COVID-19: FAQs

Top COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Questions from REALTORS®

In this section, you will find some helpful resources and general legal information to help guide you and your clients through this uncertain and ever-changing environment. This is not a substitute for specific legal advice, but can provide some basic legal guidance to point you in the right direction. We will continue to update this page as information becomes available or if suggested guidance changes in any substantial way.

Pursuant to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s Executive Order and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s Executive Order, dated March 21, 2020, real estate related services were not mentioned. While not specifically mentioned in the orders, we believe real estate services and all public and private support services (title, inspection services, deed recordings, etc.) required to complete the transaction fall under the umbrella of essential. A legal analysis by association legal counsel Lewis Rice arrives at the conclusion that “Under both orders, real estate professionals should feel comfortable continuing their operations as long as they adhere to the social distancing requirements and other applicable mandates in the order.”

In separate letters to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page we urge them to classify these front-line and support services as "essential services" to ensure our citizens can achieve the comfort and security of homeownership, especially in these uncertain times. In a response to this letter, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Janson M. Thomas, responded “Under E, Essential Activities, number 1, you are allowed to perform tasks essential to any person’s health and safety which would include obtaining shelter. Be sure you protect yourself and others by following social distancing guidelines such as washing hands, using hand sanitizer, and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between people. F 39 also allows for professional services when related to the necessary activities of an Essential Business.”

We must recognize that the real estate industry is a very important cog in the local, state and national economy; one that is so important it warrants some protection to allow for continuance during these trying times.

It is important to note that brokers and their sponsoring companies must continue to make their own business decisions about whether to continue to operate at all, or how to best operate while taking the extraordinary safety measures recommended in the orders.

Effective Monday, March 23, 2020, St. Louis City and St. Louis County are operating under “Stay in Place” Orders, so offices should give very serious consideration to stopping physical showings and open houses, in favor of seller-assisted videos, photos or virtual tours.

The state and St. Louis City and St. Louis County have mandated that citizens keep appropriate social distances to the extent possible, in order to slow down the spread of the virus and that does suggest that open house marketing may not be in the best interest of the public in the current environment. That said, whether REALTORS® hold open houses at this time, so far, continues to be an independent business decision.

All real estate professionals should consider the ways in which their business practices can be altered to comply with the above guidelines. For example, there may be opportunities for individuals to work from home and utilize virtual meetings. In the event that an in-person property viewing is deemed critical, the showing should be restricted to only the actual signer of the lease or sale agreement, providing (and using themselves) ample hand sanitizer and disposable vinyl gloves and possibly masks when conducing in-person meetings or showings. Real estate professionals should consider alternative ways to conduct open houses that minimize the risk of spreading the virus, such as “by appointment only” or even virtual open houses. If open houses are to be conducted in person pursuant to the request of a client, obtain clear (and preferably written) approval of the client and take additional measures such as handing out hand sanitizer, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and masks. Sterilize all writing utensils used to sign in and out of the open house. Open as many doors as possible using gloves or some other disinfectant prior to the open house, so that perspective buyers and their agents touch as little as possible while viewing the home.

See NAR’s practical guidance regarding open houses. Consider similar principles with regard to showings.

If a seller client elects to hold an open house, ideally, after consulting with their legal counsel, they must institute these strict precautions from the CDC.

Yes. REALTORS® can make business decisions to suspend holding open houses and to avoid in-person contact with clients. The sponsoring broker can amend office policies to include directives on how the brokerage will handle both open houses and personal client contact. However, it is imperative that any policy put into place be applied equally to all clientele.

The National Association of REALTORS® has published some valuable information on how to navigate these issues.

You can refuse to hold an open house. However, keep in mind that the same policy does need to be applied to all of your clients in a consistent manner. Consider the ability to be innovative by marketing and showing properties on a virtual platform through interactive links and/or video. It may be difficult to get a photographer to go into a residence to shoot video. You might work with your seller and ask your seller to assist in taking video and pictures of the home. While not ideal, if your seller insists on an open house, the seller can be their own host and you can assist with other marketing resources.

In addition, you could take and use more pictures and video than you might normally include in your “regular” marketing. You might also provide an extended written description of the layout of the property. Just be certain to represent the property accurately. Also, to the extent possible, and per seller’s direction, limit publication according to that specific direction.

At this time, the information that we have on the virus and how to avoid infection is constantly evolving. Keep abreast of new information from the CDC on the coronavirus and publicize the information to your employees and tenants.

Implement office policies and publicize the policies to your employees regarding the best ways to prevent both infection and spread of the disease.

If a tenant says they are sick, stay away in the absence of an immediate emergency such as a fire or flood. If they invite you or a staff person in for a repair, the sick person must be isolated, and you should take all of the precautions listed above.

If an employee expresses concern about their own health or safety, or that of their families, you should not require them to do any work that they believe puts their health in danger. It may be necessary to consult with your company attorney to address employment issues related to required labor and access to tenants’ space under these circumstances.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the City of St. Louis Sheriff’s Office and the St. Louis Housing Authority have announced a moratorium on evictions “until further notice” to make sure people have access to housing during this difficult time. The St. Louis County Circuit Courts issued a similar order, prohibiting the Sheriff’s office from executing on writs of eviction “until further order of this court”.

First, you should advise your seller client that to refuse entry solely on one’s national origin or ethnicity is a violation of fair housing laws and can’t be tolerated at any time. It is imperative that REALTORS® continue to treat everyone consistently to refrain from stigmatizing based on a protected class like national origin. If you will be screening prospects related to the current declared pandemic, follow the list of virusrelated questions drafted according to the CDC protocol (see above) and apply those questions consistently and in a standard manner. Possible infection is the present issue, not a person’s national origin, ethnicity or any other protected class.

Here is a helpful reminder from CDC about the danger of stigmatizing.

While not specifically mentioned in the orders, we believe real estate services and all public and private support services (title, inspection services, deed recordings, etc.) required to complete the transaction fall under the umbrella of essential. In separate letters to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page we urge them to classify these front-line and support services as "essential services" to ensure our citizens can achieve the comfort and security of homeownership, especially in these uncertain times.

Real estate professionals should connect with other private businesses that they utilize in the day-to-day operation of their own business to understand how each business entity intends to alter their practices in light of these new restrictions. The list below is not exhaustive, but serves to highlight some key entities with whom real estate professionals should plan to coordinate: Banks, Title Companies, Appraisers, Home Inspectors, Property Managers, Marketing Personnel, Attorneys, and other Brokers/Agents. Unless and until further guidance is issued by St. Louis City and St. Louis County, self-classification by business entities could be varied and this will have to be clarified with each entity, on a case-by-case basis.

Two optional COVID-19 Addenda are now available on stlrealtors.com, Dotloop, FormRUs and Zipforms. The first addendum can be used as an addendum for delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The second addendum is tailored to those municipalities that may require occupancy inspections.

Effective March 24th the County Executive and the Director of the County Health Department issued a Joint Stay at Home Order which runs through April 23rd. The order did include Professional services (e.g., accountants, lawyers, engineers) among the exempt services but real estate brokerage was not mentioned anywhere in the Order. That said, a FAQ issued by the County subsequent to the Order stated that real estate showings were not permitted. The FAQ went on to say that real estate closings may proceed with social distancing precautions taken. It is important to note the Order states that it DOES NOT APPLY to any business deemed essential as defined by the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Subsequent to this Order being made NAR successfully lobbied to add Residential and Commercial real estate and settlement services to the CISA List. Subsequent to the addition of real estate services to the CISA list Jefferson County modified its FAQ by removing the language stating that property showings were precluded. While there was no explanation as to why the language stating that property showings were not allowed was removed from the FAQ, we can only assume it was in response to the addition of real estate services to the CISA and an acknowledgement that real estate services are considered essential.

At this time, the information that we have on the virus and how to avoid infection is constantly evolving. Keep abreast of new information from the CDC on the coronavirus and publicize the information to your employees and tenants.

Implement office policies and publicize the policies to your employees regarding the best ways to prevent both infection and spread of the disease.

If a tenant says they are sick, stay away in the absence of an immediate emergency such as a fire or flood. If they invite you or a staff person in for a repair, the sick person must be isolated, and you should take all of the precautions listed above. I

If an employee expresses concern about their own health or safety, or that of their families, you should not require them to do any work that they believe puts their health in danger. It may be necessary to consult with your company attorney to address employment issues related to required labor and access to tenants’ space under these circumstances.

Of course, members are encouraged to consult with their own broker and legal counsel regarding these issues.

The federal government has recently rolled out programs like this and there are resources and links available. NAR has created a Coronavirus: SBA CARES Act FAQ.

Here are additional links:

(DISCLAIMER: This information is constantly changing.)

UPDATED: April 6, 2020

Unemployment Benefits for Self Employed: The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, creates a temporary “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” program that extends unemployment benefits to those not traditionally eligible, including self-employed individuals. NAR has created this Unemployment Benefits FAQ and the here is the link to File for Unemployment Benefits in Missouri. Please note that as of this post, the Missouri Department of Labor is waiting on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before this program is implemented.

From the Missouri Department of Labor’s site:

“Phase III: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Since Missouri signed an agreement with the US Department of Labor on Saturday, March 28, 2020, regarding the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, the $600 federal supplement for those that are unemployed will be effective the week starting March 29, 2020, for those filing their unemployment payment requests this week. These monies will get paid retroactively for claims filed on or after March 29, 2020, after the federal government issues guidance and releases those funds. The Missouri Department of Labor is awaiting USDOL guidance so that it can fully implement the other changes made by the new law, including the following measures:

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is separate from the regular unemployment insurance program, which will continue to operate. PUA may cover individuals who are not eligible for regular and extended benefits, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This could include independent contractors, self-employed, agricultural workers, etc. Additional guidance from USDOL is required before implementation.

Pandemic Federal Additional Compensation (PFAC) – Under Pandemic Federal Unemployment Compensation (PFUC), an additional amount of $600 may be paid on top of weekly unemployment benefits for up to four (4) months, not to exceed July 31, 2020. In order to receive the $600 PFAC, workers must be eligible for regular unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Additional guidance from USDOL is required before implementation.”