COVID-19 & Real Estate FAQs As We Understand Them:
Real estate activities are permissible protected industry under Utah state law. Attached are questions that we have received from clients and customers with the best answers we can give you! We will attempt to update/supplement these FAQs as we hear from our local and national REALTOR® associations and our government leaders. Our hearts go out to everyone who has experienced loss because of COVID-19 during this pandemic, whether it’s the death of a loved one, an eviction or loss of a job.
1) QUESTION: Can REALTORS® conduct in-person listing appointments and property showings?
ANSWER: Yes. Some agents/brokers may personally not want to show homes or visit clients at their homes, and some buyers may not wish to enter properties to see them. We always encourage buyers to look at virtual tours and photos on the internet through www.utahrealestate.com and if we feel comfortable, we can show you homes via Facetime or similar apps.
2) QUESTION: What requirements must be followed at any listing appointment or showing?
ANSWER: a) All real estate activity conducted at a property must be by appointment unless the MLS listing specifically states ‘Go and show and or /keyboxed and vacant, no appointment necessary’; b) No more than four people may be in attendance whenever possible apart from those persons living in the home; c) All persons visiting a property must wear a mask and maintain a six-foot social distance at all times. We ask sellers to open all interior doors and turn on all lights so there is minimum physical contact in the home.
3) QUESTION: Does a rental unit need to be vacant before I can schedule an appointment?
ANSWER: State law requires that tenants in a leased property be given a 24 hour notice to show the property. Tenants, due to COVID-19, can decline a showing. However, a listing brokerage may have made specific arrangements with that tenant during the listing period to accommodate safe showing practices. We will abide by the listing brokerage’s instructions to enter any leased property-always!
4) QUESTION: Is a seller required to allow in-person showings?
ANSWER: No. A seller has the right to elect not to permit an in-person showing or to set up conditions on such showings such as the wearing of masks, gloves, booties and/or the existence of a pre-approval letter from the buyer’s lender. In most cases the seller’s agent will instruct us in advance if we want to show a property that is not an Urban Utah Homes and Estates (UUHE) listing.
5) QUESTION: Do we have to apply for a mortgage in person? And will the mortgage person attend the closing of escrow?
ANSWER: All lenders have on-line applications and websites. Have your real estate professional at UUHE suggest a great lender to help you through the loan process. A good lender will meet buyers at the close of escrow to go over the final paperwork and answer questions before the transaction is recorded. And given COVID-19 worries, the loan officer can live-stream Facetime to call in during the final signing. By law, your REALTOR® or a representative from our brokerage must attend the closing either in person or virtually.
6) QUESTION: What protections do title companies have for clients at the final escrow table?
ANSWER: Each title company has a different in-house safety policy. Once the title company is chosen then they can be contacted to see what they will require (masks) 6-ft. distance, gloves, etc. All monies in a sales transaction are handled by bank wires so checks are very unusual, which eliminates the need to pick up and deposit monies by sellers or buyers to close escrow. They have adopted their own mitigation measures for the protection of their employees and will let us know how to safely close your sale or purchase (or both!) ahead of time. In some cases, documents can be electronically signed, although generally title companies need ‘wet signatures’ as required by law on mortgage documents. The level of complexity of particular transaction may dictate whether attendance in person at a particular closing is required.
7) QUESTION: As a buyer, I want out of my purchase agreement/offer because of my uncertainty about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. I could lose my job, I could get sick, I’m scared. I know I’m ‘under contract’ with a seller to purchase their home but I really want to stop for now and wait to see what the future brings. Can I back out just because of COVID-19 and not lose any earnest money?
