Real Estate Industry Finally Reopens as Mid-Hudson Enters Phase Two of Economy Reopening

John Jordan | June 2020

A revised map of New York State showing the phases each of the 10 regions are currently in. On June 10, Long Island will join the rest of the state when it enters phase two.

WHITE PLAINS—Today is the day real estate brokers and agents have been anxiously waiting for since March 22 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the “New York on Pause” order that virtually shut down the real estate industry and all other “non-essential” businesses in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this morning (June 9) that the Mid-Hudson region, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Sullivan and Ulster counties, entered phase two which lessen restrictions on real estate, offices, essential and phase II in-store retail, vehicle sales, leases, and rentals, retail rental, repair, and cleaning, commercial building management, hair salons and barbershops and now allows outdoor dining at restaurants.

The Mid-Hudson entered phase one of the reopening process on May 26, which loosened restrictions on the construction and manufacturing industries, as well as the wholesale supply chain. In addition, certain retail operations were eligible to be expanded for curbside pickup and drop-off or in-store pickup. The phase one designation also affected the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, but had no beneficial impact on the real estate industry, with the exception of real estate development construction.

The Mid-Hudson could be eligible for phase three of the four-phased reopening program on Tuesday, June 23, which will lift some restrictions on food service and personal care. The final phase (four) would impact arts/entertainment/recreation and educational sectors.

Gov. Cuomo, who noted that today was day 101 since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the state, praised the work of government, health and business leaders for helping facilitate the phase two designation. “The numbers are down because you brought the numbers down,” he said. The governor noted that at the peak of COVID-19 back in April, the Mid-Hudson reported 75 deaths in one day. On June 8, there were no COVID-19 related deaths in the entire Hudson Valley region. Westchester County Executive George Latimer, in a later press conference, noted that there was one COVID-19 related death the previous evening in Westchester County.

Latimer chronicled the great progress the county and the Mid-Hudson region has achieved since the peak of the pandemic in April. He noted that two months ago on April 9, there were 44 COVID-related deaths in Westchester County. Since the pandemic began, there have been 1,396 deaths attributed to the coronavirus in Westchester.

He said that with the onset of phase two the county can “return to a reasonable place in our society, hopefully where we are fighting the contagion effectively, but at the same time we are starting to reopen businesses and really get back to something close to normal.”

Since the shutdown of the economy back in March, real estate professionals have tried to offer services and facilitate sale transactions on a virtual basis. The phase two designation lifts restrictions, but does mandate safety protocols, including social distancing. One key change with the phase two designation is that in-person real estate showings are now permissible as long as safety protocols are adhered to.

“The day we’ve all been yearning for is finally here! Many agents are jumping right in, with appointments already scheduled today. I expect that we are going to be as busy as we’ve ever been, with pent up buyer demand, sellers who’ve been waiting until now to put their homes on the market, and a lot more steps to every showing,” said HGAR President Gail Fattizzi.

She added, “As we begin meeting our clients in-person again, we must stay mindful that COVID-19 is still here, and take every precaution. HGAR intends to continue providing CE classes and holding meetings virtually, along with great free programs via Zoom. We should all expect that ‘re-opening’ is going to be a slow, steady process, not an instant change back to normal.”

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty noted, “For 11 weeks the Realtor community has done our part, first by ‘pausing’ and then by shifting our business to a remote environment, in order to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. That goal has been achieved and now it’s time to relaunch real estate, following the ESD guidance and with great concern for safety, and get the state economy relaunched.”

Other county and business leaders hailed the beginning of phase two as a milestone that will hopefully begin to relaunch the regional economy, now that New York City has entered phase one (yesterday).

John Ravitz, executive vice president of the Business Council of Westchester, said that the Westchester economy is still in uncharted waters and praised the business community for its resiliency to date in dealing with the COVID pandemic.

“None of us knew what we were facing when the pandemic hit and so many different businesses in different sectors had to pivot; had to deal with their concerns for their employees, as well as their clients and customers,” Ravitz said. “I think what puts Westchester on the map throughout the country is the ingenuity and the creativity we have seen from our business leaders.”

