to the lender. Appraisers are likely prohibited from conducting in-person appraisals. Washington Realtors and NWMLS are awaiting clarification from the Governor’s office regarding certain activities for pending transactions.
Can inspectors conduct home inspections during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Currently, no. Inspection services are not considered essential. Washington Realtors and NWMLS are awaiting clarification from the Governor’s office regarding certain activities for pending transactions.
Can buyer brokers conduct “buyer walk-throughs” prior to closing during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Currently, no. Real estate brokerage services are not considered essential. Washington Realtors and NWMLS are awaiting clarification from the Governor’s office regarding certain activities for pending transactions.
Note that the Force Majeure and Closing Addendum (Form 22FM) extends the buyer’s time period to complete the walk-through, which would extend closing.
Can brokers retrieve house keys and provide to a buyer after a closed sale? Currently, no. If keys to the property are not otherwise available to a buyer at closing, a broker in the transaction may make arrangements for a seller to leave a set of keys for the buyer at the property, observing social distancing guidelines. Washington Realtors and NWMLS are awaiting clarification from the Governor’s office regarding certain activities for pending transactions.
What if buyers or sellers have questions about their rights and obligations under their purchase and sale agreement or lease? As always, brokers have a duty to refer their clients to experts regarding matters in which the broker lacks expertise. Particularly in matters affected by COVID-19 and the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order, it is unlikely that brokers will have expertise and should advise their clients to seek the advice of an attorney.
Is NWMLS disabling the Key and Keybox system during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? No. This is because Washington Realtors and NWMLS are awaiting clarification from the Governor’s office regarding certain activities for pending transactions.
Can brokers continue to physically preview or show properties in any fashion – even alone? No. In-person previewing or showing properties is in direct violation of the Governor’s order. NWMLS has instituted a no previews or showings instruction for the membership during the duration of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. If brokers do not abide by this instruction, disciplinary action and sign ificant monetary sanctions for a violation of Rule 11(g) (Duty to Honor Showing Restrictions and Instructions) will result. Note – the NWMLS Keybox system tracks all entries into every Keybox.
In addition to property photos, brokers and buyers should utilize virtual tours and videos that were created before the effective date of the order.
Can real estate brokers input new listings in the MLS system during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? What about property photos? Yes. Real estate brokers are permitted to input new listings into the MLS system – from their home. However, real estate brokers may not physically visit the property to take photos, create virtual tours or videos, stage the home, or meet with the seller. Likewise, professional photogr aphers are not permitted to visit the property to take photos or create virtual tours or enter the property for any purpose. However, the order does not prohibit a seller from taking pictures of his or her own property and sending those photos to the listing broker.
Do listing brokers need to remove Keyboxes from Active listings? No. Keyboxes may stay on Active listings – so brokers do not need to reinstall the Keybox after the order is lifted. As noted above, brokers may not access the Keybox to preview or show the property.
Can Sellers take their listing temporarily off the market during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Yes. A seller can choose to change the status of their listing temporarily off the market. Listings in the “TOMK” status will not be displayed on member’s public websites. Under normal circumstances, the listing broker of a TOMK listing would be required to remove the Keybox, take the for-sale sign down, and only have the listing in the TOMK status for a maximum of 45 days. Those requirements have been suspended for the duration of the order.
Is NWMLS going to stop days on market and cumulative days on market from accumulating? No. NWMLS conducted significant research and analysis, considered the MLS system’s technical limitations and possibilities, discussed several policy concerns, and analyzed a variety of options and proposals. There are many technical and philosophical challenges with temporarily changing code, database structures, and statistical information. In the end, the Board of Directors determined that the best solution was to leave the system as it exists today.
All sellers who leave their listing Active during the stay will be in the same position as one another and days on market will continue to accrue. Buyers are obviously aware of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order and the government mandate to stay at home. Sellers have the option to take their listing temporarily off the market during the stay, and if they do so, days on market will not accrue, until the listing is re-activated.
Will NWMLS relax certain compliance requirements during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Yes. The time requirements related to uploading a legal description, inputting a primary photograph, installing and removing Keyboxes, removing for sale signs, and similar matters will be relaxed.
Can contractors make repairs associated with an inspection response during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order? Generally, no. The only repairs that are allowed are emergency repairs and repairs necessary to the structural integrity of the property. Other repairs or improvements (e.g. for cosmetic purposes) are not allowed. For anything other than emergency or structural repairs, buyers should consider negotiating a price reduction so that a buyer could complete the work after closing and after the order is lifted.