ANSWER: As a general legal matter, there is no right to unilaterally terminate a contract due to a change in circumstances without possibly risking any buyer’s earnest money on deposit-even a really significant change in circumstances. Buyer’s can cancel a Utah Real Estate Purchase contract if a) the home fails to pass buyer’s inspections (‘Buyer’s due diligence), b) if the home does not appraise for the purchase price and c) if the buyer is not approved for the loan. These are generalizations and a simple explanation of the three ‘buyer’s outs’ in a contract. All three (A, B, and C) have specific deadlines agreed to between buyer and seller in the purchase contract and your real estate agent can explain more before you enter into any contract with a seller. The Utah Assn. of REALTORS does have a form that does give buyers/sellers or both to cancel a contract due to COVID-19 but we have not found many people willing to agree to cancelling a contract without financial damages to either party. Again, talk to your agent about this issue.
8) QUESTION: My offer to the seller is a cash offer. My finances have changed-I lost my job just after the seller signed my offer. As a buyer, can I terminate the purchase agreement?
ANSWER: If a purchase agreement calls for a cash purchase, it is not contingent upon the purchasers having available cash. Rather, by agreeing to a cash purchase, the purchasers are representing that they have the available funds. Buyers are not excused from performing under the contract if, due to market conditions, they no longer have enough money to close. Rather, under these circumstances, you would be in breach of contract. A seller might let you out of the transaction with no financial penalty if they have a big heart and aren’t suffering a financial penalty themselves, could agree to accept your earnest money to make them feel whole, or could go to court and ask for damages from you.
9) QUESTION: If I own two residences in different parts of the state can I travel to visit and live at them whenever I want?
ANSWER: Yes. The Governor has not restricted travel like this in any way.
10) QUESTION: Since real estate activities are permitted during the pandemic, can a seller hire someone to conduct an estate sale?
ANSWER: Estate sale/liquidators are allowed to sell the personal property of the estate/deceased. They will each
have their own protocols for viewing and purchasing items at a property so it is wise to call in advance to go over their rules prior to hiring such a firm or shopping at an estate sale. Our broker, Babs De Lay is a specialist in selling properties of those that have passed and offers concierge service to clean out the property, liquidate the personal items, work with the family attorney, trustees, appraisers, etc. Babs would be willing to meet/talk to you about any estate in question.
11) QUESTION: Buyers found a few items on the home inspection that was conducted after the home went ‘under contract/sale pending’ that needed to be addressed, such as a broken picture window The buyers will go forward with the sale if the seller agrees to repairs/replacements but due to COVID-19 the window company is behind schedule. If the buyers and sellers agree, can this work done after the purchase has been completed so that the closing can proceed and buyers become the owners.
ANSWER: Yes. Like workers in the real estate industry, work in the construction and building trades are allowed to make repairs and or upgrades to properties (Plumbers, roofers, electricians, painters, carpenters and flooring vendors, etc.). It’s been rough on all small businesses during this pandemic for businesses to keep and find employees and all of us have to be kind and patient to figure out any bumps in the road during a sale.
12) QUESTION: Can my UUHE agent/broker hire professional photographers to shoot my property or do I have to provide them myself?
ANSWER: Yes, professional photographers practicing safe practices are allowed inside properties. We ask that sellers open all interior doors and turn on lights so that they have minimal contact with surfaces, and never show up if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.
13) QUESTION: May local governments (like Utah, Davis or Salt Lake County) preempt the Governor’s Executive Order to be more restrictive than the county where I want to see properties. What rules take precedent? Who do I listen to?
ANSWER: Local health departments, cities and townships may be more restrictive than State rules and regulations. As professionals we attempt to keep up on any changes in those restrictions in practicing real estate sales. We will share any updates with our clients as customers as we learn of them.
14) QUESTION: How has the pandemic changed how YOU as REALTORS® conduct business?
ANSWER: We are still listing homes and selling them and working with buyers. The market hasn’t changed that much: there is still extremely low inventory and buyers often find themselves in a multiple offer situation. Some sellers are moving out of their homes so as not deal with the hassle of showing their home and sanitizing it before and after showings. Some buyers are making offers after only virtually seeing homes that their agent/broker has live streamed the properties to them. Inspections continue once a home is under contract without problems, as those vendors who offer home inspections are committed to do their job safely, including sewer scopes, radon and meth tests, water, mold and allergen tests, and overall roof to foundation general inspections.