IMPORTANT ALERT: Coronavirus Updates
March 18, 2020
During this health event, Alabama REALTORS® is proactively monitoring developments at the national, state, and local levels regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and local public health authorities. While we recognize that the situation is rapidly changing day to day, the Association has adopted a number of precautions to help mitigate the public health risk based on guidance from these organizations and the potential impact on Association operations, travel, and real estate activity.
Below is important information and resources available to you. We update this page frequently, so be sure to scroll through and note the dates for any recent announcements or changes.
- Stay Informed: Check with your local health and city authorities for updates in your area. If you have a specific question related to real estate that is not contained here- please reach out to us.
- Answers to Legal Questions Related to COVID-19: The Alabama REALTORS® Legal Hotline (334-262-3808) is responding to inquiries from members regarding COVID-19 and its impact on your businesses. We are in the process of documenting frequently asked questions and plan to publish additional resources online.
- Commit to Professionalism: Uncertainty, anxiety, and rapidly changing information due to COVID-19 in the U.S. present challenges to real estate professionals and consumers involved in real estate activities. When working with clients or prospects, REALTORS® must always be careful to avoid actions that violate the Fair Housing Act. This remains true even with the added concerns regarding COVID-19.
- Communicate with Existing and Prospective Clients: Engage in open, honest discussions with your clients and prospects to understand their goals and concerns. You can provide insights about steps in a real estate transaction that may involve contact with others or visits/visitors to properties. For clients and others concerned about in-person contact, you may be able to suggest alternatives such as virtual meetings, photos, and videos. You can also point clients and prospects to expert sources for topics that fall outside your expertise, such as the CDC, Alabama Department of Public Health, or local health authorities for hygiene and health tips.
- Make Sure Policies are Consistent: Remember your obligation to follow fair housing laws. You may not discriminate against anyone based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. You may ask people if they have recently traveled to locations with outbreaks of COVID-19. However, if you do so, you must ask this question of all clients and must treat clients equally based on their responses—not on any of the protected classes. You may refuse to drive clients in your car if they have traveled to such areas or show signs of respiratory illness—or you may decide to not drive any clients in your car.
- Banking, Cyber and Transaction Fraud: Fraudsters have begun leveraging concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) to target businesses and individuals. These parties send emails that appear to come from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), or other reputable health organizations. The emails may include links to what they claim are tips for safety measures, prevention, or updates.
- Take precautions with links or attachments in unsolicited emails and ensure their legitimacy before clicking on them.
- Verify the authenticity of a company website or a request for information by contacting the company directly.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations asking for this information.
- COVID-19 Addendum: To assist you with the impacts of COVID-19 on your business, the Alabama REALTORS® prepared a form addendum, or amendment as the case may be, for purchase agreements that allows extensions of existing deadlines, allows for terminations, specifies what happens to escrow funds, and names COVID-19 a “force majeure” event. Please check with your local MLS to ensure compliance with all MLS rules. Also, we would love to hear from you if you have specific requests for additional forms or questions about the Addendum. Download COVID-19 Addendum here.
- Accountant: Call your Certified Public Accountant to proactively discuss what can be done to mitigate any losses from the coronavirus pandemic, the impact on end of year and/or quarterly tax filings. The IRS and Alabama Department of Revenue have extended the 2019 tax filing deadline and a federal relief and stimulus package may include provisions to help business owners. (Updated March 20, 2020)
- Business Insurance: Call your business insurance providers and determine if you have business interruption insurance or business income insurance. Review policy limits and the process for potentially filing a claim.
