The 2020s: A Clearly Challenging Start to a New Decade
November 7, 2022
The ability to clearly see from a distance is often called “20/20 vision.” As 2020 dawned, REALTORS® could see better economic conditions ahead with an improving economy, low interest rates, and low unemployment. Few could see the tidal wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the world.
In January 2020, the world began to see reports of a new and deadly virus erupting in Wuhan, China. The virus, bearing the name COVID-19, quickly spread across Europe reaching the U.S. in March. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic. Countries sealed their borders; schools and workplaces closed; masks and disinfectants became a part of everyday life and in short supply; and governments issued stay-at-home orders. The stock market dropped approximately 30% as the US and world economies screeched to a halt and real estate sales trickled to a standstill. Containing the virus and stemming the mounting death toll called for drastic measures that affected every aspect of American life and took its toll on every industry.
As many industries were forced to close, a coalition of the Alabama Association of REALTORS®, Alabama Bankers and Alabama Home Builders argued that their collective members and industries should be declared essential to meet the critical housing, banking and building needs of Alabamians during the pandemic. As a result, Alabama REALTORS® businesses were not shut down in the government mandates, and real estate was included as an essential service, allowing REALTORS® to meet the housing and property needs of consumers.
REALTORS® rapidly adapted to the new environment- adopting recommended health protocols to show houses safely and technology to conduct virtual showings and close transactions virtually. As government stay-at-home orders abated and government programs stimulated the economy, combined with historically low interest rates, real estate sales soared to unprecedented levels. National U.S. property broker Redfin reported in January 2021 that nearly two thirds (63%) of people who bought a home in 2020 made an offer on a property that they hadn't seen in person.
Closings, traditionally held around a conference table, moved to a computer screen and an app called Zoom as REALTORS® and other professionals were unable to safely meet in person to close transactions and conduct other essential business. In response, AAR won passage of a bill allowing remote ink notarization to safely conduct essential business remotely when needed.
In late 2020, the federal government created an Emergency Rental Assistance Program with $25 billion for tenants and housing providers. AAR and local associations worked together to help governments apply for the federal rental assistance from the US Department of Treasury. Working with the Governor’s Office and local governments, Alabama received over $326 million to cover rent and utilities for Alabamians affected by COVID-19. AAR then won state legislative approval for the use of federal dollars with the passage of HB231 appropriating over $263 million in rental assistance funds for property owners, landlords, renters, and REALTORS® during the 2021 legislative session. The funds helped families avoid eviction and helped property owners continue to provide housing. Working with a coalition of business organizations, REALTORS® were included in a bill providing liability protection against a wave of frivolous civil lawsuits arising from the COVID-19 pandemic that would have hurt small business owners.
On the federal level, AAR filed and won a critically important legal challenge to the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The legal complaint alleged the CDC harmed housing providers, small business owners, and REALTOR® members; took private property for public use without just compensation; unconstitutionally deprived housing providers of property without due process; and denied housing providers access to seek redress in the courts and other claims for relief. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Alabama Association of REALTORS, et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. that the CDC acted unlawfully and overstepped its constitutional authority in creating the eviction moratorium and upheld the right to evict as a fundamental private property right. The Court stated “It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19 Delta variant. But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” The ruling was an important victory for members and private property rights.
As 2021 drew to a close, Alabama REALTORS® traveled to Point Clear for the 2021 Annual Conference – their first in-person gathering in almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic. Working together and increasing their financial support, AAR members revamped the Alabama REALTORS® Foundation to offer new benefits for AAR members – an Education Scholarship Fund and a Benevolent Fund – in addition to the already established Disaster Relief Fund. The first year of scholarship recipients were announced in 2022.
By 2022, many aspects of American life returned to a more normal feel. Some workers returned to offices while others, using the technology adopted during the pandemic, continued to work from home or blended time working from home or office. With 2022 state elections ahead, the Alabama Legislature worked early in the year to pass important legislation like the renewal of the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account Program that helps first-time home buyers save money toward the purchase of their first home. The pandemic demonstrated the dire need for broadband internet access – especially in rural areas of Alabama. AAR worked with a coalition of business groups to expand broadband access across Alabama.
The remainder of the 2020 decade surely will bring new challenges, but the nearly three years of pandemic adjustments and survival have aptly demonstrated the ability of REALTORS® to adapt and overcome.