State Clarifies Position on Property Showings—Can Only be Performed Online

John Jordan | April 2020

ALBANY—Less than 24 hours after the real estate industry was led to believe that in-person real estate showings were permitted by New York State comes a statement from Empire State Development that only virtual/online showings are permissible.

On the evening of April 2, an official with Empire State Development Corp. in a clarification of the designation of real estate as an “essential” industry, stated that all showings must be conducted virtually or online in order to prevent the spread of the Novel Coronavirus.

Matthew Gordon, executive vice president, public affairs and communications for ESD, stated, “Being an ‘essential’ industry does not mean business as usual—business can only be conducted if social distancing and other public health protocols are followed and all must be doing everything they can to help stop the spread. For real estate, that means brokers can only transact business in their offices or show properties virtually, and anything else is off limits.”

He added that appraisers/inspectors are able to visit properties for inspection. Brokers can oversee transactions/signings at their offices while following social distancing protocols.

The confusion concerning what was allowed and what was impermissible in terms of real estate showings arose when a day earlier commercial and residential real estate brokers and agents received some welcome if not surprising news when the Empire State Development Corp. clarified existing regulations, put in place in response to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic, and deemed residential and commercial showings and back office real estate work as “essential.”

The ESD’s clarifications released by the New York State Association of Realtors on April 1 also deemed appraisal services and home inspections as essential.

“Our industry has been given a great responsibility in this time of crisis to help meet the needs of New York’s residential and commercial property buyers and owners, and the overall welfare of the local and state economy,” said NYSAR President Jennifer Stevenson. “But our priority must be to the safety of our customers, clients and indeed for ourselves, as we all continue to practice socially responsible distancing that is helping to flatten the curve during this national health crisis. Our mantra must be ‘safety first, work second.’”

NYSAR officials stated that the clarification of the designations is a recognition by the state that real estate licensees, real estate home inspectors and real estate appraisers “provide a critical service to New York, which is vital to the wellbeing not only of New Yorkers but also for New York’s local and state economy.”

NYSAR sent an e-mail to its members on April 3 noting the latest clarification by the state and noted, “NYSAR interprets ‘virtual’ to mean no in-person contact when conducting a showing. Licensees should conduct the showing alone and use a tool such as video conferencing with the buyer or tenant. The goal of the new standard is to further limit the possibility of one on one contact which NYSAR strongly supports.”

NYSAR stated it is in contact with ESD and was informed that more comprehensive guidance will be forthcoming.

“NYSAR recommends that members act in good faith to follow the ‘virtual’ standard as reported until state officials offer more clarity. “The state approved activity for real estate licenses under the Executive Order is constantly evolving and NYSAR members should expect further clarification from state officials during the State of Emergency,” NYSAR stated.

NYSAR added that the ESD guidance extremely limits what real estate functions are deemed essential for the purpose of licensee and public safety and urges Realtors work from home to the greatest extent possible.

While the April 1 clarification initially opened up some facets of the bricks and mortar real estate industry that were shuttered 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 reaction to the clarification was mixed and mostly guarded from real estate industry leaders due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributed to the pandemic.

HGAR President Gail Fattizzi said after Empire State Development clarified regulations that now allow only virtual property showings, “I think limiting to virtual showings is absolutely the correct thing to do at this juncture. The overwhelming sentiment I heard from our members in their feedback to the first EDC announcement was not in favor of resuming in-person showings at this time. In weighing risk vs. reward, there’s no question that health and safety firmly come before business.”

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty reiterated the message HGAR previously sent to members: “We firmly believe that our number one priority remains containing and ultimately defeating COVID-19. We need to be unwavering in that commitment and do everything within our power to help that effort. The economy and the real estate market will not find sound footing until that priority is achieved.”

With the clarification now in place that only allows virtual/online property showings, the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and the New York State Association of Realtors will be providing updates, including a Facebook event that will be available soon on HGAR’s Facebook page that addressed the latest ESD ruling, Fattizzi noted.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth