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Real Estate in a Coronavirus World

Most Frequently Asked Questions
(Updated April 28, 2020 at 5:10 p.m.)

This is the new virtual world in which we live. We are providing the following FAQ to try to help guide our members during this time since we know much of this is confusing and unclear. The material provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be considered as legal advice for your particular situation.  Due to the rapidly changing nature of the Coronavirus issues, HAR.com makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee of the accuracy, timeliness or reliability of any information provided herein. Thus, you should independently verify with a third party any information received from this site. 

You may find more COVID-19 information on our Member Resources page HERE.

Unemployment Benefits

The latest information from Texas REALTORS about filing for unemployment benefits: https://www.texasrealestate.com/about-us/newsroom/coronavirus-faqs/coronavirus-faqs-independent-contractors-and-unemployment-compensation/.

REALTORS® who are independent contractors or self-employed and are unable to earn an income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for disaster-related unemployment benefits.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is the state agency that administers unemployment benefits in our state. TWC began disbursing disaster-related funds on April 12, with $183 million disbursed to date.

The following suggestions are intended to help Texas REALTORS® navigate the application process.

Two Funding Resources for REALTORS® Affected by COVID-19

There are two types of disaster-related unemployment benefits available until certain dates, so REALTORS® are advised to apply as soon as possible to take advantage of the funds.

1. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
Provides $600 per week for either up to 13 weeks or until July 31, whichever comes first
No income limit.  

2. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Provides between $207/week (minimum) and $521/week (maximum) for up to 39 weeks
Program expires Dec. 26, 2020
To increase the amount beyond the minimum, self-employed/independent contractors should submit income verification documents (1099, Schedule F, C, or SE) to sanantonio.uimail@twc.state.tx.us.

Applicants are automatically enrolled in both programs and can receive FPUC and PUA funds simultaneously.

Follow These Steps to File Online

Please note that TWC’s system wasn’t designed to accommodate independent contractors, so some of the questions or terminology in the application may not apply to you as a REALTOR®. Complete the application as it best describes your situation.

1. Visit TWC’s website at twc.texas.gov. 2. Create an account—you’ll need a User ID and password to file for unemployment. a. From the homepage, find the Quick Links list in the blue bar near the top, then click “Unemployment Benefits Services” on the list. From the UBS page, click “Log on with your existing TWC User ID or create a new User ID” and follow the steps to create a new User ID (if you don’t already have an account). b. Here’s a link directly to the page for creating a new User ID: https://apps.twc.state.tx.us/UBS/security/logon.do. c. Here’s a TWC tutorial on creating a User ID, using screenshots from the website. 3. Complete the application. a. The UBS page includes a link to “Apply for Benefits. b. TWC created this tutorial that provides general guidelines. c. Under “Reason No Longer Working,” select “Disaster” and be sure to indicate in the details that you were impacted by COVID-19 or coronavirus. 4. Once you have submitted your application, you’ll receive information about next steps, requirements, and instructions. a. Check out TWC’s list of “Next Steps,” such as setting up a PIN, signing up to receive important messages, and choosing a benefit payment method.


Why You May Receive an Initial Denial

TWC’s system automatically searches for an applicant’s reported W-2 income, so you may receive a message that your application is denied because you had $0 reported last year.

This is because TWC’s system was not designed to accept applications from independent contractors/self-employed individuals—TWC staff advises those applicants to ignore the initial denial letter.

Check Your TWC Inbox Often

Once you have applied, be sure you’re receiving TWC’s messages by logging on and selecting “Electronic Correspondence” from the Quick Links menu. This free service allows you to receive unemployment notices and forms electronically in a secure, online mailbox.

Be sure to check these messages frequently—information about your claim will be sent here. You are responsible for regularly checking for these messages.

You Must Request Payment
TWC will not automatically send you payments—you must request payment through TWC’s system every two weeks online or by phone. Do not wait for TWC to notify you of your eligibility. Applicants will receive instructions for requesting payment after applying. Click here to learn more about requesting payment.

