Real Estate Reclassified as Essential

New York State has reclassified some aspects of the real estate industry as essential, meaning brokers and others can return to work.

Commercial and residential showings, back office work, residential appraisals and home inspections can restart, the Empire State Development agency said late Wednesday. But businesses must comply with state Health Department guidelines, including working remotely and maintaining social distancing where possible to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. The state deemed real estate as vital to the economic health of the state.

But not all brokers are pleased, pointing out that there is little to no market for property sales at the moment. The reclassification makes the brokers, who are classified as independent contractors, ineligible to claim unemployment benefits, two brokers said, even though they don’t expect to be able to sell.

The stimulus bill passed and signed into law last week had made workers who file 1099 tax forms eligible for unemployment benefits. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered most businesses to close two weeks ago, throwing th ousands of people out of work, and leading to a huge spike in unemployment claims.

One broker in Huntington, who did not want to be named, said the state decision was a cash grab. “H’s getting money from wash and he doesn’t want to give it out,” she said of Cuomo. 

“I was never Cuomo’s biggest fan–he’s a bully and a drill sergeant but that’s what we need right now. But he’s ordering us to possibly die and kill people.”

Another broker said he planned to work on virtual sales only and would not meet in person with sellers or buyers.

Brokers can show homes and commercial properties but can’t offer open houses out of concern that they would attract large numbers of people and possibly spread the coronavirus. 

“A licensee must continue to follow government recommended health and safety precautions if they are having person to person contact with the general public.  For example, you must limit person to person contact and observe the six-foot separation guidance,” the New York State Association of Realtors said.

Brokers are not permitted to make unsolicited calls when a state of emergency has been declared but they are able to carry out certain duties, including closing on a sale. Much of the notarization work required for a sale to be completed can be done online, the Realtors group said.

The definition of essential workers has been distilled since Cuomo’s executive order. Restaurants are closed to in-house dining but allowed to provide takeout, curbside and delivery service; liquor stores were deemed essential, and home-improvement stores remain open even as malls and most retail stores have shut down.

Construction workers, initially rated as essential, are no longer on the job in most cases after many expressed fears for their health while working on luxury buildings or other projects. Landscapers and other horticultural workers were added back to the essential list.

SHUTDOWN: Cuomo Orders All Non-Essential Businesses to Close, Effective Sunday


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