Coronavirus Resources and Updates

Virginia REALTORS® is committed to keeping YOU in-the-know with updates and resources regarding the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on your business and industry. Keep checking back—this page will be updated regularly with new information.

Important Updates At a Glance

  • Governor Northam issued Executive Order 63 on May 26, which requires face coverings in public indoor settings. See the Government Response and Executive Order FAQs below for more details.  Added 5/27/20.
  • The SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were designed to help small businesses and professionals cover essential operating expenses. The SBA has published new guidance for how the government will review PPP loan borrowers’ good-faith certification of loan necessity and has released the documents that borrowers will have to complete when applying for loan forgiveness. See the Financial Assistance, Loans & Federal Stimulus FAQ below for more information. Updated 5/20/20.
  • SOME General District courts are reopening and could begin hearing non-emergency civil cases beginning this week, including eviction-related hearings. Notices of new hearing dates for cases filed prior to March 16, 2020, that were continued during the COVID-19 court closure, should be mailed out at least 10 days prior to the newly scheduled hearing date. If you have questions about whether your court is open, scheduled hearing dates, or any new rules for attending hearings in person, you should contact your General District court. IMPORTANT: Make sure you provide the legally required notice of any new court date to your tenant as required. Updated 5/19/20.
  • Extension of the Declaration of Judicial Emergency – On May 6, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced it was extending the Declaration of Judicial Emergency again through June 7, 2020. This means that property managers should be prepared to work with tenants through June 7, knowing that courts will not hear these matters until after then. Updated 5/15/20.
  • Filing for Unemployment During COVID-19 – Yes, REALTORS® are eligible for unemployment insurance as part of the CARES Act. The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) has instructions for applying for benefits as a self-employed individual or independent contractor. The first step is to apply for unemployment insurance using the traditional unemployment insurance application.
  • Form 200 RR – COVID-19 Rules and Regs  (You must be logged in to access this PDF)
  • Impact of COVID-19 Response Act to NAR Members

COVID-19 & Real Estate

 

Government Response and Executive Order FAQs – UPDATED 5/27/20

Executive Order 63 FAQs

On May 26, 2020, Governor Northam issued Executive Order 63 which requires face coverings in public indoor settings.

Q: Who has to wear a face covering?

A: Executive Order 63 requires all persons aged 10 and over to wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose when outside their home with limited exceptions. It also encourages children over the age of two to wear face coverings but does not require it.


Q: What are the exceptions to wearing a face covering?

A: There are a number of exceptions, but those most likely to apply to your business are:

  • When you are able to maintain at least a six-foot distance from other people; however, you are required to wear a face covering when entering or exiting public spaces.
  • When you are inside your personal residence or the personal residence of another. Note that when showing a listed house, you should still wear a face covering as these are semi-public spaces.
  • When you are seeking to communicate with the hearing impaired and for which the mouth needs to be visible
  • If you have a health condition that prohibits wearing a face covering. The Executive Order specifically notes that any person who declines to wear a face covering because of a medical condition does not have to produce or carry medical documentation verifying the condition, nor shall the person be required to identify the precise underlying medical condition.

Q: Do you need to wear a face covering when interacting with clients?

A: Yes, at this time there is not Virginia-specific guidance or requirements on this, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encourage employees to wear face coverings in the workplace. Executive Order 63 requires the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to issue regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. These regulations may provide more specifics once released.


Q: Do you have to provide clients with a face covering?

A: No, there is nothing in the Executive Order that requires a business to provide face coverings to clients or customers. If you do provide face coverings, they should be single use to avoid the risk of improper sanitization.


Q: Do buyers need to wear a face covering while viewing a property?

A: Yes, buyers should treat listed properties as public spaces and wear face coverings.


Executive Orders 61 & 62

Governor Northam issued Executive Order 61 on Friday, May 8, 2020 and Executive Order 62 on Tuesday, May 12. These Executive Orders contain information on the start of reopening Virginia.

Executive Order 61 outlines “Phase 1” of easing restrictions. These relaxed restrictions go into effect on Friday, May 15 and continue until June 10. The main theme of Executive Order 61 is “safer at home” rather than the “stay at home” order under which we’ve been operating. The Executive Order is clear that all public and private in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals are still prohibited; however, it clarifies that the presence of more than 10 individuals performing functions of their employment is not a “gathering.” A “gathering” includes, but is not limited to, parties, celebrations, or other social events, whether they occur indoors or outdoors. Under this definition, it is unclear whether an open house would count as a “gathering” – the agents would be there performing functions of their employment, but the individuals coming through the open house would not.

It also lays out specific requirements that non-essential businesses must follow in order to reopen operations. Certain service industries, such as restaurants and non-essential retail, have industry-specific guidelines. For industries not addressed in the Executive Order, like real estate, there are general guidelines that must be followed. Some of the key provisions that apply to real estate are:

  • Physical distancing best practices
    • Limit occupancy
    • Encourage telework, and if not feasible, temporarily move or stagger workstations to ensure six feet of separation
    • Where possible, use face coverings
    • Limit in-person work-related gatherings, and when in-person meetings need to occur, keep them as short as possible, limit the number of people in attendance, and use physical distancing practices
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection best practices
    • Practice routine cleaning on high contact areas
  • Enhanced workplace safety best practices
    • Screen employees prior to starting work
    • Develop or adopt flexible sick leave policies
    • Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns
    • Implement staggered shifts for work and break periods

See all guidelines for Phase One here.

Executive Order 62 was issued on May 12, and amended on May 14th, and addresses localities that are not ready to move into Phase 1 because of current infection rates. Inclusion in Executive Order 62 was at the request of each locality. The localities listed in Executive Order 62’s move to Phase 1 is delayed until May 29. This means that the following localities will continue to operate as they have been since March 23:

  • Accomack – added 5/14/20
  • Alexandria
  • Arlington County
  • Dumfries
  • Fairfax City
  • Fairfax County
  • Falls Church
  • Herndon
  • Leesburg
  • Loudoun County
  • Manassas
  • Manassas Park
  • Prince William County
  • Richmond City – added 5/14/20
  • Vienna

Because previous Executive Orders did not require real estate offices to close or services to stop being provided, Executive Order 61 should not have a major impact on how you have been operating.

Virginia REALTORS® still strongly recommends that members not hold in-person open houses at this time as it will still be nearly impossible to ensure the requirements of the Executive Orders limiting in-person gatherings, social distancing, and increased sanitation can be met.

While real estate offices were not required to close, if your office did close, you can reopen following the Phase 1 Guidelines for All Business Sectors.

Previous Executive Orders required professional service businesses to utilize telework as much as possible. This language has softened to “encourage telework whenever possible” and “limit in-person work-related gatherings” in the Phase 1 Guidelines. Virginia REALTORS® encourages members to continue conducting business using remote technology as much as possible.


Extension of the Declaration of Judicial Emergency

On April 22, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced it was extending the Declaration of Judicial Emergency again through May 17, 2020. The Declaration of Judicial Emergency generally keeps the courts and clerk’s offices operational, but limits the cases that will be heard. Routine proceedings, such as unlawful detainers and writs of eviction, are continued until the end of the Judicial Emergency.

This means that property managers should be prepared to work with tenants through May 17 knowing that courts will not hear these matters until after then. Note that the Supreme Court of Virginia is only authorized to declare Judicial Emergency periods for up to 21 days, so it is possible that the Judicial Emergency will be extended again in May to coincide with the Governor’s current Executive Order 55 which requires Virginia residents to generally stay at home until June 10.


Executive Orders 53 and 55

Governor Ralph Northam has issued numerous Executive Orders that impact Virginia’s real estate industry amid COVID-19. These orders mandate stay-at-home directives, along with restrictions and guidelines for businesses. Below, we address YOUR questions on how these orders impact your business.

