South Carolina Realtors: COVID-19 Real Estate Update
Tuesday, March 24th, 2020
Certainty in Uncertain Times
In these uncertain times one thing is certain; SCR continues to work for you. As we navigate through this fluid situation, news is changing by the hour, and sometimes the minute. You have questions, and we are working diligently to find the answers.
As we all know, real estate transactions are dependent on many third-party service providers. As those providers alter how they do business, this brings even more challenges to the table for Realtors®. But here at SCR, we say challenge accepted.
Below is an update on the most current issues affecting you and your business, and what we’re doing about it.
License Renewal and Continuing Education
Under ordinary circumstances licensees would need to complete continuing education and renewals by June 30th. Many members have asked if these deadlines will be extended now that most real estate schools have canceled in-person classes.
SCR is pleased to announce that the Real Estate Commission (REC) is adopting temporary changes to the way in-class CE and online pre-licensing is delivered. These changes were adopted at a meeting this week and will hopefully make it easier for providers to comply with the stringent requirements on delivery of the programs, while keeping necessary social distancing policies in place.
As soon as the Commission issues an official statement on these policies, we will share them with you. The REC is not currently delaying this summer’s CE deadline, although it could be a discussion item at the April meeting.
In the meantime, some local associations have partnered with online providers. Members who still need continuing education credits can certainly look to these resources if they don’t want to wait to see when in-person classes may be available again.
Nicknames in Advertising
The REC also voted to address an issue that has been plaguing many of our members–the proper use of nicknames in advertising. In the near future, you will be able to add your nickname (a real nickname, not marketing words) to your records on file with the Real Estate Commission. When you print your pocket card, you can choose to have your first name or your nickname printed on your license, so you will comply with state law that requires the name on your license matches the name you use in your advertising. Implementation is slated for late this year.
The Commission will be implementing fingerprinting and full background checks this summer as well as license renewals and CE deadlines–all while not know how their operations will be impacted by the coronavirus–so please be patient.
Government Offices and Defining Real Estate as an Essential Service
Successfully closing a transaction involves a lot of contact with various county and municipal governments for services such as property inspections, tax payments, and deed recording. Unfortunately, each government office is operating under its own policies at the moment, so it’s unclear just what services are available in each area.
Some government offices are still operating under regular policies, some have shut down completely, and many are somewhere in the middle. SCR has been in close contact with the Governor’s office and has requested that real estate be defined as an essential service in upcoming emergency or executive orders. This would allow for continued access to local deed recording offices to keep your transactions in the pipeline, and to make sure they get to the closing table.
SCR has also been in regular contact with many statewide organizations including the SC Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina Bar Association, Homebuilders Association of South Carolina, Palmetto Land Title Association, among others, to explain how this patchwork approach is making real estate transactions extremely difficult and to try to work toward a common solution. This will be an ongoing discussion with many facets and we’re working to provide member resources as we’re able to collect that information.
In the meantime, the Association of Counties is working to compile a list of updated information for all 46 county operations–as soon as it goes live, we will share it with you.
Attorney and Closing Mitigation
Reports from across the state indicate that attorneys are working within virus mitigation strategies that limit access to local government offices. These mitigation strategies vary from office-to-office and are affecting closing processes.
SCR is hearing of offices closing for deep cleaning, while some are offering electronic filing and recording. Other law offices are implementing virus mitigation strategies when it comes to in-person closings such as social distancing between the parties (e.g., buyer and seller in separate rooms with separate paperwork and pens, personal hygiene). And, some are handling things remotely as much as they can in accordance with state law with the parties signing and notarizing separately off-site. Unfortunately, some are reportedly closing down for business altogether.
SCR has been working with the Bar Association on ensuring that closing services are available as widely as possible. We will continue to work with them to provide additional information to members.
SCR recommends you call your closing attorney today and ask what procedures and limitations the law firm is utilizing and experiencing. If one attorney cannot accommodate a closing, it may be necessary to seek out counsel who can close the transaction.
Forms and Extensions
There are a lot of transactions hitting speed bumps due to the unavailability of resources and/or service providers. Many members have been drafting some sort of contract extension language and have been asking SCR for a coronavirus addendum or form.
The SCR Forms Committee, and staff counsel met earlier this week to review various forms options.
Without getting into all the details, let’s just say that there’s a delicate balance between speed and comprehensiveness, and we want to make sure we’re not going to write something that actually adds confusion to the market. SCR’s Legal department has published a short legal update on the coronavirus and offers some practical advice on how to address issues that may arise.
If your transaction needs extended time frames, there’s already a form for that. The two best ways to extend a deadline include doing a pen and ink change on the actual form, or using Form 390. Be sure to have both parties initial and date the change. Form 390 can also be used for any change that needs to be made to a contract. If you need to extend a deadline the best practice is to copy the relevant language from the contract and simply change the date. Remember to not draft any language without having it cleared by legal counsel.
Do not use COVID-19 contract language found on the internet, on social media, or from colleagues unless your attorney reviews and approves the language.
Including Independent Contractors in Federal Legislation
Given that the bulk of Realtors® are independent contractors, there’s been a great deal of concern over whether and how any governmental aid would impact members. NAR has been pushing for independent contractors to be included in federal legislation, and there are some helpful provisions in the bill that was just passed.