If you applied before April 9, 2020, you will be automatically enrolled in the federal programs; however, you should submit a request for payment before waiting for TWC to notify you.

Select Your Payment Option
Choose a benefit payment method to receive funds: either direct deposit—the preferred, faster method—or a debit card. Direct Deposit: For more information see Receiving Benefit Payments by Direct Deposit.Debit Card: For more information see Receiving Benefit Payments by Debit Card.
You can change your payment option online or by phone: Log on to UBS and select Change Payment Option from the Quick Links menu.Call Tele-Serv at 800-558-8321 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and select option 5.

Funds Are Taxable
Unemployment benefits are taxable, so TWC will send you a 1099 to report the income on your 2020 federal income taxes next year. Recipients may wish to consider withholding a percentage of the funds for tax purposes.

Keep Trying
TWC’s online and phone systems have been inundated with applicants, so it may take time to complete your application. TWC is increasing their capacity and staffing to expedite the application process and have advised applicants to keep trying until they are able to successfully apply and request funds.

TWC’s help line at 800-939-6631 is now open from 7 a.m. Central to 7 p.m. Central, seven days a week.

New COVID-19 Forms

COVID-19 Addendum: (The original form created by TR, #2520)

This form provides for a 30-day extension of the closing date in a residential sales contract if the closing cannot occur due to a voluntary or mandatory COVID-19 quarantine or closure.

Download form HERE.

Commercial COVID-19 Addendum: (Made available 3/31, #1952)

This form provides for a 30-day extension of the closing date in a commercial sales contract if the closing cannot occur due to a voluntary or mandatory COVID-19 quarantine or closure.

Download form HERE.

COVID-19 Lease Payment Plan Agreement: (Made available 3/31, #2227)

This form is intended to be used with tenants who are facing financial difficulties directly linked to COVID-19. This form enables the tenant and landlord temporary flexibility for paying rent and other sums.

Download form HERE.

Model COVID-19 Certification for Property Access: (Made available 3/31, no number)

This model form was created so that a brokerage can adopt for use when a potential buyer or other service provider will access the property for a viewing or other transaction-related service.

Download form HERE.

Model COVID-19 Certification for Rental Property Access: (Made available 4/15, no number)

This model form was created so that a brokerage can adopt for use when a potential tenant, landlord, property manager, or other service provider will access the property.

Download form HERE.

COVID-19 Resource for Real Estate Brokers available HERE.

How are you supporting your commercial members?

The HRIS Board of Directors has adopted a policy to suspend billing and waive fees for members of the Commercial Gateway CIE service for the third quarter of 2020. This policy will apply to all CommGate CIE members that are in good standing with their second quarter dues paid.

The leadership of the Commercial Gateway CIE and HRIS recognize that the commercial real estate sector is being hit hard by the current coronavirus emergency as many retail stores, businesses and offices buildings are closed. Brokers, property managers and leasing agents are reporting a large number of tenants and owners failing to make timely lease and mortgage payments. This waive of potential defaults has resulted in a steep decline in commission income to brokers and firms, many of which have furloughed staff and reduced hours and pay for the remaining “essential” workers.

The HRIS Board of Directors and the CIE staff think that waiving the fees for 3Q will provide meaningful relief to the financially stressed CIE membership and help maintain the overall effectiveness of the CommGate research and marketing platform during the coronavirus emergency.

Statewide Order: Residential and Commercial Real Estate Services

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statewide “Essential Services” order. It is basically a stay-at-home order that only allows people to leave their homes if performing an “Essential Activity” (going to the grocery store, doctor, pharmacy, gas station, restaurant takeout/drive-thru, etc.) or going to work at an “Essential Business.” For the purposes of the statewide order, “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” are included as essential for the entire state of Texas.