You can also read the full content of Executive Order 53 and Executive Order 55.


Executive Order 53 FAQ


Q. What does Executive Order 53 mean for your business?

A. Executive Order 53 says that while business operations offering professional, rather than retail services, like the real estate industry, may remain open, they should utilize teleworking as much as possible. When telework is not feasible, professional service businesses must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.


Q. What does this mean for your business?

A. At this time, REALTORS® should be conforming with all requirements like other professional service businesses. This means that gatherings of more than 10 are banned, individuals should maintain at least 6 feet between one another, and increased sanitization should be done. To the extent possible, you should limit the number of individuals coming to your office. Try to meet with clients virtually as much as you can. Unlike other states where the governor has spelled out in detail what is and is not allowed, Virginia has left this more open. This ambiguity can benefit the industry if the industry continues to be responsible and take precautions.


Q. Per Executive Order 53, do we have to close our office?

A. At this time you do not need to close your real estate office, but you must implement procedures to ensure that you are in compliance with the governor’s executive orders. This means that you may not have groups larger than 10 people congregating, you should encourage telework, and when telework is not possible, follow other guidelines listed above. If you have large numbers of clients coming to your office, they should be shown to a conference room or office quickly so there are not groups of people congregating in the lobby or waiting area. If you have a large number of agents, you should not have meetings where all agents are encouraged to be there in person. Instead, you should hold sales meetings using technology that allows agents to participate remotely. Additionally, if you plan to keep your office open, you must implement procedures to disinfect surfaces more frequently.


Q. Per Executive Order 53, are open houses still allowed?

A. Virginia REALTORS® strongly recommends that members stop holding in-person open houses. There is nothing in the Governor’s statement that addresses directly open houses, but it will be nearly impossible to ensure that all requirements of Executive Order 53 can be met with open houses. Continued operation of open houses could draw unnecessary negative attention to the industry. If agents continue to hold open houses which could violate the Governor’s most recent executive order, a new Executive Order could be issued addressing the real estate industry, not only banning open houses, but suspending all showings.


Q. Per Executive Order 53, are individual showings allowed?

A. Yes, there is nothing to indicate that individual showings should be stopped at this time, but agents should work with their clients to limit the number of properties buyers see. While in previous months, buyers would often look at dozens of houses to see different features, or if a house was on their “maybe” list, restricting in-person showings to buyers who will be writing an offer on the property will help to reduce potential exposure and demonstrate that the industry is voluntarily working to protect the public.


Executive Order 55 FAQ


Q. What does Executive Order 55 mean for your business?

A. As a REALTOR® you are still allowed to conduct business under Executive Order 53; however, you must do as much work (including interacting with clients) as possible remotely. When you are not able to do work remotely (for example, a buyer touring a house they are going to write a contract on, or the home inspection), you must adhere to social distancing recommendations (currently a minimum of 6 feet between people), enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and all other guidance from state and federal authorities. Additionally, Virginia has an absolute prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more people except for essential retail establishments listed in Executive Order 53.

This means that while you can conduct showings, they need to be limited and essential. We recommend that buyers do research, including a virtual tour and driving through the neighborhood, and limit viewing properties to those they are fairly confident they wish to make an offer on. Agents should not take buyers out to view numerous properties just to “see what is available” or see additional houses in a neighborhood “just because we’ll already be there.” We also recommend that you do not hold in-person open houses. You can create virtual tours of properties and then conduct remote open houses where you can be available to answer questions for potential buyers.


Q. Does Executive Order 55 prohibit you from going outside?

A. In short, no, but there are a lot of restrictions and limitations. In Executive Order 55, Governor Northam directs all Virginians to stay at home and only travel when it is necessary or essential. The Executive Order lists a number of reasons why individuals may leave their houses, one of which is “obtaining services as permitted in Executive Order 53.”

Executive Order 53 allows essential retail businesses to remain open. It also allows businesses offering professional services to remain open and states that telework should be utilized as much as possible. Real estate is a professional service. Executive Order 53 says that professional services that cannot utilize telework must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.


Q. Do you need to stop taking new listings or buyer clients?

A. At this time, there is no restriction or prohibition on you taking on new clients or starting new deals. While some agents have heard that they can only complete transactions that are already under contract, there is nothing from the state government in Virginia that would dictate that at this time. Keep in mind, though, that you must conduct as much business as possible remotely and follow all other requirements.


Q. Do you need a letter or some other documentation from your broker or someone else saying you are “essential” (or that you are allowed to be out)?

a. At this time, no Virginia resident needs any documentation as to why they are out of their house. While Executive Order 55 does tell residents to stay at home, there are a number of reasons you are permitted to be out of your house, including to travel to/from work.


Q. Has real estate been deemed an essential service in Virginia?

A. At this time the Governor has not distinguished between essential and non-essential professional service providers, only essential vs. non-essential retail establishments.


Q. What about the Department of Homeland Security memo from March 28, 2020, that deems real estate an essential service?

A. The Department of Homeland Security memo is an advisory memorandum provided from DHS to help state, local, tribal, and territorial officials in establishing policies and restrictions. The memo is explicit that it is advisory in nature and “is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard.” That means that it is simply a recommendation from one federal agency, not a determination that is binding on any state or locality.


Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect on April 2nd, provides guidance and assistance for emergency family and medical leave, emergency paid sick leave, and emergency unemployment.

Financial Assistance, Loans & Federal Stimulus FAQ – UPDATED 5/20/20

SBA Paycheck Protection Program Loans:
Guidelines for Reviewing Loan Necessity and Process for Applying for Loan Forgiveness.

The SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were designed to help small businesses and professionals cover essential operating expenses. A PPP loan can be forgiven to the extent that it is spent during the eight weeks following receipt of the loan, and if at least 75% is spent on payroll, medical insurance, and pension contributions. The remaining 25% can be spent on rent, interest, and utilities.

In a recent FAQ release, the SBA reminded borrowers that forgiveness of PPP loans also depends on applicants demonstrating that the loan was “necessary to support the on-going operations” of the business.

On May 13, 2020, the SBA issued guidance (see FAQ 46) stating that any borrower that received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith. Therefore, any borrower that received a loan of less than $2 million through the PPP has been determined to meet the “loan necessity” requirement.

The SBA has released the documents that PPP loan borrowers will need to complete to apply for loan forgiveness, available here. Of the four documents posted, all borrowers will need to fill out and provide their lenders with two of them: the PPP Loan Forgiveness Calculation Form and the PPP Schedule A. The documents include detailed instructions for borrowers to use, explain the eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses the loans can be used for, and walk borrowers through how to calculate their forgiveness and to show that they have met the program’s requirements.

The SBA’s most recent FAQ release, along with other information about PPP loans, is available from the SBA’s website.


Government Assistance FAQs

The Federal government is making assistance available to individual workers, families, and businesses to help mitigate the economic and financial impacts of COVID-19. We will update this page with more information as it becomes available. Additional information is available from the National Association of REALTORS®.


Q. What financial assistance is available to me if my income has been impacted by COVID-19?

A. The $2.2 trillion stimulus package—known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—was signed into law on Friday, March 27, 2020. The CARES Act is designed to help individuals, families, and businesses impacted by COVID-19.

  • Direct payments to Americans. The IRS has begun sending payments to eligible individuals and families. More information about eligibility and status of payments is available on the IRS website.
  • Expansion of unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits have been extended by 13 weeks. (Current unemployment benefits last between 12 and 26 weeks in Virginia.) The stimulus package also includes an extra $600 per month for four months.
  • The CARES Act created a benefit for people who are not eligible under a standard state unemployment insurance claim, including 1099 workers. This program is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Information about applying for PUA benefits in Virginia is available from the Virginia Employment Commission’s website.
  • More information on the PUA is also available on NAR’s website.