- Business Banking: Review your banking options with your banking provider. Explore options about loans, lines of credit, and whether the Federal Government may provide any relief or short-term lending opportunities for small businesses. ** The Small Business Administration is providing an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program for small businesses. More information about the program may be found here. (Updated March 17, 2020)
- Continuing Education Needs: Alabama REALTORS® will continue to support local associations in their delivery of education to meet the needs of members while maintaining their health and safety. Contact your local association to check the status of any classes in which you planned to participate. The Alabama Real Estate Commission has issued instruction to schools and instructors to allow for virtual and online CE at the discretion of the instructor. (Updated March 16, 2020)
- Alabama Real Estate Commission (AREC): AREC has cancelled upcoming meetings and hearings. All trust account audits and education audits have been cancelled immediately. More information about the most recent AREC update can be found here. (Updated March 16, 2020)
As the novel COVID-19 outbreak evolves, Alabama REALTORS® is here to help with any practical real estate issues that may develop due to the concern surrounding the virus. With guidance from NAR, CDC, WHO, the President and other federal & state agencies, the below Q&As attempt to address any current issues that members may face in the coming days.
Q: What unique issues does coronavirus present to the real estate industry?
A: When an infectious disease is associated with a specific population or nationality, as coronavirus has been due to where the outbreak began, fear and anxiety may lead to social stigma and possible discrimination. In times like these, REALTORS® must be extra aware of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act and be sure not to discriminate against any specific segment of the population.
Q: If I am unable to show the property because of COVID-19, can I ask the sellers to let the buyers in and give them a credit or gift card for handling that part of the selling process?
A: Yes, you can ask the seller to show the property to the buyer. If the buyer’s agent cannot show the property, the buyer’s agent will need to obtain the permission of the buyers and sellers. The buyer’s agent should not communicate directly with the seller if there is an exclusive representation agreement in place; instead, the buyer’s agent should communicate with the listing agent to avoid violating the Code of Ethics. As an agent making the request to the sellers to show the property, you can give the sellers an incentive, such as a prize, money, gift, etc., but the agent cannot give or receive a rebate. Any incentive must be given in advance or at closing and must be disclosed to all interested parties, which normally includes the sellers, buyers and the lender in a residential sale.
Q: Can either party terminate the contract based on anything related to COVID-19, such as illness, exposure, quarantine, etc.?
A: It depends on the contract. A standard residential sales contract does not have termination provisions that could be triggered due to a pandemic-type of situation. Typically, there is just a default paragraph that allows a party to terminate the contract if the other party does not meet its obligations under the contract. The parties may consider a reasonable extension of the closing due to illness or quarantine from COVID-19. Ultimately, it is up to the parties of the contract how they maneuver a delay in performing their contractual obligations because of COVID-19.
Construction contracts generally do have provisions addressing some of the effects we have seen from COVID-19, like construction delays caused by unavailability of materials. In such a scenario, the seller may substitute materials, equipment, and appliances of comparable quality for those specified in the construction documents. If there are no substitute materials of comparable quality and price available, the delay will be added to the time allowed for substantial completion of the construction. However, the time for substantial completion may not extend beyond the closing date. If, at closing, the seller fails to satisfy his obligations, the buyer should look at the default paragraph for remedies, including extending the time for performance or terminating the contract and receiving the earnest money.
Q: My seller has a positive diagnosis for coronavirus. What are my obligations to inform the buyer, inspectors, and members of the public who have been to the property?
A: If clients inform you that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should disclose the information to anyone who may have come into contact with your client as a result of your brokerage activities. There may be involvement from the city or state in tracking those that may have been exposed to your client. However, brokers and agents owe a duty to the public, and informing them of exposure to COVID-19 would fall under such a duty regardless of whether your client wants to inform others. You should also contact your doctor or city authorities regarding your exposure and self-quarantine for a minimum of two weeks in order to minimize the spread of the virus.
Q: May I ask clients or others I interact with in my real estate business if they have traveled recently, or have any signs of respiratory illness?
A: Yes, you may ask clients or others about their recent travel, particularly to areas identified as having an increased risk of coronavirus. To avoid potential fair housing issues, be sure to ask all clients the same screening questions based on current, factual information from public health authorities.
Q: I typically drive my clients to showings. May I refuse to drive potential clients to see homes?