Government officials talked of the work that has been done and the efforts that will need to be made to get their economies back on track.

“County government is doing everything humanly possible to assist these businesses as they reopen,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day. “We have been sharing guidance with municipalities, local chambers of commerce and with businesses directly through our Office of Economic Development and Tourism. We have also hosted three business info livestreams to communicate critical information and promote Rockland’s tech sector.”

Day also noted that last week the county’s ROCK GOV – FACE COV program which gave out 25,000 masks to local small businesses and nonprofits which have fewer than 20 employees.

“Bottom line, we are working to ensure that businesses reopen in a way that is responsible and protects the health and safety of both their employees and customers,” he added.

Sullivan County government offices will slowly begin reopening to in-person visits, according to County Manager Josh Potosek. “We are bringing back less than 50% of our employees onsite, and offices will be open to the public by appointment only,” Potosek stated. “This is to ensure that the plan we’ve developed is workable and safe before we bring back more employees and reopen for walk-in customers—likely with the start of phase 3.”

The following is guidance from Empire State Development Corp. on In-Person Showings in Phase Two.

Residential In-Person Property Showings and Related Activities

Responsible Parties may conduct in-person property showings while adhering to social distancing and required PPE safety guidelines. The following measures must be followed:

• Showings and open houses will only be allowed in unoccupied (e.g., current owner or lessee is not inside the property) or vacant properties;

• For all showings and open houses, Responsible Parties should limit the number of individuals viewing a property at any one time. If multiple parties (from different households) arrive for a showing at the same time, Responsible Parties should encourage those in line to wait outside until their turn.

• As a best practice, appointments for showings should be scheduled in advance, when possible.

Responsible Parties as well as all individuals (e.g. building inspectors / appraiser or potential buyer/lessee) visiting the property will be required to wear a face covering at all times, and Responsible Parties may choose to require gloves and shoe-covers to be worn;

• Responsible Parties should provide face coverings and gloves to prospective tenants and/or buyers, if necessary;

• Responsible Parties should advise prospective tenants/buyers to only touch essential surfaces (e.g. handrails going up/down stairs if necessary) during their time in the property. Other areas or surfaces such as cabinets, countertops, appliances etc. should not be touched by tenants/buyers.

• Responsible Parties must ensure employees, salespeople, agents and brokers clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces (e.g. handrails, doorknobs etc.) before and after every showing; and

• Responsible Parties must stagger showings in order to avoid the congregation of people outside and inside properties.

• Responsible Parties are encouraged not to show common building amenities in-person (e.g. gym, roof deck, pool).

• If the common areas mentioned above are shown, Responsible Parties must ensure that those areas are frequently cleaned and disinfected and appropriate social distancing of 6 feet is maintained for all parties at all times.

• Responsible Parties should encourage only one party (e.g. building inspector, home appraiser, prospective tenant/buyer, photographer, stager) to be allowed inside the property at a time. If more than one party is inside the property at the same time, 6 feet of distance must be maintained at all times between individuals, and face coverings must be worn.

• Responsible Parties and prospective tenants/buyers are encouraged not to bring young children or extraneous guests to property showings, when possible, or leave attended children outside.

• Responsible Parties should limit salespeople / brokers from driving in the same car with prospective tenants / buyers. If this cannot be avoided, face coverings must be worn by everyone in the vehicle and frequently touched areas of the vehicle should be cleaned and disinfected.

• Open houses must also only allow one party inside the property at a time.

• Responsible Parties are encouraged, but not required, to conduct remote walkthroughs rather than
in-person walkthroughs (e.g. recorded/live video), where possible.

For important information, guidance and forms related to the Reopening of Real Estate in NY during Phase 2 go to HGAR.com COVID-19 Resources or click links below:

New York Forward – Reopening Guidelines and Forms

New York State Safety Plan Template —(This template, or another safety plan template, needs to be completed and made available upon an inspection by the Dept. of Health or local safety dept.)

New York State Guidance for Phase 2 — (At the bottom of this form there is a link to submit that the broker owner has read the form).

Real Estate Guidelines for Employers and Employees

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth