Gov. Cuomo Puts State’s Real Estate Industry ‘On Pause’ To Prevent Further Spread of Coronavirus Pandemic

John Jordan | March 2020

WHITE PLAINS—The real estate industry, except for those undertaking limited virtual business, was all but shut down by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo effective 8 p.m. Sunday, March 22 in an attempt to prevent the further spread of the Coronavirus.

The Executive Order issued on March 20 mandated the temporary closure of all in-office personnel functions of non-essential businesses statewide, which included residential and commercial real estate operations. Among the exempted essential businesses that could remain operational include: shipping, media, warehousing, grocery and food production, pharmacies, healthcare providers, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, as well as infrastructure and utility-related construction. All private construction projects were shuttered by the governor’s executive order.

“We know the most effective way to reduce the spread of this virus is through social distancing and density reduction measures,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I have said from the start that any policy decision we make will be based on the facts, and as we get more facts we will calibrate our response accordingly.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had at first reduced office staffing of non-essential businesses by 50% and later ramped up the level to 75%, before ordering a 100% workforce reduction effective on March 22.

The New York State Association of Realtors in an online message to its members stated that it is believed that all showings and open houses, as well as in-person listing presentations are prohibited under the Executive Order. At press time it was not known whether virtual closings are permitted.

The Executive Order also implemented a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants. At press time, federal and state governments were negotiating stimulus-related packages that would provide funds to citizens and businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic crisis, including forgiveness of mortgage debt for a period of time in hardship cases.

The governor in his briefing on March 20, specifically cited real estate activities and the need to halt evictions for a period of time as a means to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t know who you think you’re going to rent an apartment to now anyway if you kick someone out. By my mandate, you couldn’t even have your real estate agent out showing the apartment,” the governor said. “Same with the commercial tenants. But, I know that we’re going to put people out of work with what I did. I want to make sure I don’t put them out of their house.”

The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors in an e-mail blast to its membership reported the issuance of the Executive Order and noted the hardship the shutdown will have on the industry, although licensees can still work from home.

HGAR President Gail Fattizzi told Real Estate In-Depth, “This is undeniably a very trying time for everyone. As Realtors, each licensee is truly their own small business. The governor’s new mandates will make it more challenging for us to serve our clients, but it’s what we all must do for the short term to get past this crisis.”

Fattizzi stressed that she believes in the resolve of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and its membership that they will persevere in this crisis. “Each day I see agents figuring out new ways to provide service and value. HGAR is doing the same in our efforts to support our members,” she said. “We are doing things like posting relevant business information from some of our affiliated service providers on our HGAR Facebook page, delivering live CE classes via remote learning formats, and communicating what we know as quickly as possible. Personally, I always look for the silver lining in things, and I see us coming out stronger and even more prepared for anything!”

HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty in a Facebook posting on the Executive Order highlighted the chief impacts the governor’s Executive Order will have on the industry.

“These are challenging times. They are unprecedented. But I also firmly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Haggerty said. “Please rest assured that the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors will continue to help you during this period of time and we will be a resource.”

He related that HGMLS Participants and Subscribers until further notice are not required to put their active listings into temporarily off-market status, unless the seller directs them to do so.

Haggerty concluded his remarks by stating that HGAR will continue to communicate with its membership on a timely basis during the shutdown. “We hope that this is a short-term limitation and that we will be back to normal in the very near future. Until, then stay well and stay safe,” he said.

New York State Association of Realtors President Jennifer Stevenson said in a Facebook posting to its members, “These are challenging times for our families and our businesses, but we have gone through tough times before and rebounded and I know we will again.”

She said that it is NYSAR’s belief that closings can occur after March 22, “but it is our recommendation that you do not attend the closing unless it is essential to its completion. Attending the closing merely to pick up a commission check is not essential and arrangements should be made for the check to be sent to the brokerage.”

HGAR members should visit HGAR.com and NYSAR.com for updates on this issue. Stevenson added that NYSAR continues to work with New York State to get clarification on all the impacts the Executive Order has on the real estate industry, including any restrictions on real estate closings.

The Hudson Valley has been hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 that has strained the limits of hospitals and health-care providers in the region. At press time a containment zone was established in New Rochelle, as well as a COVID-19 testing site on Glen Island.

In that vein, the governor announced on March 21 the Army Corps of Engineers had recommended four initial sites in New York State for locating temporary hospitals—the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and locations at SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

Upon the governor’s determination, the Army Corps is expected to immediately begin work to construct the temporary hospitals. The governor is also requesting FEMA designate four field hospitals with 250 beds each for the state, intended for use in the Javits Center in addition to the temporary hospital to be constructed by the Army Corps.

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth