What is Essential?

By Staci Caplan
2020 President 
Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS®

In the world of COVID-19 everything is constantly changing.  In the real estate industry, major changes have occurred and which may likely have changed again by the time this article is published.  Initially the federal government published a list of essential services during this time of restricted activity. It did not include real estate as an essential service.

Since then real estate has been added to the essential list.  Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order issued March 19, as updated by the “Advisory Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response” from March 28, 2020, expressly includes residential and commercial real estate, including settlement services, as essential services recognized by the Department of Homeland Security as being necessary for the maintenance of America’s Critical Infrastructure.

This comes at a time when numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases are rising, exponentially, not plateauing or decreasing. It comes at a time during which we have been told it is critical to stay home to “flatten the curve,” when healthcare workers are begging us to stay home as each new infected person puts their own lives (and those of their family) and our whole healthcare system at risk.  This may seem confusing.

The California Association of REALTORS® has issued statewide guidelines for doing real estate business, however, there are counties that have more restrictive Shelter In Place orders.  Santa Barbara County is not one of them.  So, it is up to REALTORS® and the public to practice discernment in deciding what is truly essential during these harrowing times.

Here are some of the highlights of the guidelines, along with some of my comments and concerns:

  • Showings should be done virtually, if at all possible.
  • All activities should be completed electronically, if at all possible.
  • Only a single agent and no more than two other individuals are to be in a dwelling at the same time during a showing. If other persons are necessary for a showing, they should wait outside or in their vehicles to observe the social distance guidelines.
  • Sellers are to be advised that they should not be present within a dwelling at the same time as other individuals. If a seller insists on remaining on the property, that seller is to agree to the terms and sign a declaration (see below) that is required for persons entering the property.
  • Agents should read and understand the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to protect yourself, where it reads “The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus….It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious.
  • Any persons on the property must agree to adhere strictly to the social distancing guidelines at all times by remaining at least six feet apart per the recommendations established by the CDC. 
  • Any person entering a property shall provide by declaration that to the best of their knowledge, they are not currently ill with a cold or flu; do not have a fever, persistent cough, shortness of breath, or exhibit other COVID-19 symptoms; have not been in contact with a person with COVID-19. Has anyone else heard in the news that many people are ASYPMTOMATIC? 
  • All persons visiting a property will agree to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer prior to entry, and to wear disposable rubber gloves and a protective face mask, if one is made available. Is anyone else having difficulty obtaining these items? Are we to assume that those visiting the property have just washed their hands prior to entry, after exiting their vehicles where they have touched the steering wheel, gear shift, door handles inside and out, after possibly viewing other properties?
  • In addition, sellers must disclose to all persons who enter the property if the seller is currently ill with a cold, flu or COVID-19 itself, or has a fever, persistent cough, shortness of breath or other COVID-19 symptoms, or has been in contact with a person with COVID-19. Further, if anyone who enters the property is later diagnosed with COVID-19, the person who is diagnosed must immediately inform the listing agent, who will then make best efforts to inform everyone who entered the property after the person diagnosed, of that fact. This is more than disturbing.
  • Sellers and buyers must be expressly made aware of the risks of showing and visiting properties: that it may be dangerous or unsafe and could expose them or others to coronavirus (COVID-19). Sellers and buyers must be advised of their responsibilities pertaining to COVID-19 protocols regarding social distancing and other CDC guidelines.
  • To the extent possible, the use of various third-party services providers for non-essential services must be avoided and, where unavoidable, the providers must agree to sign an agreement to follow CDC guidelines. 
  • Unless absolutely necessary, communications with clients should be done via electronic means or by telephone. In person conversations should be minimized unless absolutely necessary.
  • Listing agents should not leave brochures and flyers in the property but instead upload them to the Multiple Listing Service.
  • Discourage anyone who does not need to view the property from attending a showing.
  • Agents conducting the showing should meet clients at the property and not drive the client to the property, so as to minimize risk. Information relevant for the showing should be provided in advance to the clients electronically.
  • If using a lockbox, be sure to disinfect the key, the box, and the doorknob prior to utilizing.
  • When using disposable gloves, be sure to put them on prior to entry and to dispose of them after leaving each property.
  • Refrain from touching any surface during a showing.
  • As indicated above and following the CDC guidelines, maintain a safe distance from anyone in the property by staying a minimum of six feet apart.
  • If the size of the residential unit makes it difficult to maintain the six-foot distance for all parties attending the showing, individuals may need to wait outside and come in the property one at a time, at all times maintaining proper social distance.
  • Bring your own sanitizers, and gloves — don’t rely on others to bring them. If hand sanitizers are unavailable, liquid hand soap for hand washing should be made available. The public would then be touching the kitchen and bathroom sinks and handles, which contradicts the guideline above to “refrain from touching.”
  • Follow suggestions in the CDC’s Cleaning & Disinfecting Guide and provide this information to sellers, advising them to disinfect the property according to those guidelines after the showing is complete. For vacant properties, previously considered the safer option for showings, one should then assume the property has not been cleaned in between showings.

Most buyers visit multiple properties before purchasing. Real estate professionals know during a single transaction, the services of inspectors, pest control companies, and workers performing repairs, to name a few, are required to complete a typical transaction, which could mean multiple people entering a property. Multiply this out by many properties, many buyers, and the ensuing transactions, and you have a web of potential contact which should at the very least should give one pause. 

I now know someone who has lost a family member to the virus. I suspect that by the time this is published, many of you will also know someone who has also suffered the effects of the virus. To our local REALTORS® and their clients, before you head out the door, please ask yourself, is this truly essential?

Call your REALTOR® to find out how they are utilizing safe practices or contact the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS® at sbaor.com for more information.

Staci Caplan is a California Real Estate Broker and the owner of Pacific Crest Realty. She was born and raised in Santa Barbara and her passion for this special region translates into successful real estate transactions and thrilled clients. At our local Santa Barbara Associations of REALTORS ®  , Staci has served on the Board of Directors, the Government Relations Committee, the Budget and Finance Committee, the Multiple Listing Committee, and the REALTOR ®   Action Fund Committee. She can be reached at (805) 886-3970 or stacicaplan@gmail.com.  

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