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Covid-19: Local Impact

We are all in uncertain times and are looking for help and resources. NEAR has assembled some information to help you through this time. Should you have questions, please call us at 978-577-6138 or send an email.

NEAR Operations

The NEAR office will be closed until April 7th. Staff will be working remotely and will continue to assist members over the phone and via email. 

The safety and well-being of our members and staff is one of our top priorities. With recent developments, our leadership has made the difficult decision to close the NEAR office beginning March 19th through April 7th and they will re-evaluate before that date. Like you, we are learning to work differently. Staff will be working remotely and will be ready to help you via phone, email, or text (or PM us via Facebook) to resolve any issues or answer any questions as quickly as possible. Please bear with us as we navigate the temporary new world of working remotely.

Stimulus Package Approved: What it Means for Real Estate

On March 27th, President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package intended to address the threat of economic disaster posed by COVID-19.

The bill contains numerous benefits for REALTORS® that are included as a result of the efforts of NAR over the past three weeks, including unemployment eligibility for the self-employed and independent contractors; unprecedented aid for small businesses; and a delay in business payroll tax payments.

NAR has compiled a comprehensive guide to all benefits for REALTORS® and their customers found in this legislation.

Corona Virus Guidance from the National Association of Realtors®

NAR has compiled information for members as we progress risks, showings, listings, open houses, and more. They are continually updating this information, so please be sure to check back often. | NAR Corona Virus Guide for Realtors®

Broker/Owners: NAR also has a guide for employers to help you navigate OSHA and ADA, as well as templates for disaster preparedness. | NAR Corona Virus Guide for Employers

Smoke Inspections (as of 3/30/20)

3/30/20: As of this week, 77% of fire departments are no longer doing inspections. Your inability to obtain a smoke certificate at this time does not mean your transactions are stuck in limbo indefinitely. MAR advocated in conjunction with the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts to secure a solution to this issue. On March 20, 2020, Governor Baker issued an emergency order that permits home buyers and sellers to defer the smoke and carbon monoxide detector inspection requirements that are otherwise required under the General Laws of Massachusetts. During the current COVID-19 State of Emergency, a Smoke Inspection may be deferred so long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The Parties to the sale or transfer have agreed in writing that the buyer assumes responsibility for equipping the property with approved smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.
  2. The buyer agrees as a condition of taking title to equip the property with approved smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms immediately upon taking title.
  3. An inspection as otherwise required under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 148, Sections 26F and 26F½ occurs no more than 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted.

MAR has developed an addendum that addresses the requirements of the emergency order. The addendum can be found through the MAR Forms Library or may be downloaded here.

In addition to the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Inspection Addendum mentioned above, MAR has also developed a COVID-19 Addendum to address any delays that may occur as a direct result of COVID-19. This form is also available through the MAR Forms Library on ZipLogix, or you may download it here.


3/25/20: MAR has partnered with the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts to educate inspectors about the Governor's deferral of inspections. MAR is collecting data on behalf of the FPMA as to what fire services are still conducting inspections and if they are not, how these fire services would like to receive notification of closings that have taken place and will need to be inspected within 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted.

MAR will be sharing this list with our members and asking them to share with closing attorneys and lenders.

As of 3/25/20, 88% of fire services that responded were not conducting any inspections at this time.


3/20/20: Governor Charlie Baker has signed executive orders affecting the temporary deferral of smoke and CO inspections. The first extends the expiration of any license, certificate, or registration issues by the DFS/State Fire Marshall that was in good standing on March 18, 2020. The second defers smoke and CO inspections required under Section 26F and 26F 1/2 for up to ninety (90) days after the state of emergency is lifted, provided:

The buyer and seller agree, in writing, that the buyer not the seller shall be responsible to equip the property with compliant smoke and CO detectors/alarms and;

The buyer agrees to equip the property in accordance with 527 CMR 1.00, Chapter 13.

Read Full Memo

MAR has developed an addendum for our members’ use in satisfying the requirements of the Executive Order. The form may be downloaded HERE and will be available through the Zipforms platform shortly.

See a status list of MA cities/towns here, courtesy of our friends at Touchstone Closing & Escrow.

Registries of Deeds

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds (as of 3/24/20): Currently accepting e-files and mailed in documents. They We also have a drop-off box for documents to be recorded in the lobby of the Justice Center (note their new address: 370 Jackson St., Lowell, MA 01852), however, due to the rapidly changing situation, it is unclear whether they will be able to continue to offer that service. | Visit Website

Northern Essex Registry of Deeds (as of 3/24/20): Open for dropoff only. Beginning Tuesday, March 24 2020 at noon all Registry business will be conducted via document drop off in the marked mailbox at the front door of our building or by e-filing. Documents should be left in the mailbox. They will be recorded and returned to you. LLC and Certificate of Good Standing pick up service is suspended until further notice. | Visit Website

Southern Essex Registry of Deeds (as of 3/24/20): Documents for recorded and registered land can be recorded electronically, by FedEx, UPS, or by USPS, and local dropoff at the front door. If you choose to go in person, please go through the front door and leave documents, payment, and phone number in the dropoff bin. | Visit Website

eNotorization

Both our neighbors New Hampshire and Connecticut have temporarily approved remote notarizations. While work has been done to do the same in Massachusetts, no Executive Order has been drafted to allow it at this time. MAR has requested that the Governor issue an emergency Executive Order that would permit a form of e-notarization through video conferencing. At the national level, NAR is working with other trade associations and industry partners to support the “Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020” (SECURE Notarization Act). This legislation would continue and expand access to remote online notary (RON) and would permit immediate nationwide use of RON, with minimum standards and provide certainty for the interstate recognition of RON.