Video message from Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Regardless of what county you live in or do business in, the governor’s order supersedes all of the counties. As of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 2, 2020, the statewide order goes into effect and continues through April 30, 2020. You may click HERE to see the official order. A complete list of essential services and activities as defined under the order may be found on the CISA website. If you still have questions about what you can and cannot do, please contact your attorney.

Note that social distancing and health and safety guidelines must be followed at all times, regardless of what activity you are doing or what business you are in.

We are also providing the latest information from NAR regarding the measures included in the CARES Act that impact our members.

NAR SBA Loan Information

NAR Coronavirus Advocacy FAQs

You may also read more about the Unemployment Benefits available under the latest stimulus package on the NAR CARES Act page. We have been told that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which will administer the unemployment program in Texas, is not yet setup to process applications from 1099 individuals. You may still try to apply, if you believe you are eligible, but just know that there might be a delay. The TWC website is also being overwhelmed with applications, so you may want to try between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

In addition to the SBA financial relief programs provided by the CARES Act, Harris County has also passed a $10 million small business loan forgiveness program. If your business resides in Harris County, you can apply for both programs. Small business owners can apply up for up to $25,000 loans with 0% interest. This loan program will work on a first come, first serve basis so do not wait to apply. You can find more information on the Harris County COVID-19 Forgivable Loan Programand the application HERE

HAR is working in lock-step with NAR on the federal issues and Texas REALTORS on the state issues, and we are in daily contact with the leaders of both associations, as well as associations and MLSs across the country. Kudos to all levels of the REALTOR organization for making sure our members have the information they need as quickly as possible.

The governor issued a statewide “Essential Services” order. Does that include real estate, and if so, does that mean we all have the same guidelines now?

Yes. As mentioned above, Texas Governor Abbott issued a statewide “Essential Services” order on March 31, 2020. Based on the verbiage of the order, what he said during the press conference, and a legal opinion from Texas REALTORS, all “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” are allowed in all counties in the state as of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 2, 2020. If you still have questions about what you can and cannot do, you should contact your attorney.

I’m in _____ county. Can I still work? Am I considered “essential”?

The above-mentioned statewide order supersedes all county orders. We previously provided links to all of the county orders, but since they are not relevant at this time to the practice of real estate, we have removed them so we don’t confuse our members. If you are still unsure what activities, if any, you are allowed to perform after reviewing the above language, you should seek the advice of your attorney.

I heard that the Harris County Clerk’s office stopped allowing e-filing of documents. Is this true, and what impact does that have on transactions?

We spoke to a staff person in the Real Property Department of the Harris County Clerk’s Office on Friday, March 27, 2020. They told us that all of the clerk’s staff was told they could no longer work in the office to perform their jobs. People may continue to e-file or mail any document that needs to be registered with the county. Since there is no one physically at the office, they said that any documents submitted via e-file or mail will be queued until the county staff is allowed to return to the office. If you have any questions, you should contact the title company for guidance.

I saw that the stimulus package includes unemployment benefits for independent contractors. Can you tell me how to apply for unemployment? I also saw it contains money for Small Business Administration loans. Can you tell me about that?

The legislation was signed into law on Friday, March 27, 2020. Since this is a federal law, NAR would be the best source of information regarding what is contained in the expansive bill and how that helps REALTORS. You may view the most recent analysis from NAR HERE. You may also visit the NAR coronavirus website HERE. We will continue to provide information from NAR for our members to know how the CARES Act impacts you as the process is put into place.

We have been told that the Texas Workforce Commission, which is the entity that will administer the unemployment benefits process is not set up yet to accept applications from 1099 individuals. You may visit the TWC website at: https://www.twc.texas.gov/jobseekers/unemployment-benefits-services for more information.

I’m an appraiser, inspector, mover, photographer, title agent, etc. Can I still work?

The statewide order includes “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services.” It also includes references to residential leasing and property management. You will need to determine whether you believe that you are included within any of these services. If you have any questions, you should consult your attorney.

Should I still attend my clients’ closings?

