5 Business Policy Issues to Watch For in 2021

November 6, 2020

Maintaining independent contractor status, ensuring COVID-19 relief protection for businesses, and protecting REALTORS® in anti-money laundering policies are key issues that the National Association of REALTORS®’ Business Issues Policy Committee will focus on heading into 2021. The committee provided an overview on Thursday of their federal, legislative, and regulatory priorities during the virtual REALTORS® Conference & Expo.

Here’s how they’re approaching these issues:

1. Protect Independent Contractor Status in Real Estate.

Committee leaders said it’s vital to safeguard real estate professionals’ classification as independent contractors and to protect against any “unreasonable federal involvement that may jeopardize that status, which is especially important in a changing political landscape.”

Most real estate agents are independent contractors rather than employees at their brokerages, which affects their tax status. But there have been recent challenges to that classification on the federal and state levels.

In late September, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a notice of a proposed rule to revise its interpretation of independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That new rule could determine a worker’s status as an employee or an independent contractor by examining a worker’s economic independence based on conditions such as the nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work (for example, being able to set their own schedule, select their own projects, or work for others), as well as the worker’s opportunity for profit and losses based on the worker’s investment (such as individual management of investment or capital expenditures on materials to further work). In March, NAR submitted a comment to the proposed rule, which could possibly take effect by the end of the year.

“NAR strongly supports the ability of broker-owners to choose whether to classify agents as employees or independent contractors and seeks to stop any federal efforts that try to weaken those rights,” says Dominic Pallini, chair of the Business Issues Policy Committee.

2. Educate on Anti-Money-Laundering Efforts in Real Estate.

NAR recently sent a letter to Congress, joining other housing groups, to urge passage of anti-money-laundering legislation to end the abuse stemming from anonymous shell companies. It would include the creation of a secure ownership registry of legal entities. NAR is developing infographics on anti-money-laundering that explain key risk factors REALTORS® should be aware of in their business, including geographic and transaction risks, plus best practices to protect against liability. The infographics will be shared with members soon, committee members said.

Committee members agreed that real estate professionals should not be subject to undue regulatory burdens in the measures being developed to fight money laundering. Those responsibilities should lie with the banks.

3. Stay Alert About Real Estate Fraud.

The growing threat to members’ businesses posed by wire fraud remains a pressing issue. The committee will continue to identify business operational concerns and threats, such as wire and title fraud, that could potentially derail a real estate transaction. NAR is part of the Real Estate Fraud Prevention Coalition, which offers resources to help consumers learn to protect their data and sensitive information, particularly when buying a home. NAR also recently released a new Window to the Law video: Preventing Cybercrime During COVID-19.

4. Make Real Estate Part of Ongoing COVID-19 Relief Efforts.

The COVID-19 outbreak has had a drastic impact on all industries, including real estate. NAR continues to advocate for real estate’s inclusion in any pandemic-related relief bills. NAR, state associations, and REALTOR® committees were among those taking the lead in advocating for the inclusion of independent contractors under the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment assistance that were part of the CARES Act. That marked the first time independent contractors were eligible under such programs. NAR has developed several resources for members as they navigate the economic fallout from the pandemic, including Coronavirus Resources for Property Owners and Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTORS®. The association will continue to advocate for multiple COVID-19 relief measures that impact real estate, such as remote online notarizations, opportunity zones, rental assistance and more as Congress continues to debate new bills.

5. Guard Against Implicit Bias and Fair Housing Violations.

As racial tensions across the country have escalated this year, the real estate industry has been reckoning with longstanding barriers to fair housing and equal housing opportunities. As part of NAR’s ACT! fair housing initiative—which ensures REALTORS® comply with fair housing laws and inclusive business practices—the association is offering a new training tool to raise awareness about implicit bias. The Fairhaven online training tool will provide simulations in which users face discrimination in real estate transactions from the point of view of the agent and the seller. In the training simulation, agents sell houses in the fictional town of Fairhaven and confront multiple scenarios in which discrimination gets in the way. Agents must choose how to handle each scenario. The tool will soon be available at fairhaven.realtor.