If you are having issues with notarizations at closings, please contact the MAR Legal Team.

Evictions & Foreclosures

There is a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions for FHA- insured Title II Single Family forward and Home Equity Conversion (reverse) mortgages for 60 days (until May 17). There is also a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac until at least that date.

The MA Housing Court has suspended most eviction proceedings until at least April 21. The Legislature is considering a bill (HD.4395) that would prohibit evictions and foreclosures during the declared state of emergency.

Unemployment/Financial Assistance

If you are considering applying for unemployment, please wait! (Read on for why.) As you likely know, last week the Federal Government enacted the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act” which extends unemployment insurance benefits to individuals who are self-employed, independent contractors, or would otherwise not qualify for regular unemployment benefits. The unemployment benefits program created by this bill will be administered by the state of Massachusetts. However, the state is waiting to receive guidance from the Federal Government before accepting applications for benefits under the program. Independent contractors have not been included ever before. Please have patience as Massachusetts works to establish guidelines (hopefully by next week).

In the meantime, the Governor has requested that individuals who would qualify for unemployment benefits under this new program wait to apply until after the state has received this guidance in order to streamline the process. The state will post regular updates on its COVID-19 unemployment web page and notify the public there when it will accept unemployment benefit applications for this program.

We will continue to provide updates as they are made available.

MAR has developed a COVID-19 Addendum that can be used to accompany real estate purchase contracts during this pandemic. This addendum addresses COVID-19-specific delays and allows for an extension to the time for performance.  | Website Here

FAQs from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors®

Should we hold public open houses in Massachusetts?

MAR suggests that public open houses be limited and if they are to occur, brokerages should take proactive steps to comply with the Governor’s order and prohibit any more than 25 persons in a home or apartment at one time. Suggestions include posting a notice on the door stating that entrance will be limited and visitors should wait outside in a que that includes enough space for social distancing. As always, consult with the property owner first about their comfort level with allowing public open houses and consider cancelling open houses and providing private showings instead. Should you host open houses, be sure to comply with the 25-person maximum capacity, have hand sanitizer available for anyone entering the home and wipe down common surfaces frequently.

This guidance is consistent with Governor Baker’s ruling effective March 17th – April 5th on “ORDER PROHIBITING GATHERINGS OF MORE THAN 25 PEOPLE AND ON-PREMISES CONSUMPTION OF FOOD OR DRINK” which states “ Gatherings of over 25 people are prohibited throughout the Commonwealth. Gatherings subject to this Order include, without limitation, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, and any similar event or activity that brings together 25 or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time in a venue such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theatre, gymnasium, fitness center, private club, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.”

Additionally, the President of the United States is advising people not to gather in groups of more than 10.

 

What else should Realtors® be considering?

Be sure that any restrictions on showings or screening measures are applied equally to all prospective purchasers to avoid any Fair Housing violations.

What if a seller is not comfortable with people entering to view their home?
Sellers who are not comfortable with members of the public viewing their house may want to consider changing the listing status to “temporarily withdrawn” until the threat has subsided.

What if I want to use alternative marketing strategies?
If you are using strategies such as virtual tours or video tours, do your best to comply with the Massachusetts Mandatory Real Estate Licensee-Consumer Relationship Disclosure and provide the form as early as possible, even when there has not yet been an in-person meeting.

What should I do with my office staff?
MAR recommends having office staff work from home and advising agents to stay out of the office or other gathering points as much as possible. Online platforms can be used to host meetings, events, and classes remotely.

 

What impact will the State of Emergency have on my license?

Real Estate Licensing: The Division of Professional Licensure is currently open only for limited operations due to the state of emergency in response to COVID-19 and will not be providing any window service. Renewals should be processed online. See the attached announcement for more information.

Driver's Licensing: Effective this week, the RMV will implement a 60-day extension to the current expiration date for Class D, Class DMs, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits within the RMV system. All customers with expired/expiring credentials physically dated between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020, will continue to have an active status within the RMV system until sixty (60) days after the expiration date printed on their credential.

 

What impact will there be on financing?

Currently, NAR is hearing that lenders are overwhelmed from the volume of refinances due to rate declines. As a result they are rationing mortgage credit to higher credit borrowers and increase rates over what they should be (e.g. the spread to the 10-year Treasury is much wider than it normally is). The concern here is that higher rates than a week or two ago may scuttle some purchases and some lower credit borrowers in particular. The regulators have responded. The FHFA directed the GSEs to instruct their mortgage servicers to extend forbearance for 6 months and an additional 6 months if needed after which they can request extensions from the GSEs. The bank regulators (e.g. FDIC, OCC, and Fed) have given similar guidance to lenders and bank servicers. As the president declares different levels of disaster, additional actions by the GSEs, HUD and bank regulators will occur as they gain discretionary powers.

The administration and Congress are working together on a stimulus package aimed at expanding the medical response, student debt interest forbearance, potential broad mortgage forbearance/forgiveness, and longer-term economic stimulus. Congress has extended rather than going to recess and plans to work until they have a package.

 

 

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