A: Yes. However, be sure that any change to your business practices is applied equally to all clients. You may refuse to drive clients who show signs of illness or reveal recent travel to areas of increased risk of coronavirus, or you may instead decide to stop driving clients in your car altogether and simply arrange to meet clients at a property. If you do continue to drive clients in your car, it is a good idea to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces like door handles and seat belt latches and to ask clients to use hand sanitizer when getting in and out of the car.
Q: Should I still conduct open houses on my listed properties?
A: Speak openly and honestly with your seller about the pros and cons of holding an open house. Assess the risk based on your specific location and direct your clients to local and state health authorities for specific information about the severity of the risk in your area. You could also propose alternative marketing opportunities for your seller’s consideration, such as video tours and other methods to virtually tour a property. If you do hold an open house, consider requiring all visitors to disinfect their hands upon entering the home, limiting the amount of people in the home and providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entryway, as well as soap and disposable towels in bathrooms. If you decide to do any cleaning at your client’s home, be sure to check with your client in advance about any products you plan to use. After the open house, recommend that your client clean and disinfect their home, especially commonly touched areas like doorknobs and faucet handles.
Q: What precautions should brokers consider taking in their office?
A: Brokers should use their best judgment when formulating a plan. In addition to performing regular environmental cleaning with special attention paid to frequently touched surfaces, brokers should implement a mandatory “stay-home” policy for any staff member or agent exhibiting any sign of illness. Brokers may want to consider imposing a mandatory or maximum flexibility remote work policy for employees and instructing agents to stay out of the office. In addition, in the wake of the CDC’s recent guidance recommending that in-person events consisting of 50 or more people be cancelled or postponed and the White House guidance of 10 or less, brokers should take measures to hold virtual meetings when possible, and potentially postpone or cancel in-person meetings or events to take to limit close contact between individuals.
Q: What resources should I utilize moving forward?
A: Be sure to monitor updates from the CDC, as well as your state and local health authorities for additional information and guidance on holding meetings or events. For travel considerations, review NAR’s “Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTOR® Associations.” Finally, do not panic, stay informed, and use your best judgment. The situation is rapidly changing, so focus on putting policies and procedures in place to keep your employees and agents informed, safe, and to avoid business disruption in the event the situation worsens. The CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers is a helpful resource.
- State of Disaster Declared for Alabama: Alabama Gov. Ivey declared a state of emergency on Friday, March 13, for all Alabama counties. Read more about what this declaration entails and additional actions the state is taking to protect vulnerable populations and provide timely testing at the Office of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s website. (March 15, 2020)
- Department of Public Health: No mass gatherings of 25 or more people. No visitation allowed in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. Avoid unnecessary travel. Bars and restaurants close for in-person dining. More specific information can be found here and general information here. (Updated March 20, 2020)
- Schools: Public Schools to close for three weeks until Monday, April 6. On March 19, private schools, preschools and all other childcare facilities with 12 or more children also closed per state public health order. More information from State Department of Education can be found here and here. (Updated March 20, 2020)
- Nursing Homes: Nursing homes are not allowing visitors except for medical necessity and end-of-life situations. More information here. (Updated March 20, 2020)
- State Employees: Governor Ivey authorizes state employees to work remotely through April 6. More information here and here. (March 15, 2020)
- Department of Revenue - Taxes: The Alabama Department of Revenue has extended the current year tax deadline to July 15 based on action by the Internal Revenue Service and federal direction. More information can be found here and here. (Updated March 20, 2020)
- Department of Labor - Unemployment: The Alabama Department of Labor has announced expanded eligibility and unemployment benefits for workers affected by and unable to work due to the pandemic. More information can be found here and here. (Updated March 16, 2020)
- Alabama Office of Courts: Any current pending court actions may be affected by the pandemic. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an order for the Alabama Judicial System on March 13, 2020 which suspends all in-person proceedings in all state and local courts through April 6, 2020. This includes circuit court, district court, juvenile court, municipal court, probate court, and appellate courts. Exceptions to the order are listed in the order. More specific information can be found here, here, and general information here. (Updated March 16, 2020)