Q. What assistance is available to small business owners or sole proprietors that are negatively impacted by COVID-19?

A. The CARES Act created two programs through the Small Business Administration: the 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grant. Congress has recently made an additional $310 billion available for PPP loans and $60 billion available for EIDL grants. NAR has more resourceson both the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grant.

  • Guidance for REALTORS® on the PPP and EIDL Grant:
    • If you’ve already applied for a PPP loan through an SBA lender but have not been approved yet: Check with your lender to see if they are maintaining a queue of applications during the lapse or if you will need to reapply when the renewed funding comes through.
    • If you have not applied yet for a PPP loan through an SBA lender: Have the application form filled out and your documentation ready to provide to your lender. (For businesses with employees, have payroll documentation; for independent contractors, have your 2019 Form 1040, Schedule C, and 1099-MISC.) If you have an existing relationship with an SBA lender, you should go to that lender first once the program reopens, but be prepared to try multiple lenders, which you can find on the SBA site.
    • If you’ve already applied for an EIDL: The SBA is processing applications already in their system on a first-come, first-served basis. You do not need to reapply.
    • If you have not already applied for an EIDL: Check back at the SBA application page once the additional funding is signed into law. The SBA will re-open applications shortly after.

Q. Can I apply for both a PPP loan and an EIDL grant?

A. You can apply for funding from both sources, but you cannot receive funds from both loan programs for the same purpose. Specifically, the legislation states that a borrower who has taken out an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) for purposes other than payroll costs between January 31, 2020, and the date Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans are first made available are still eligible for a PPP loan, as long as it is not used for the same purposes. In addition, you must refinance an EIDL received through April 3, 2020 with a PPP loan.


Q. Can I apply for both unemployment benefits and an SBA loan?

A. According to the Virginia Employment Commission, anyone has the right to file a claim for unemployment compensation. Whether they can draw depends on the individual circumstances and the type of business entity.


Q. As a business owner, are there benefits I need to offer to my employees as a result of Federal legislation?

A. On March 18, the U.S. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires certain employers to provide employer-paid sick time and expands the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who are impacted by COVID-19 or caring for family members who are impacted by COVID-19. An overview of what qualifies an employee for emergency paid sick leave, FMLA, and other benefits can be found on the NAR FFCRA Member Impact Page.


Q. Is my firm covered by the FFCRA (a.k.a. Families First)?

A. The FFCRA covers all private employers with fewer than 500 employees; however, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to provide paid leave due to school closings or unavailability of childcare if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business. More information can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website and the National Association of REALTORS®website.


Q. What do I need to know if I own a multifamily rental property?

A. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has issued guidance allowing lenders to grant forbearance to borrowers with multifamily properties financed by Fannie Mae for up to three months. As part of the forbearance plan, borrowers must agree to suspend evictions of tenants who are facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis. Fannie Mae’s website has information about the multifamily forbearance program, though mortgage holders will need to contact their individual lenders directly.


Q. What if I am having trouble making my own mortgage payment?

A. On March 18, FHFA directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for single-family homeowners for at least 60 days due to the COVID-19 emergency. The foreclosure and eviction suspension applies to homeowners with a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Earlier in March, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would provide payment forbearance to borrowers impacted by COVID-19. Forbearance allows for a mortgage payment to be suspended for up to 12 months due to hardship caused by COVID-19. Borrowers should contact their lender directly for more information on forbearance options.


Q. What if you have clients that participate in USDA-backed single-family and multi-family programs?

A. If so, please check out this comprehensive document from the USDA Rural Development office on the immediate actions they have taken to help rural residents, businesses, and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Property Management FAQs – UPDATED 5/15/20

Property Managers & Their Clients (podcast)

Staff Counsel Jon Haley talks about the impacts on property managers & their clients as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in our latest Caveat REALTOR® podcast – click here to listen.


Flash Survey

Find out how COVID-19 is impacting property managers and landlords in the Commonwealth by looking at the results from this week’s COVID-19 Flash Survey.

https://www.virginiarealtors.org/2020/04/20/results-from-flash-survey-5-covid-19s-impact-on-property-managers/


Latest Downloads


Q. Do you have to use the Rent Alteration Request and/or the Rent Alteration Amendment?

A. No, both of these forms are optional and are intended to be used when the landlord agrees to some amendment to the monthly rental payments during the pandemic.


Q. How does the Rent Alteration Amendment work?

A. The Rent Alteration Amendment is an amendment to the lease that offers a lot of options. In the first numbered paragraph, the landlord and tenant agree to the period during which the monthly rent will be altered. This includes a specific start and end date. The second paragraph contains two options: a flat-out reduction in monthly rent to a specific amount with the difference being waived; and an option to alter the payments in a number of ways including the frequency of payment, the payment amount, and how any missed rent payments will be made up.

The form also requires the tenant to provide ongoing documentation of their need for adjusted rent and an agreement that if the tenant fails to provide the documentation, or the documentation no longer shows a need for adjusted rent, then normal rent payments will resume at the next monthly rent due date.

The form also includes a statement that any modified rent is accepted with reservation, allowing the landlord to seek back rent in the event that the tenant fails to pay or comply with the agreement.

The form also includes space for additional terms to allow you to customize the agreement to the needs of your tenant and landlord. This field could be used to include what documentation the tenant must provide, allow for a change in frequency beyond weekly or monthly, or other terms agreed to.


Q. What documentation should the tenant provide to document their need?

A. The documentation will vary based on the particular tenant’s circumstances. If the tenant works at a retail business impacted by the Executive Order closures, a letter from their manager or supervisor may suffice; however, if the tenant is an independent contractor or gig worker, documentation showing reduced commissions may be more appropriate. In general, the documentation provided in the initial request should be sufficient to show an ongoing need.


What if the landlord wants to waive rent entirely for some or all of the pandemic?

That should be documented in an amendment to the lease. You can use the Rent Alteration Amendment and put $0 in the adjusted monthly rent field. Alternatively, if the rent is waived for some, but not all, of the pandemic, the period that the rent is waived could be noted in the other terms of the Rent Alteration Amendment form.


Q. Are you, your firm, and/or your agents potentially liable if a tenant contracts COVID-19 after you have conducted some activity in the home (such as conducting a virtual showing or allowing a contractor in to make a repair)?

A. First, we believe that the potential for you to be held liable in such a circumstance is very low. However, to be safe, we have drafted the following “hold harmless” language that you can include in the Additional Terms section of your brokerage agreements.

  • In no event shall Broker, brokerage firm, or any agents or employees of the brokerage firm, be responsible for or liable for any claims arising out of the COVID-19 Pandemic; entry into the property by Invited Parties, any person(s) accompanying an Invited Party, or any agent or third party entering the property on an Invited Party’s behalf; or the availability of the property for showing or inspection. Tenant understands the risks associated with entering properties and/or allowing others to enter their property during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Tenant releases, waives, discharges, and forever holds Broker, the brokerage firm, and its agents and employees, individually and collectively, harmless from and against claims, damages, losses, and suits arising from or in any way connected with the Pandemic. Invited Parties includes, but Is not limited to, potential buyers or tenants, agents, inspectors, contractors, appraisers, or other third-parties related to a real estate transaction.

Q. Do you have to use the hold harmless language? If so, do you need to go back and add this language into brokerage agreements that you’ve already entered into?

A. No, this language is not required. The risk of your liability in this circumstance is very low even without this additional language, but you can add it if it makes you feel safer. As such, you do not need to go back and add this language into previously ratified brokerage agreements or leases.


Q. My tenant did not pay the rent. Can I still file an unlawful detainer? UPDATED 5/15/20

A. No, not right now. The landlord-tenant relationship is established through the terms of the lease, subject to the underlying Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA). The law has not changed at this time with respect to a tenant’s obligation to pay rent. However, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a court order applicable to every court in the Commonwealth that declares a judicial emergency beginning March 16, 2020  and has extended it through May 17, 2020. and has extended it through June 7, 2020. There is a possibility that this could be extended an additional period of time if the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court determines that is appropriate.

This means that all civil matters pending on Monday, March 16, 2020, including unlawful detainers, have been continued until after May 17 after June 7, at the earliest. In addition, the order of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court provides that no new filings will be allowed until after the judicial emergency has been lifted. Landlords and property managers should maintain contact with their local court system to keep up to date on their processes. Property managers and landlords should come up with a policy of how to address these issues with tenants and landlord/owners in the coming weeks and months (e.g., working out payment plans, serving notices, communicating with tenants).


Q. I already filed an unlawful detainer against my tenant for violating the lease and causing a threat to health and safety for other tenants. What happens now? UPDATED 5/15/20

A. The orders of the Supreme Court of Virginia declared a judicial emergency beginning March 16, 2020 through May 17, 2020. through June 7, 2020. There is a possibility that this could be extended an additional period of time if the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court determines that is appropriate. This means that all civil matters pending on Monday, March 16, 2020, including unlawful detainers, have been continued until after May 17 after June 7, at the earliest. No distinction has been made at this time between an eviction for non-payment of rent and an eviction for non-rent reasons. If you have a significant health and safety violation with a tenant, you should contact an attorney and your local court to find out if there are any procedures to address health and safety violations by a tenant.


Q. My tenant’s lease is up and he was supposed to move out this week or in the coming weeks. They are refusing to leave. What do I do? UPDATED 5/15/20

A. Property managers should begin to communicate with their owners and consider how you will handle tenant requests in the coming days and months. The terms of your lease with the tenant still govern everyone’s rights, obligations, and potential remedies during this national emergency. A tenant who does not vacate may be subject to legal action, but whether a particular landlord is willing to pursue those remedies is ultimately up to that landlord. The Supreme Court of Virginia issued a court order applicable to every court in the Commonwealth that declared a judicial emergency beginning March 16, 2020 through May 17, 2020 through June 7, 2020. There is a possibility that this could be extended an additional period of time if the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court determines that is appropriate. This means that all civil matters pending on Monday, March 16, 2020, including unlawful detainers, have been continued until after May 17 after June 7, at the earliest. The order of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court provides that no new filings will be allowed until after the judicial emergency has been lifted. In addition, the Governor has requested that all vulnerable populations, including those with chronic health conditions and those over age 65, begin to self-quarantine. This could mean that people will not be able to leave their homes. Again, property managers should begin to communicate with their owners and consider how you will handle tenant requests in the coming days and months.


Q. Can we conduct a video tour for the walkthrough at the end of the lease?

A. Yes, conducting a video-conference type walkthrough would allow for a tenant who is concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19. If the tenant will be participating in the walkthrough remotely, we suggest you get something in writing, confirming that they prefer to be remote for the walkthrough.


Q. What happens in the case where an order of possession was entered by a court on an unlawful detainer, the 10-day appeal period expired with no appeal being perfected, and a writ of eviction was issued but has not been executed by the Sheriff, prior to the order declaring judicial emergency on March 16th?

A. Please have an honest conversation with your owners about the current situation and with your owners and tenants to identify pragmatic solutions other than eviction for the immediate future as we all deal with the impact of COVID-19. Under Virginia law, an order of possession entered by a judge is good for 6 months from the date of entry by a judge. A writ of eviction is good for 30 days but if the landlord allows a writ of eviction to expire without execution by the Sheriff, the landlord may request additional writs of eviction so long as one is requested prior to the expiration of 6 months from the date of entry by the judge. Allowing an existing writ of eviction to expire does not prevent the landlord from evicting the tenant, in the future, if satisfactory financial arrangements and payments are not made by the tenant with the landlord.


Q. What happens when my tenant cannot afford to keep utilities on pursuant to their obligation under the lease because of this crisis? 

A. Many utility services are offering some sort of limited protection against terminating services during this public health crisis. In addition, the State Corporation Commission issued an order on Monday, March 16, 2020, prohibiting any utility cut-offs for at least 60 days. If tenants have questions on this issue, they should contact their relevant utility provider.


Q. I manage a building with 15 units and have had tenants coming to me asking if anyone in the building has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Can I answer this question? If I know of a verified diagnosis do I have to answer?

A. No. At this time, an active COVID-19 diagnosis is not a required disclosure. A material adverse fact must pertain to the physical condition of the property, not the tenant residing there. There are also privacy issues that would likely prohibit such disclosure.


Q. I am trying to schedule the showing of a rental property, but the current tenant refuses to allow it based on health concerns. What do we do?

A. During this time, it is advisable to look at other options. Perhaps a video walk-through of the property could be used to show to prospective tenants to decrease the amount of people walking through the occupied unit.

The terms of the landlord-tenant relationship, including access to the rental unit, are established through the lease and the provisions in the VRLTA. Most leases have a provision that allows the landlord to bring prospective tenants through the property under specific conditions. It is ultimately up to the landlord discretion to determine whether to push to enforce the provisions or to take another approach. Should the landlord decide to move ahead, it is important to take all appropriate health and safety measures to protect both the current and prospective tenants. Click here to see the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).


Q. My current tenant is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and/or has been diagnosed. What responsibilities does the tenant have? What responsibilities does the landlord and/or the property manager have?

A. A sick tenant is responsible for taking all advised health and safety measures to maintain the property – including cleaning, sanitizing and the like – as the tenant would do with any similar illness. Though the condition of a property based on the current tenant’s illness may not be the landlord’s responsibility, the landlord may be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the property for a future tenant. Again, click here see the recommendations from the CDC.


Q. We are closing down our property management office to the public for the next four weeks and would like to require all tenants to pay their rent online from now on. Can we do that?

A. If your lease or rules and regulations already allow this, then yes. Under the VRLTA, you can adopt a policy or rules and regulations to implement such a procedure. You should be aware that there will be tenants who do not have internet access (and can no longer go to a public place to obtain it) or the ability to do online banking. Accommodations should be made for these tenants such as a dropbox in a central location.


Q. As a property manager, what is my responsibility to clean a unit before a new tenant moves in? Can the tenant require that I clean to a certain standard? What if I know the previous tenant was infected with COVID-19?

A. While there may be emergency standards established by a state government agency, none exists at the present time.  It is important to use an accepted industry standard. Click here to see the recommendations from the CDC.


Q. I have repairs and routine maintenance that need to be done on my rental dwelling units, but my vendors are backing out and tenants are nervous about letting people into their apartments. What do I do?

A. This is a good place to be proactive. If you do not have your own maintenance/repair professionals on staff, reach out to your third-party vendors now and see what their company policies are with respect to whether they will continue to work in the coming weeks. Line up a back-up plan as needed. Communicate with your vendors about what their health and safety protocols are so that if the tenant asks, you can provide that information. If you have a tenant that is refusing vendor access, work with the tenant as much as possible to postpone routine scheduled maintenance or stabilize the repair as needed.

Events Updates

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, to protect the health and safety of our members, Virginia REALTORS® has decided to cancel both PMX: Spring Update events.


Virginia REALTORS® Postpones Events in Response to COVID-19

Sales Tips & Suggestions

Social Media Advertising

Staff Counsel Jon Haley discusses social media advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic in our latest Caveat REALTOR® podcast – click here to listen.


Sales Tips & Suggestions

  • Talk to your clients about what their concerns are. Are they part of the vulnerable population? Do they have someone who is vulnerable living with them or that they interact with on a regular basis (and therefore they want to limit their exposure)? What are their priorities? Can/will they delay settlement? What accommodations can/should you make to help them with the transaction?
    • If the seller is concerned about exposure or is self-quarantining because of exposure or illness, discuss possible alternatives to an open house, such as you hosting online sessions where you walk through the house using video and answering questions for potential buyers. Alternatively, look at your MLS rules and consider changing the status of the listing to allow showings by appointment only or even to stop showings until a later date. Talk to the seller about whether to accept back up offers in the event that the buyer cannot perform due to complications related to the pandemic.
    • If a buyer is concerned about exposure, talk to them about the possibilities of you using Facetime or another video-telephone option where you can “show” them the property while they stay home. Talk to the buyer about what is and isn’t required by the contract, especially related to access to the property and the property condition at settlement. If your buyer wants or expects a deeper cleaning, that is something that likely needs to be specified in the contract itself.
    • Talk to all clients about what could happen if the other side cannot move at Settlement, or if there are larger industry impacts (courts closing, delays with lenders or other providers due to diminished staff). Consider an addendum to the contract that delays settlement and/or essentially “pauses” the contract (and all contingency deadlines) for a number of days (watch for language provided by Virginia REALTORS in the coming days).
  • Figure out whether your buyer is local or not. If not, where are they coming from? (States with large numbers of cases/countries with travel restrictions)
    • This information could give the seller some indication of whether settlement is more or less likely to be delayed. Understand that the buyer’s current location isn’t necessarily a guarantee of whether they will need a delay, but if you have a buyer coming from a country currently under quarantine or with restricted travel, make sure to start talking to the buyer agent and the seller early on about whether there will be an impact and what this could mean for your transaction. For example, if the buyer is purchasing the property as an investment and does not plan to live there, it’s possible they will be able to proceed as planned; on the other hand, if the buyer is moving here for a job, which has been delayed due to travel restrictions, it’s possible the buyer might have to delay settlement and could have issues related to their loan if the job offer is rescinded.
  • Talk to your settlement provider – are they able to do remote settlements? What plans do they have in place to protect your clients?
    • You want to have early and frequent communications with your settlement agent to know what their plans are and what, if any, hiccups they may see coming down the road. If the settlement provider is not able to handle remote settlements, talk to the clients about the possibility of moving to another settlement provider (depending on where you are in the transaction this could have a bigger impact)
    • Talk to your settlement provider about what may happen in the event that the courts close. Some courts in Virginia have closed while others are simply closed to the public.
  • One thing to keep in mind – communication with your clients and agents on the other side of the transaction can do a lot to help manage expectations and keep transactions moving smoothly.

 

Unemployment Assistance

From the Virginia Employment Commission: New Benefits for Previously Uncovered Workers

Affected workers, like the self-employed, who are not eligible under traditional unemployment insurance may be eligible under a brand new federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). To be eligible for this new program, workers must first apply through traditional unemployment by visiting www.vec.virginia.gov or www.vawc.virginia.gov. The state is required to verify eligibility under traditional unemployment before allowing claimants to be considered for the new PUA program. If you are determined to be ineligible for traditional unemployment, you will be contacted by phone (text or voice message) on how to file the supplemental information to complete your claim under the new PUA program.

Housing Market Impacts FAQs

COVID-19 is having an impact on the housing market in Virginia, though it is still too early to tell what to expect over the long term. Check back often for more information.


Q. What do potential buyers need to know about market conditions related to COVID-19?

A. Buyers who are in very secure jobs may actually be in a good position to buy now because interest rates remain very low and other buyers may be sidelined. Those sidelined buyers include those who are taking a “wait-and-see” approach, while others are not in a position to buy a home because they have lost their job, their income has been cut, or they fear their job is at risk. A buyer may find that some sellers are more negotiable on price, knowing that there are fewer buyers out there.

While they might face less competition for homes, buyers will face other challenges. Some sellers are pulling their listings over concerns about the spread of the virus. In addition, some sellers may be apprehensive about making their homes available for in-person viewing. Even if a buyer can make an offer on a home, there could be challenges associated with finding appraisers, inspectors and other vendors to visit and examine occupied properties.

In addition, the volatility in the mortgage market can also make securing a loan more challenging for some buyers, even as rates remain low.


Q. What do sellers need to know about market conditions related to COVID-19?

A. Sellers will need to recognize that despite low interest rates, demand is going to be weaker. As a result, a seller may not be able to command the price that he or she anticipated going into the spring market.

Would-be sellers that have flexibility could defer selling with the hope that the market recovers quickly and demand bounces back. However, at this point, the long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 are not clear. Restrictions related to the virus could last months, with the Trump administration stating that the country could be dealing with cases through August.

Those who do need to sell now will need to work creatively with their REALTOR® to make sure they are marketing their home appropriately, making it possible for potential buyers to view the home, and setting realistic expectations about price.

The National Association of REALTORS® has many resources available, including guidance on listing and showing homes during COVID-19.


Q. Are we heading into a recession?

A. It is very likely that the U.S. economy will enter into a recession in 2020. An economic recession is formally defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Therefore, we will not know officially if we are in a recession until later this year.

An economic recession is also typically characterized by significant job losses. In March, about 10.4 million Americans filed claims for unemployment insurance. Job losses lead to reduced consumer spending, which is a major part of the economy and a major contributor to an economic downturn.


Q. Is the housing market in Virginia headed for a crash?

A. The short answer is probably not. While there will be impacts on the housing market, we are not expecting the same types of impacts we experienced during the last recession in 2007 through 2009.

There are several reasons why this recession is different.

First, lending standards are much stricter now than they were back in the early 2000s when mortgage financing was easier to come by and people bought homes who may not have had the appropriate financial resources.

Second, and largely as a result of the tighter lending standards, price growth has been very steady in recent years, with prices up between two and four percent, annually. This pace of price growth is in stark contrast to the double-digit price appreciation we saw leading up to the housing market bust and Great Recession.

Third, before and during the last recession, Virginia had a surplus of homes for sale after a ramp up of new housing construction, particularly single-family home construction. We are in a very different situation now, where supply is extremely limited. In February, there was an estimated 2.6 months of supply, on average, across the Commonwealth.

Demand will weaken in the near-term. How fast demand rebounds depends on the severity of job losses and the duration of the overall economic slowdown.


Q. Will home prices fall in Virginia?

A. In the near-term, there will likely be some slowdown in price appreciation and there may be modest price drops in some markets across Virginia. A slowdown in prices results from softening demand as some would-be buyers take a “wait and see” approach and others have to delay a home purchase as a result of a disruption in income.

Longer-term, the impact on prices will depend on when the labor market recovers.


Q. Are there certain parts of the market that could be more adversely impacted?

A. The downturn in the stock market could have an adverse effect on those households who were planning to use stock holdings to fund a down payment. It is likely that this could have a bigger impact on the top end of the market, where financial market wealth is more often used as a source of funds for luxury homes, as well as second homes and investment properties. As a result, Virginia REALTORS®could see a softening of prices of homes in the upper price segments, and these homes could stay on the market longer. These impacts could be more strongly experienced by REALTORS® in some of the higher-priced markets in Northern Virginia, as well as in some of the Commonwealth’s second home markets.

In addition, second home markets may be more likely to be adversely impacted by the downturn as potential buyers of second homes put off those purchases until their financial situations become more stable.

Mortgage Rates FAQs

Q. The Federal government has taken a number of actions to help stabilize or lower mortgage rates. What will be the impact on homebuyers applying for a loan?

A. Federal government actions, include actions by the Federal Reserve, are intended to help lower interest rates and to mitigate the impact on families and businesses. However, given the way the mortgage market operates, some of these actions also have had unintended consequences. Buyers should be in close contact with their lenders to be sure that their mortgage application process is on track and that their loan terms have not changed. More information on the Fed’s actions regarding mortgage rates is available here.


Q. Why are mortgage rates bouncing around so much?

A. The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.50% for the week ending March 27, down from 3.65% a week ago but higher than in the first part of March.

The measures that are typically correlated with mortgage rates—namely the 10-year Treasury yield—are becoming less helpful for forecasting where rates will go. There is a lot more variation in the market, with rates varying from lender to lender, depending on capacity to handle applications.


Q. What do the volatile mortgage rates mean for buyers?

A. It is more difficult now to predict which direction mortgage rates are heading. In addition, locking in a mortgage rate is more complicated than it was last month, as lenders are increasingly asking for loan approvals and appraisals to lock in.


Q. I heard the Federal Reserve dropped the federal funds rate. Is this the same thing as the mortgage rate?

A. The federal funds rate, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve and is a very short-term interest rate, is not directly tied to mortgage rates. This rate is the interest rate at which banks and other financial institutions lend money to each other, usually overnight. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is more directly impacted by long-term factors, such as 10-year and 30-year Treasury yields. Mortgage rates are also determined by other factors, including the inflation rate, the pace of job creation, and whether the economy is growing or shrinking.

Therefore, while mortgage rates and the federal funds rate sometimes move in tandem, and the lower fed rate will eventually impact longer-term interest rates, it is not always possible to predict how a federal funds rate cut will impact 30-year mortgage rates in the near-term.


Q. What does all of this mean for homeowners and buyers? Are mortgage rates going to decline?

A. Mortgage rates will probably either stabilize or continue to decline in the near-term. The action by the Federal Reserve to purchase billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) will help stabilize and likely lower mortgage rates.

However, there is a big constraint in terms of lender capacity to service loan applications. Lenders are facing a pipeline of applications—mostly refinance applications—and some lenders are raising rates to slow the number of people applying for home loans, giving them time to work through the backlog.


Q. Assuming mortgage rates do stay low or even fall further, what will be the impact on the housing market?

A. Low and falling mortgage rates tend to be positive for the housing market, making it relatively less expensive to borrow for a home purchase. However, the relationship between home sales and mortgage rates has been atypical over recent months. Rates have been so low for so long, which means that the cost of borrowing is not what is keeping potential home buyers out of the market. Rather, an insufficient supply of inventory has had a bigger impact on the housing market than mortgage rates. In fact, the falling mortgage rates in recent weeks have spurred unprecedented levels of refinancing activity, not home purchase activity. Increased refinancing activity could actually make it harder for would-be home buyers as more homeowners decide to keep their homes off the market.


Q. What should I tell clients about mortgage rates?

A. While it is likely that rates will fall further in the coming weeks, a drop is not a foregone conclusion. There may be little value in advising clients to wait to purchase a home to achieve lower rates when the bigger challenge they likely face is finding a home at all­­. Therefore, if your clients are otherwise ready to purchase (e.g., on good financial footing), then there does not seem to be a good reason for putting off that purchase. In fact, well-positioned buyers could benefit from less competition for homes.

 

Broker-Specific FAQs

Q. Are you, your firm, and/or your agents potentially liable if someone contracts COVID-19 after you have conducted some activity in the home (such as showing it to a prospective buyer or attending a home inspection)?

A. First, we believe that the potential for you to be held liable in such a circumstance is very low. However, to be safe, we have drafted the following “hold harmless” language that you can include in the Additional Terms section of your brokerage agreements.

  • In no event shall Broker, brokerage firm, or any agents or employees of the brokerage firm, be responsible for or liable for any claims arising out of the COVID-19 Pandemic; entry into the property by Invited Parties, any person(s) accompanying an Invited Party, or any agent or third party entering the property on an Invited Party’s behalf; or the availability of the property for showing or inspection. Client understands the risks associated with entering properties and/or allowing others to enter their property during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Client releases, waives, discharges, and forever holds Broker, the brokerage firm, and its agents and employees, individually and collectively, harmless from and against claims, damages, losses, and suits arising from or in any way connected with the Pandemic. Invited Parties includes, but Is not limited to, potential buyers or tenants, agents, inspectors, contractors, appraisers, or other third-parties related to a real estate transaction.
    Added 4/1/20

Q. Are you, your firm, and/or your agents potentially liable if a tenant contracts COVID-19 after you have conducted some activity in the home (such as conducting a virtual showing or allowing a contractor in to make a repair)?

A. First, we believe that the potential for you to be held liable in such a circumstance is very low. However, to be safe, we have drafted the following “hold harmless” language that you can include in the Additional Terms section of your brokerage agreements.

  • In no event shall Broker, brokerage firm, or any agents or employees of the brokerage firm, be responsible for or liable for any claims arising out of the COVID-19 Pandemic; entry into the property by Invited Parties, any person(s) accompanying an Invited Party, or any agent or third party entering the property on an Invited Party’s behalf; or the availability of the property for showing or inspection. Tenant understands the risks associated with entering properties and/or allowing others to enter their property during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Tenant releases, waives, discharges, and forever holds Broker, the brokerage firm, and its agents and employees, individually and collectively, harmless from and against claims, damages, losses, and suits arising from or in any way connected with the Pandemic. Invited Parties includes, but Is not limited to, potential buyers or tenants, agents, inspectors, contractors, appraisers, or other third-parties related to a real estate transaction.
    Added 4/1/20

Q. Do you have to use the hold harmless language? If so, do you need to go back and add this language into brokerage agreements that you’ve already entered into?

A. No, this language is not required. The risk of your liability in this circumstance is very low even without this additional language, but you can add it if it makes you feel safer. As such, you do not need to go back and add this language into previously ratified brokerage agreements or leases. Added 4/1/20


Q. Is DPOR waiving the requirement that funds must be deposited into an escrow account within 5 business banking days?

A. At this time, there have been no changes to the laws and regulations related to depositing escrow funds. Because the regulations require money to be deposited within 5 business banking days of receipt unless otherwise agreed to by the purchaser and seller, we suggest you make sure that your contract (or COVID-19 Addendum) addresses this. For example, the Virginia REALTORS® Contract says that the real estate licensee will deposit the EMD within 5 business banking days of receipt. This means that if you never receive the check (because the buyer isn’t able to send it or your office is closed), you are OK. Additionally, if you use the Virginia REALTORS® COVID-19 Addendum, it allows the parties to press “pause” and extend ALL deadlines until the COVID-19 condition is over. This means that if you do have the check and suddenly are not able to deposit the check into your escrow account, your client can send notice to the other side to pause all deadlines and give you more time to get the EMD deposited. If you are able to deposit the check, using mobile banking or another method, you should certainly do so as it will make keeping track of everything and getting your business up and running that much smoother once things go back to normal.
If you are using a different contract or COVID-19 addendum, you will need to look at the language in your contract and addendum to see if it addresses EMD or not. Reach out to your forms provider to see if they have additional language you can use in the event that the contract or addendum do not address this issue. ADDED 3/24/20 

Q. Where can I find information on employees teleworking?

A. The Department of Labor has guidance on wage and pay requirements for hourly and full-time employees that come to your office or work from home here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemicADDED 3/20/20


Q. Where can I find NAR’s guidance documents along with hot topics about how the industry is changing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A. NAR has a coronavirus landing page. Click here to view.


Q. As an employer, where can I find more resources and guidance for employers?

A. NAR has released Coronavirus Resources and Guidance for Employers.


Q. Where can I find CDC guidance for businesses and employers?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidance here.


