Government officials are working hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in so doing, they recognize the importance of continuing to provide essential services and acting to ensure the continuity of operations throughout the State.
On Monday, March 30th, Governor Ducey issued Executive Order 2020-18 in which he instituted a “Stay home, Stay healthy, Stay connected” policy that limits the time Arizona residents can spend away from their place of residence or property with certain identified exceptions. One such exception is “to conduct or participate in Essential Services.” So what activities are “essential” and how does Executive Order 2020-18 impact Arizona’s 50,000+ REALTORS®?
On March 23rd, prior to the issuance of Executive Order 2020-18 and with input from the Arizona REALTORS® , Governor Ducey had the foresight to define the term “essential” via Executive Order 2020-12. More specifically, this Executive Order identified as an “essential function” those businesses and operations that promote the health, safety and welfare of the state or assist others in fulfilling such functions. A myriad of professional services are identified in the Executive Order as essential, including real estate, which expressly incorporates appraisal and title services. Also included are financial institutions and consumer lenders.
As one of Arizona’s original anchor industries, the continuity of the Arizona real estate industry is essential to the statewide economy. Consisting of over 80,000 licensed real estate professionals and thousands more in related industries such as consumer lending, appraisal, title companies, property management, moving companies, among others, the industry supports safe and secure transactions that greatly benefit the state’s economy.
So, is it business as usual? There is no easy answer to this question as the law can and should differ from the reality of the situation. With real estate having been identified as an essential service, REALTORS® have the right to continue conducting business provided that social distancing is maintained.
Legally, REALTORS® can still accept new listings, hold open houses, schedule and attend home inspections, show homes to potential buyers, present purchase offers, and perform other related activities instrumental to the practice of real estate. Deals currently in escrow, as well as future transactions, should proceed to close secure in the knowledge that lenders and escrow companies can and will continue to play their important roles. And the same is true for property managers who can continue to represent landlords, place tenants, conduct tenant move-out inspections, coordinate repairs, and collect rent.
But in so doing, REALTORS® must lead by example, showing others how to conduct business while staying safe. Fortunately, REALTORS® are uniquely positioned to utilize technology to meet the needs of their clients. They can create virtual property tours and conduct video chats that allow buyers to see properties in a realistic way online. REALTORS® can also conduct virtual listing presentations with sellers and use electronic documents that are signed by buyers and sellers through platforms such as Authentisign and eSign to minimize in-person contact.
That’s not to say that REALTORS® should never engage in in-person activities such as physically showing properties. However, if agents and their clients choose to engage in such activities, precautions should be taken to safeguard themselves and others such as conducting showings by appointment only, maintaining social distancing, and limiting the number of individuals in the property at any one time.
For the benefit of Arizona’s economy, REALTORS® must continue to work and ensure that everyone has a place to live where they can be safe and secure. Fortunately, Executive Order 2020-12 ensures that, even with a shelter order in place, REALTORS® can perform their day to day to tasks. But in so doing, everyone is encouraged to promote the health, safety, and well-being of others.
Scott M. Drucker, Esq., a licensed Arizona attorney, is General Counsel & Assistant CEO for the Arizona REALTORS® serving as the primary legal advisor to the association. This article is of a general nature and reflects only the opinions of the author at the time it was drafted. It is not intended as definitive legal advice and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.