Plan NOT to attend closing. Address any concerns with your client ahead of closing and be available by phone while your client is at closing. If your client cannot attend closing, then the client should speak to an attorney or the title company about a power of attorney specifically drafted for one to sign documents at closing for the client. You, as the REALTOR, should not be on the power of attorney. Alternatively, seek to delay the closing by amending the contract to change the closing date or using the recently created addendum from Texas REALTORS to delay closing (Form TXR-2520).

Sellers don’t want to allow showings in some cases. How can I let other agents know and still keep it Active on HAR.com for consumers?

If a seller does not want to allow showings but wants to keep their listing active so interested buyers may view it online, you may select Temporarily No Showings in the Showing Instructions field in Matrix. The DOM would continue to accrue in this scenario. If you and the seller would like to stop DOM from accruing, you may withdraw the listing temporarily until you are ready to put it back on the market as available for sale.

Can you pause or stop counting Days on Market (DOM)?

HAR leadership considered many factors in making the decision to continue counting DOM for all Active listings.

  • No competitive advantage or disadvantage is created for any agent; the pandemic is impacting every listing the same.
  • DOM will continue to be displayed as “days on site” on Zillow, Realtor, Trulia, Homes and broker sites.
  • HAR.com will display to consumers the following message on every listing:

“Due to the current situation, the Days on HAR.com may not accurately reflect typical market conditions.”

  • Agents will always have access to the archive report to determine when a property was listed.
  • Stopping DOM on Active listings distorts the accuracy of the data. We should be able to look back at the data and see the effect the pandemic had on the market.
  • It may be seen as less than transparent and may not be in your client’s best interest if there is a future legal issue or government assistance.
  • HAR worked to try to ensure real estate services are an “essential” service so that agents may continue serving their clients and keep the market moving.
  • Most all major MLSs across the country have made the decision to continue counting DOM on Active listings.
  • You may use the “Withdrawn” status to stop counting DOM.

Are hourly real estate staff essential?

This would be a discussion to have with your broker.

What does HAR recommend we do if questioned by law enforcement while out conducting business?

While we do not think the police in any jurisdiction will be pulling people over without cause, you can certainly cite the governor’s order that “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” are considered essential. The same language has been included in “essential services” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Always follow the instructions from law enforcement though.

Will you provide certification that says that we are essential in case questioned?

HAR is not a governmental entity, so in the unlikely situation that you are questioned, law enforcement would be much more likely to understand that real estate services have been deemed as essential in the governor’s order and by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You may also consult your broker to see if they may have an authorization to work letter that they can provide for their agents and staff.

Can I still do an in-person open house?

Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. That being said, open houses would probably be included in “residential and commercial real estate services.” If in doubt, you should speak to your broker or attorney. Note that NAR, TAR and HAR all strongly recommend against this. If you still believe an open house should be held and your attorney advises you that it is permissible, you should discuss the pros and cons of it with your seller. Again, we advise against it at this time. We have removed the open house function from Matrix and are not displaying them on HAR.com until further notice. We are currently developing a platform to allow for the broadcast and promotion of virtual open houses on HAR.com and hope to launch it soon. If you do decide to hold an open house, you should continue to abide by the CDC, WHO and governmental guidelines of social distancing by maintaining at least six feet between you and any other person, don’t serve food, and disinfect any surfaces before and after the open house.

Be aware that we have heard reports that concerned neighbors have called the authorities about a couple of open houses that continued to be held recently.  

NAR has a comprehensive set of FAQs just about open houses that may be viewed HERE.

Can I still take clients on showings?

We would first recommend virtual showings. Then, we would recommend only doing in-person showings of vacant homes and avoiding them in occupied homes to minimize the possibility of being exposed to the coronavirus. If you do have showings, please continue to abide by the ordered guidelines and follow best practices. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t need to be touched. Wear gloves. Don’t touch your face. We recommend no more than two people attend plus the REALTOR and still maintain the six feet distance in between each of you. We also recommend against driving your clients or riding in the same car. Virtual is better when possible though.

Are you doing anything about MLS fees/dues?

HAR previously announced that MLS subscribers (brokers and agents) who are current with their second quarter MLS fees would have their third quarter fees waived. This is an aggregate of $4 million being saved by our subscribers.

Why did HAR advocate for real estate to be included as “Essential”? Aren’t you putting money over lives?

We take the current pandemic very seriously. We have taken all of the above-mentioned steps to help slow the spread of the virus. We strongly encourage our members to practice safe real estate and to utilize virtual methods of conducting business whenever possible. That being said, there are 13,000 pending sales in our MLS worth $2.4 billion. Those sellers and buyers need to be able to close those transactions.

I’m a broker. Will my E&O policy cover claims due to the coronavirus?

We have heard from brokers in other markets that they have been notified that claims related to the coronavirus will be denied. We would recommend that all brokers contact your E&O insurance carrier as soon as possible to receive some guidance since that may cause some brokers to alter how they operate during this time.

It should be noted that this is not business as usual. There is nothing usual about the situation we are all faced with as a global community. HAR strongly believes that everyone should act safely and responsibly and should conduct business virtually in any and every way possible. That’s why we removed the open house function from the MLS and stopped displaying open houses on HAR.com. That’s why we cancelled all in-person classes and converted them to webinars as of March 18. That’s why we have encouraged our members to use the transaction management and e-signature options available to them as member benefits. That’s why we are strongly advocating for virtual showings, video tours, and virtual open houses. We are even working around the clock to develop the HAR.com Live platform that will be launched shortly. We are looking into ways to provide additional virtual tools for our members since we know many of you cannot afford to go without a paycheck for an extended period of time. We encourage virtual closings and virtual notary, if allowed and as directed by the title company involved. Our own staff is utilizing Microsoft Teams to communicate as we are all working remotely, and we use Zoom for our advisory group meetings and board meetings.

For additional resources, you may visit:

https://www.texasrealestate.com/about-us/newsroom/coronavirus-information-and-updates/

https://www.nar.realtor/coronavirus-a-guide-for-realtors

https://www.cdc.gov/

www.houston.org/worksafe

The material provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be considered as legal advice for your particular situation.  Due to the rapidly changing nature of the Coronavirus issues, HAR.com makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee of the accuracy, timeliness or reliability of any information provided herein. Thus, you should independently verify with a third party any information received from this site. 

30 thoughts on “Real Estate in a Coronavirus World

  1. We really needed this clarification. Thank you for 3rd quarter fees being waived. I know it has been a real challenge to make
    Transactions viable to all parties but our skills are a needed factor to fund the lives of our clients and ensure equity.

  2. Thank you for your great information and thorough explanations. We all greatly appreciate the free quarter of MLS fees!

  3. Thank you for the clarification. I found your explanations insightful and well-reasoned. It’s nice to have a go-to source during these uncertain times.

  4. Great info, EXCEPT:
    I clicked on EVERY SINGLE COUNTY LINK above, and each of the links works EXCEPT MONTGOMERY COUNTY.
    Will you please correct the link error asap? Thank You In Advance!!!

    1. Monica, click on the word “Montgomery” and you should see a PDF download. Give it a chance to fully download since that contains the information you are looking for. It is not a link to a website.

    1. That is entirely up to you to determine from a business perspective. HAR only asks that you do so responsibly with regards to your health and the health of your client(s), the contractor you may hire and everyone else involved.

    1. They will also receive a free quarter. Invoice will be created for Oct 2020-June 2021 instead of July 2020 – June 2021. They will not have to pay until September or anytime prior to Oct 1.

      1. Meaning the listing agent is in the property streaming on Facebook Live or Facetime for the buyer/buyer’s agent at a designated time? Or is the buyer’s agent at the property streaming to their client?

        1. It’s whatever arrangement works best for you. In other words, have whomever would originally have done this in person (had we not been dealing with coronavirus) be the one to present the live-streamed video. Make sense?

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