Homeland Security Declares Real Estate ‘Essential,’ But …

April 1, 2020

Federal guidance from the Department of Homeland Security has included real estate in a list of essential services that are deemed critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.. State and local officials, however, have been issuing guidelines that could prevent normal business operations for real estate professionals in some areas. Those local mandates should take precedence over federal guidance, experts advise.

Where real estate services are continuing—albeit in modified forms—brokerages are cautioning their agents to act responsibly and to practice safe social distancing in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the issued Homeland Security guidance, “residential and commercial real services” are included on a 15-page list of essential services. These cover settlement services and government offices that conduct title searches, notaries, and mortgage and recording services, as well as construction. The advisory letter was created by the Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.

“This list is advisory in nature,” the guidance notes. “It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard.”

Indeed, REALTORS® should follow the guidelines set forth by their city, county, and state governments, urges Katie Johnson, general counsel and chief member experience officer for the National Association of REALTORS®. “It is imperative you adhere to the order” of your local jurisdiction, Johnson says.

“Being deemed an essential service means that you have a special responsibility and opportunity to continue operations if you choose to but not if you don’t. It means you have the special responsibility and mandate to adhere to your state’s executive order regarding ‘essential services.’ ”

REALTORS® also have a responsibility to abide by all necessary health and safety precautions mandated by your state’s executive orders that would apply to business activities such as in-person property showings or other face-to-face gatherings.  “We all have a special responsibility to lead by example, to do what we think is best for our communities and ourselves, and to do what we think best for the reputation of the industry,” Johnson says.

Read more recommendations for conducting business safely in Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTORS®.

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