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23 Mar REALTORS® Are ESSENTIAL DURING QUARANTINE-Letter from St. Louis REALTORS®

Below is the official letter released on March 23rd by St. Louis REALTORS® explaining why REALTORS® are an essential business.

Here is a list of resources St. Louis REALTORS® have provided regarding the STAY AT HOME ORDER.

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Background:

On Saturday, March 21, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and City of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced mandatory stay-at-home orders, effective Monday, March 23, 2020 through April 22, 2020 for their respective jurisdictions (Link: St. Louis County Order; Link: St. Louis City Order).  Both orders aim to enable essential public services and essential private businesses to continue operating while mandating individuals remain in their residences, to the maximum extent possible.  The orders attempt to accomplish this goal by restricting or limiting business activity, unless the business qualifies as an “Essential Business” under the definitions as set forth in the order. 

Below is a brief summary of the general guidelines from our legal team and some suggestions for how to comply with the orders’ directives, while still pro-actively managing your responsibilities to clients and relationships with business partners.

Self-Classifying as an Essential Business:

While neither order provides an exhaustive list of all businesses or business activities that could be considered “Essential”, further administrative guidance from St. Louis City and St. Louis County has attempted to provide definitions for “Essential Businesses” by identifying broad industry categories such as “Construction Services”, “Heath Care Operations”, or “Professional Services” as business activities that are allowed to continue under certain limiting circumstances.  Unlike the executive order issued in the state of Illinois (where real estate professionals were specifically exempted), the orders issued in St. Louis City and St. Louis County are somewhat vague and do not specifically mention the activities of real estate brokers or real estate agents as “Essential.” This has left our members in the position of having to self-classify, using their best judgement in evaluating the services they provide in the community.

It is clear, however, that the activities of real estate professionals (as state-regulated industries) more closely resemble the businesses identified as “Essential” in both the St. Louis City and St. Louis County orders, fitting most closely under the definition of “Professional Services”.    As shown below, both orders identify licensed professionals as entities allowed to continue their business operations:

  • St. Louis County Order, Section III(F)(39): “professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities or to assist a person in the exercise of constitutional rights, including but not limited to services required by a court order, a court rule, a fiduciary duty, a duty to the person’s client, or an ethical obligation.”
  • St. Louis City Order, Section II(s): “professional services (E.g. accountants, lawyers, engineers).”

Under both orders, real estate professionals should feel comfortable continuing their operations as long as they adhere to the social distancing requirements and other applicable mandates in the order.  It is clear that real estate professionals service the community and their clients by virtue of their state-regulated license, which imposes both ethical and fiduciary responsibilities upon the professionals.    

The St. Louis County Order also makes clear in Section III(F)(14) that activities related to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of Residences (houses, condos, apartments, etc.) is allowed.  This carve out is important as real estate professionals may be called upon at a moment’s notice to list an individual’s residence, as a result of a pressing financial need, relocation, or other emergency matter. This likely allows for real estate professionals to visit the home, assess its condition and value, ensure utilities are operating safely, and secure the premises (installing a lockbox, locking windows, doors, garages, etc.).

Furthermore, as it relates to business partners of real estate professionals, the St. Louis City Order identifies “Construction” generally in Section II(t) and “Banks and financial institutions” in Section II(j) as “Essential Businesses”, while the St. Louis County Order (Section III(F))  also identifies “activities at open construction sites, irrespective of the types of structures,” “banks, financial institutions” and “businesses that process financial transactions and services” as “Essential Businesses”. By also identifying as “Essential Businesses”, “businesses that supply Essential Businesses with the support……necessary to operate”, it is certainly reasonable for real estate professionals to identify as being “Essential” to the successful operation of the construction and banking industries.     

By contrast and for comparison purposes only, both orders place more severe limitations on businesses such as fitness centers, gyms, massage facilities, tattoo parlors, salons, and other similar establishments by identifying them as non-essential businesses.  We believe the services our members provide to their clients do not fit well into these categories, thus implying that real estate professionals are considered “Essential”.  

Altering Business Behaviors

As the St. Louis County Order states in Section 4(C)(1), “Essential Businesses may continue necessary activities so long as they comply, to the maximum extent possible, with Social Distancing Requirements for both employees and members of the public.”  Below is a complete list of St. Louis County’s Social Distancing Requirements as set forth in Section III(U):

  • maintaining at least six-foot social distancing from other individuals;
  • washing hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer with more than sixty percent alcohol;
  • covering coughs or sneezes with something other than hands;
  • regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, and not shaking hands.

The St. Louis City Order echoes these requirements, almost uniformly.  Additional guidance can also be found at the below resources: Open Houses & Social Distancing, Steps to Prevent Illness & What You Need to Know About Hand Washing, NAR’s “Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTORS®.”

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

As discussed in further detail below, and in the spirit of collaboration, real estate professionals should reach out to their business partners to understand how each business entity intends to alter their practices in light of these new restrictions.   

Clarify Going Forward Practices with Business Partners:

The St. Louis City and St. Louis County Orders expressly permit the continued operation of government services, however, there is no explicit guidance provided to the critical government employees who facilitate real estate transactions on a day-to-day basis, including county recorders and clerks,.  There certainly remains open questions about how these government functions will operate in both jurisdictions, and the St. Louis REALTORS® will provide updates as they become available. 

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

Travel to Conduct Essential Business Activities:

Real estate professionals, and their clients, should feel comfortable traveling as part of their Essential Business, as service providers (agents) and purchasers of services (clients).  St. Louis County Order Section IV(D)(3) also allows travel into or out of the County to perform work as part of an Essential Business. It also specifically allows travel home from outside of St. Louis County, travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the County, and travel to an Essential Business to purchase goods or services from the Essential Business (Section III(J)(3)).  St. Louis City, on the other hand, is vague as it pertains to travel, only explicitly allowing individuals to go to work for an essential business, not necessarily to procure goods or services from such essential business.  

Pay Attention to Other Local Rules & Regulations: 

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the St. Louis region is a patchwork of municipalities with local governments that may restrict travel or activities to a degree greater than St. Louis County or St. Louis City.  Please check with your local representatives and their websites for any further restrictions or limitations placed on business activities within these various jurisdictions. 

St. Louis REALTORS® will continue to monitor the impact of the spread of COVID-19 on our state and the real estate industry and encourages real estate professionals to visit stlrealtors.com for the most up-to-date information.

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Here is a list of resources St. Louis REALTORS® have provided regarding the STAY AT HOME ORDER.

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