Q. What is congress doing to assist employers with employees that need to take leave because of the coronavirus?

A. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect on April 2nd, provides guidance and assistance for emergency family and medical leave, emergency paid sick leave, and emergency unemployment.


Q. Will Virginia REALTORS® release forms language to assist with new and pending transactions?

A. Yes, Virginia REALTORS® has created a new COVID-19 Addendum (Form 600 COVID) that can be used in existing and new transactions.


Q. Do you have suggestions for budget-friendly and easy to use video conferencing options?

A. There are many options for online video conferencing. We suggest you take a look at ZoomGotomeeting, or FreeConference.


Q. If I have IT issues and can’t get a tech to come out, are there other alternatives?

A. Yes. Virginia REALTORS® offers a free Tech Helpline service offering support for hardware, software, networking, and digital devices. Call 1-800-276-4216.

Sales FAQs

Q. Are you, your firm, and/or your agents potentially liable if someone contracts COVID-19 after you have conducted some activity in the home (such as showing it to a prospective buyer or attending a home inspection)?

A. First, we believe that the potential for you to be held liable in such a circumstance is very low. However, to be safe, we have drafted the following “hold harmless” language that you can include in the Additional Terms section of your brokerage agreements.

  • In no event shall Broker, brokerage firm, or any agents or employees of the brokerage firm, be responsible for or liable for any claims arising out of the COVID-19 Pandemic; entry into the property by Invited Parties, any person(s) accompanying an Invited Party, or any agent or third party entering the property on an Invited Party’s behalf; or the availability of the property for showing or inspection. Client understands the risks associated with entering properties and/or allowing others to enter their property during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Client releases, waives, discharges, and forever holds Broker, the brokerage firm, and its agents and employees, individually and collectively, harmless from and against claims, damages, losses, and suits arising from or in any way connected with the Pandemic. Invited Parties includes, but Is not limited to, potential buyers or tenants, agents, inspectors, contractors, appraisers, or other third-parties related to a real estate transaction. Added 4/1/20

Q. Do you have to use the hold harmless language? If so, do you need to go back and add this language into brokerage agreements that you’ve already entered into?

A. No, this language is not required. The risk of your liability in this circumstance is very low even without this additional language, but you can add it if it makes you feel safer. As such, you do not need to go back and add this language into previously ratified brokerage agreements or leases. Added 4/1/20


Q. What should we do in the event that the courthouse closes between the date that the parties sign and the settlement agent records the title?

A. Speak to your settlement agent in advance of settlement date. There are a lot of factors that will come into play. If a courthouse is actually closed, no official business may be conducted, which includes recording land records. On the other hand, if the courthouse is just closed to the public, the clerk may receive land records electronically (or by other method) and record those records. This means that you will need to talk to your settlement agent to find out if the courthouse is closed or closed to the public, whether the courthouse is setup to receive electronic records, and whether the settlement agent is setup to send electronic land records.

Regardless of whether the courthouse is currently open, you may want to start having conversations with your clients about what happens if the courthouse does close between when they sign on the dotted line and the settlement agent goes to record. If the parties both intend for the buyer to take possession on the date they both sign on the dotted line, especially if this occurs on a Friday, they should consider entering into a pre-settlement occupancy agreement that is contingent on recordation being delayed due to a COVID-19 related event.


Q. What can I do to protect myself if a buyer or tenant wants to write an offer on a property without viewing it in person?

A. Virginia REALTORS® offers a “Sight Unseen” form that can be used if you have a buyer or tenant who wishes to write a contract or lease on a property they have not visited themselves. These forms have the buyer (600J) or tenant (200A) acknowledge that they have not been to the property, that pictures may be misleading, and they understand the risks associated with writing a binding contract on the property. These forms are available in the Virginia REALTORS® Forms Library and can be used even if a virtual tour is available. Added 3/24/20


Q. Will Virginia REALTORS® release forms language to assist with new and pending transactions?

A. Yes, Virginia REALTORS® has created a new COVID-19 Addendum (Form 600 COVID) that can be used in existing and new transactions. UPDATED 3/18/20


Q. Can I use the Virginia REALTORS® COVID-19 Addendum with a non-Virginia REALTORS® sales contract?

A. Yes, but check that capitalized terms (such as Settlement Date and Deposit) do not have different meanings in your contract. If there are differences, you can clarify any issues in the “Additional Terms” section by stating that “As used in this Addendum, Deposit means Earnest Money Deposit in the Contract”. Use of “Buyer” instead of “Purchaser” is not an issue since the form begins with defining that person.


Q. Is the Virginia REALTORS® COVID-19 Addendum mandatory?

A. No, like any other contingency, this document is not mandatory; however, getting this addendum signed early will help protect both parties should issues arise later in the transaction. ADDED 3/19/20


Q. What should I say if my seller asks why they should agree to the COVID-19 Addendum?

A. We have received a number of hotline questions from listing agents who have sellers that are impacted. (They can’t close on their next house, they are now subject to quarantine, there is a title issue that can’t be resolved due to closures, etc.) This form protects both parties by essentially pressing “pause” on the transaction for a period of time while things get figured out. While the form includes default timelines for the length of the “pause” and how long the “pause” can last in total, there are blanks that allow the parties to change those defaults to suit their needs. ADDED 3/19/20


Q. Remote Notarization – What is it?

A. Virginia law allows for remote online notarization. Remote notarizations allow an electronic notary to use the internet to notarize a document. Though there are certain requirements and it is a different experience than a traditional face-to-face closing, this is a great example of things we can be utilizing, as an industry, to help do our part to flatten the curve.

If you are an agent, talk to your broker about whether or not they know of your settlement companies or closing attorneys utilize it. If you are a broker, ask your settlement company or closing attorney. ADDED 3/23/20


Q. Can I refuse to show houses to someone who has been in an area with higher numbers of COVID-19 cases?

A. NAR has provided guidance that says you may ask all clients and potential clients if they have traveled recently or are showing signs of respiratory illness; however, you want to make sure that you ask ALL individuals the same question. Refusing to engage with a client or potential client who may be at risk could lead to a potential fair housing complaint. If you are concerned about exposure, you can always take additional precautions if your client has recently traveled to a location where there is higher risk of exposure.


Q. Can my seller refuse to allow access to their house?

A. It depends. If the house is not under contract, the seller can restrict access to their house, but it needs to be done in a uniform manner to prevent fair housing allegations. If your seller has concerns about exposure to Coronavirus, consider withdrawing the property or check your local MLS rules regarding no access to listed property. If the house is already under contract, the seller must allow access as called for in the contract. This typically includes inspectors, appraisers, and a few others. The seller does not have to grant access beyond what is called for in the contract (for example, the seller does not have to allow the buyer into the property to measure for furniture or drapes unless specifically stated in the contract).


Q. Can my seller demand I hold open houses?

A. This will depend on the terms of your listing agreement. The Virginia REALTORS® Listing Agreement (Form 400) does not specifically require the broker to hold open houses. Form 400 says the broker will “make commercially reasonable efforts” to obtain a buyer and that the seller authorizes the broker to “take all appropriate action to bring about a sale of the property.” If you are using a different form or have added language that says you will hold open houses, you will need to abide by the agreement.


Q. Can a buyer (or seller) terminate a contract because of Coronavirus?

A. There is nothing in the Virginia REALTORS® Sales Contract (Form 600) that would give either party the right to terminate because of Coronavirus. It is possible that the contract may be terminated under a different provision – for example, if a HOA office is closed and cannot provide the HOA packet, the buyer would be able to terminate.


Q. If the courts close, does that mean settlement can’t occur?

A. Many settlement providers are able to conduct closings electronically, and some courts are able to accept electronic filings. Speak to your settlement service provider about how court closings will impact your transaction.


Q. What happens if a buyer is unable to attend settlement because they are quarantined?

A. If the settlement agent is able to perform electronic (remote) settlements, settlement can still occur, even if the buyer is not able to be there in person. Speak with your settlement service provider about how this could impact your transaction.


Q. What happens if a seller cannot move out of the house because they are quarantined?

A. As soon as you become aware that this is a possibility, both agents should talk to their clients about the possibility of a post-settlement occupancy agreement. If a seller is under medically required quarantine, it’s unclear how courts would rule about the contractual obligation to deliver possession at settlement.


Q. Does the seller have to do a deeper clean when they move out, prior to settlement?

A. Most contracts in Virginia require the seller to deliver the property in “broom clean” condition. Without additional language in the contract, there is currently no requirement that the seller do any further cleaning before delivering possession of the property. If the buyer would like a deeper cleaning of the property, that should be negotiated and included as a term of the contract.


Q. If I hold an open house and someone who is sick comes through, am I liable if my seller or another person coming through the house gets sick?

A. It is unlikely that you will liable if someone gets sick from an open house. You can limit your risk by not holding an open house if the seller has been exposed or is showing symptoms of illness; asking people who attend the open house if they have been exposed or are showing symptoms of illness to take precautions or attend a different day or virtually; and reminding everyone to take precautions to limit their exposure and exposure of others.


Q. What can I do to minimize risk while holding an open house?

  • Have all individuals who enter immediately wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • Have lots of extra pens and allow each person who signs in to use one pen that they then keep or you sanitize before another person uses.
  • Ask people for their names and contact information that you write down or record on your electronic device
  • Open all doors prior to the start of the open house so that people can walk around the house without touching door knobs
  • Have paper towels near sinks in the event someone wants to turn a sink on/off.
  • Restrict the number of people in the house at any given time to ensure that people can maintain the recommended 6 foot distance

Q. What if a buyer cannot get inspections during the inspection period because he or she is unable to schedule a qualified inspector? Or if a home owner is unable to get contractors to make the negotiated repairs?

A. Speak with your client about this possibility that home inspectors may be unwilling or unable to perform inspections during this period or that contractors may be unwilling or unable to perform repairs. Work that language into your offer, or, if you are already under contract, work with the parties to negotiate an amendment to the Home Inspection Contingency Addendum.


Q. What if a buyer can no longer obtain financing because of changes in income or employment?

A. The contract addresses what happens when the seller cannot obtain financing in the financing contingency and does not provide an exception for unemployment due to a pandemic.

 

Forms FAQs

Using the Virginia REALTORS® COVID-19 Sales Addendum

We’ve gotten a number of questions about the differences between the Virginia REALTORS® COVID-19 Addendum and the addenda created by other forms providers, so we’d like to answer some of the most common ones.

We want to start by saying that, under normal circumstances we don’t encourage the mixing and matching of addenda with contracts written by different forms providers; however, in the current COVID-19 environment, our highest priority is protecting the interests of your clients. Because the various addenda being created do a few different things, we encourage you to use the one that best addresses your clients’ circumstances.

Below, we provide guidance that is specific to the COVID-19 addenda that are being released by the various forms providers.


Q. Do you have to use an addendum?

A. No, but we strongly advise you to talk with your broker and have your client talk with an attorney before not using one. An addendum addressing the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic will help the parties to understand their rights and options under the contract as this situation continues to evolve.


Q. What happens if you don’t use an addendum or one party refuses to sign an extension or addendum?

A. Without the addendum, the parties remain obligated to perform under the contract as written. It is possible that one party could allege that the non-performing party is in default of the contract; however, Virginia contract law has a concept called “impossibility.” Essentially, if it becomes impossible for one party to complete their end of the bargain through no fault of their own, they will not be obligated to complete the contract.


Q. If you are already protected by contract impossibility, why do you need an addendum?

A. While the common law often provides answers for most situations, it involves going to court to fight over issues that can often be addressed more easily in the contract. Additionally, using an addendum allows the parties to set expectations and agree to certain terms up front, including the ability to terminate the contract at some point. If you rely on the concept of impossibility, the status of the contract, and the property, could remain in limbo for weeks or even months. Additionally, the EMD will have to be held in escrow until there is a signed release or a court order, meaning the buyer’s money could be tied up for months.


Q. Do you have to use one of the addenda created by an association?

A. While the law doesn’t require you to use a particular form, be aware that most E&O insurance policies will only cover transactions that use forms drafted by an attorney or trade association. Before you draft language yourself, make sure you talk to your broker and check your E&O policy. Additionally, drafting significant language for a transaction starts to cross the line into practicing law without a license.


Q. What does the Virginia REALTORS® Addendum do?

A. The Virginia REALTORS® Addendum works to keep the contract alive. It can be signed when the contract is ratified as part of the initial contract or after contract ratification in the event that an issue arises later. The Virginia REALTORS® Addendum creates a mechanism where, should a complication related to COVID-19 arise, either party can send written notice to the other, essentially hitting the “pause” button on everything in the contract until a set number of days after the triggering event ends. There is also a maximum number of days the contract will be paused before either party can terminate the contract. Finally, it allows for either party to terminate the contract if the COVID-19 condition extends beyond an agreed upon number of days.

COVID-19 Sales Contract Addendum

Addendum for sales contracts incorporating the impact of COVID-19 on real estate transactions. NOTE: You must be logged in to access this PDF.

COVID-19 Addendum
Licensing & DPOR FAQs

Q. My license is due to expire, and I cannot complete the required CE classes because I cannot access online CE. What do I do?

A. DPOR is extending the validity of all licenses, certifications, and other credentials issued by its regulatory boards that would otherwise expire during the declared state of emergency and the Governor’s Executive Order. Right now, that means that your license will be good through the current length of the Governor’s Executive Order, June 10, 2020.  Additionally, you will have 30 days after that to make sure your CE is up-to-date and that all of your other requirements are met.

The timeframe of the Executive Order may be shortened or lengthened.  If that happens, we will let you know.


Q. I am able to complete online CE and have access to pay my renewal fee online. Can I go ahead and renew my license now, or do I have to wait until after the state of emergency has passed?

A. If you are able to, you can complete online CE and pay your fee online. You can complete the paperwork for renewal, but understand that DPOR will be under-staffed and that you may have a delay in processing.


Q. Is DPOR still open and conducting business?

A. Effective March 18, 2020, DPOR Offices at the Perimeter Center will be closed to the public, but business will still be conducted. Visit DPOR’s website for updates regarding their operation.


Q. Where can I find a list of approved online-CE classes?

A. Approved online-CE classes can be found at the following links:

http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/uploadedFiles/MainSite/Content/Boards/Real_Estate/A490-02CE_CRS.pdf

Sales License CE – https://www.theceshop.com/online-education/virginia/real-estate/sales-license/continuing-education/courses.html

Broker License CE – https://www.theceshop.com/online-education/virginia/real-estate/broker-license/continuing-education/courses.html

Coronavirus Questions?

If you have a specific question for us, please use the Legal Hotline.

COVID-19 Links

NAR COVID-19 Resources

Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) 

Internal Revenue Service

Virginia Department of Health – COVID-19 Resources

Virginia Employment Commission

National Association of REALTORS® Members TeleHealth

Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR)

DPOR Adjusts Call Center in Response to COVID-19

Beginning on April 2, the DPOR Call Center will only take calls from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The staff at DPOR is asking you to either go to their website, www.dpor.gov, to seek the answers to your questions, or to email REBoard@dpor.virginia.gov if you cannot find the appropriate resource on their website BEFORE calling.