- Public Service Commission (PSC): The PSC is working with Alabama utility providers to ensure continuity in utility services for those affected by the coronavirus. More specific information can be found here and generally here. (Updated March 17, 2020)
- Elections: The Alabama Presidential Primary Run Off was scheduled for March 31. Due to the pandemic and for the protection of the health, safety, and general welfare of citizens, Governor Ivey has moved the election date to July 14. More specific information can be found here. (Updated March 18, 2020)
- State of National Emergency: President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency on March 13, 2020. More information can be found here. (Updated March 15, 2020)
- Center for Disease Control (CDC): The CDC has issued guidance recommending no gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the pandemic. More information here. Updated guidance limits those gatherings to no more than 10 people within the next 10 days and for high risk populations. The primary resource page for Coronavirus is here and general resource page is here. (Updated March 16, 2020)
- World Health Organization: The primary resource page for Coronavirus information is here and general resource page is here. (Updated March 16, 2020)
- President’s Coronavirus Guidelines: The President announced coronavirus guidelines called “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” The guidelines recommend working remotely from home, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, avoiding restaurants, bars, food courts, and discretionary travel. The guidelines can be found here. (Updated March 17, 2020)
- Department of Defense (DOD): The Department of Defense issued guidance to restrict travel for service members, DOD civilian employees, and their families the next eight weeks, ending on May 11. More information can be found here.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS has created a resource page for Coronavirus Tax Relief and guidance for related tax issues here. The Treasury Department and IRS extended the federal income tax filing due date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. More information can be found here. (Updated March 21, 2020)
- Federal Government Overview: USA.GOV has created a comprehensive resource that provides information from all federal agencies about the coronavirus. Information can be found here.
- Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD has created a resource page for housing related guidance for single family, multifamily, and other housing providers. HUD is also temporarily suspending all foreclosures and evictions nationwide effective now until the end of April. Information can be found here.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): The CFPB has created a resource page for consumers who may be impacted by the coronavirus and experience difficulty paying bills or financial obligations, experience a loss of income, or feel that they are the victim of a scam. More information can be found here.
- Small Business Administration: The Small Business Administration is providing guidance for small businesses and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program for small businesses. More information can be found here.
- Department of Treasury: The Treasury Department has created a resource page about potential stimulus and relief packages related to the coronavirus. More information can be found here.
- Freddie Mac: Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2020-5, Selling Guidance Related to COVID-19, which allows desktop appraisals and exterior inspection only appraisals for purchase transactions until May 17 to alleviate appraisal delays due to COVID concerns. More information can be found here. (March 24, 2020)
- Considerations for Local REALTOR® Associations: Many local association staff and leaders are holding discussions on how to proceed with upcoming events, meetings, and travel. This includes governance and committee meetings, CE classes, and ARPAC fundraising events. The CDC has published mitigation strategies that outline actions you can take in your workplace and communities. You can also look to local authorities for information and advice about your community, including any emergency declarations. For instance, some cities have placed restrictions on the number of people who can gather at events.
- Suspension of Travel and Events: To protect the health of our members and the public, Alabama REALTORS® leaders have made difficult decisions regarding upcoming Association activities.
- Leader and Staff Travel: Effective immediately, Alabama REALTORS® is suspending all non-essential travel through April 30. This includes members and staff representing Alabama REALTORS® and travel related to ARPAC. Upcoming committee meetings will be conducted through conference and video technology.
- Upcoming Events Canceled:
- Alabama Graduate Institute Class II in Huntsville on April 8-9
- Alabama Graduate Institute Class III in Birmingham on April 14-15
- NAR President Vince Malta Video Message (Updated March 17, 2020)
- NAR canceled legislative meetings to hold virtual committee meetings (Updated March 20, 2020)
- NAR guidance for members
- NAR guidance for REALTOR® associations
- NAR announces ban on non-essential travel
- NAR surveys members on impact of coronavirus