How Sellers and Buyers Can Stay Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic

At Hauseit, we fully realize that it’s not possible for many buyers and sellers to simply put a hold on their lives due to the Coronavirus crisis, and that showings and open houses will need to continue to be held.

With our customers in mind, we’ve compiled a list of preventive and safety measures that buyers, sellers and agents can take whether they’re at an open house or a closing. Stay safe New York!

Preventive measures buyers and sellers can take

Buying and selling real estate by default requires in-person interactions. Despite the prevalence of online real estate listings portals and even the advent of virtual walkthroughs, the vast majority of buyers will still need to physically visit and see a property before making an offer.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should take unnecessary risks, or that there’s nothing you can do to minimize health risks to yourself and others.

Here’s what you can do according to a recent email from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY):

  • Understand the facts: Continue to check CDC, NYS and NYC updates and guidelines.

  • Social distancing: Consider conducting meetings and events via phone or video conference.

  • Sanitation: Clean and disinfect all frequently touched objects and surfaces, per CDC recommendations.

  • Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer with alcohol.

  • Stay home: If you, a member of your household or anyone on your team is ill, stay home and avoid physical contact with others.

  • Seek help: Call the NYS Novel Coronavirus hotline if you suspect exposure (1-888-364-3065).

Additionally, the CDC recommends touching your face as little as possible, as the eyes, nose and mouth are possible pathways for viruses.

Make visitors wear booties over shoes at open houses; use power of attorney to avoid closings & more tips for staying safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

How to view a property without visiting in-person

Most real estate listings today will have a plethora of media you can view online without ever having to step foot outside your door. You can view multiple professional photographs of both the interior and exterior of the property, as well as detailed floorplans showing you how the home is laid out. You can even go on Google Street View to see what the neighborhood around the property is like.

Furthermore, many listings will have property tour videos which will walk you through the entire property, and some listings will even have 3D virtual tours where you can walk yourself through a home.

Lastly, you can ask your buyer’s agent to preview the property on your behalf. At the preview, your buyer’s agent may even be able to take additional photos or even videos on your behalf. Better yet, do a video chat with your agent at the showing, and see the property for yourself, virtually!

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How to safely host or visit open houses

Open houses have traditionally been one of the best ways to attract a buyer. They don’t require an appointment, and buyers have the flexibility to stop by whenever during a window of time. Furthermore, buyers don’t feel bad if they’re running late or have to cancel, unlike a private showing.

Don’t believe us? Read our recent study on whether open houses sell homes or whether they’re just a way for listing agents to meet more potential buyer clients.

However, the Coronavirus pandemic is causing a dramatic shift in behavior in the New York City real estate market.

Our partner brokerages started noticing dramatically reduced traffic across a wide segment of open houses a couple of weeks ago; moreover, in recent days we’ve started noticing more and more buildings prohibiting open houses altogether.

Some buildings have gone so far as to restrict all visitation from non-residents, which essentially puts an end to showings altogether.

Assuming that your building still allows open houses and you wish to hold one or visit one, because let’s face it, not all sellers or buyers can put their life on hold, here’s what REBNY advises in a recent email to its agent members:

  • Check with the building to follow current policies for visitors and open houses.

  • Discuss precautions and a safety action plan with the seller.

  • Consider offering clients the option to conduct a virtual tour of the property instead of an in-person meeting.

  • If open houses are permitted, explore options to conduct them by appointment only, and one client at a time.

  • Ask clients not to schedule an open house if ill or exposed to someone who is ill.

  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched areas and surfaces in the property before and after every appointment.

  • When possible, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes to all visitors upon arrival.

  • Avoid shaking hands during in-person interactions.

If you do decide to host an open house during the pandemic, be prepared for significantly reduced traffic.

Here are some additional safety tips our partner brokers have found helpful during these tumultuous times:

  • Make visitors put on disposable “booties” over their shoes.

  • Have separate bins for dirty vs clean booties by the door.

  • Place a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the sign-in sheet.

  • Consider locking bathrooms if you anticipate having more visitors than you can monitor.

  • Consider disabling the lock for the bathrooms to discourage people from using them.

  • Provide masks for visitors who cough, sneeze or display other symptoms as a precaution.

Safety measures for real estate closings

Fortunately for buyers and sellers today, purchase contracts can be e-signed and closings can be done through a power-of-attorney, meaning that buyers and sellers do not need to be present at closing if they don’t want to.

Keep in mind that if you close via a power-of-attorney, your poor attorney who will be acting on your behalf will still have to show up to the closing on your behalf.

Here’s what REBNY recommended for real estate closings in light of the Coronavirus pandemic in a recent email to its members:

  • Discuss options for online and/or electronic closings (or parts of them) with all parties involved.

  • Encourage all parties to limit in-person closing meetings by using document review, approval and signing software.

  • Consider limiting attendees at each closing only to the most essential parties, including using powers of attorney.

  • Avoid shaking hands during in-person interactions.

  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched areas and surfaces before and after the closing.

  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes to individuals upon arrival.

Real estate agents don’t have a role at closing, and typically don’t show up to closings anyway except to pick up their checks.

As a result, one immediate thing you can do is to ask the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent to both not bother coming by to the closing. All they would be able to do is to provide moral support anyway. See if the seller’s attorney can simply mail them their commission checks instead.

Remember that closings can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on whether people show up on time and whether the deal is all cash or financed.

Closing usually take longer if financing is involved, especially since the banks’ attorneys always seem to show up late. This problem is magnified if the seller also has an outstanding mortgage, in which case everyone may have to wait for two different banks’ attorneys to show up on time.

Try to mitigate this by asking the banks’ attorneys to show up on time, especially given the severity of the current crisis and the desire for all individuals to minimize the duration of close contact at a closing.

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Fair housing considerations during a pandemic

New York City has some of the strictest fair housing laws in the country, which protect people from housing related discrimination on top of the protections afforded by federal fair housing laws.

As a result, sellers and listing agents holding open houses and showings should take special care to treat all visitors, potential buyers and buyer’s agents equally when it comes to precautionary measures.

Here’s what REBNY had to say about remembering the importance of fair housing laws during the Coronavirus pandemic:

  • Develop precautionary safety and health policies for all in-person meetings.

  • Put these policies in writing so they are clear and available to all. It is crucial not to be selective as to whom these policies are applied.

  • Implement these policies with everyone equally, consistently and in the same manner. i.e. When requiring use of hand sanitizer, questioning an individuals’ recent travel history, or expressing concerns of visible symptoms, make sure it is applied to all individuals.

Remember that as a species, none of us are immune to the novel coronavirus, regardless of who you are or what you believe.

A very simple example is if you want people to refrain from touching each other or the furniture, then post a clearly written sign asking people to refrain from touching other people or things.

Then, make sure that you ask everyone to abide by your rule, while making it clear that you are applying the rule broadly to everyone.

What you certainly do not want to do in times like these is to selectively ask certain individuals to refrain from doing things because of any personal prejudices, whether real or imagined.

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Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided. Hauseit LLC is a Licensed Real Estate Broker, licensed to do business in New York under license number 10991232340. Principal Office: 148 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013.

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