[Sticky] Company COVID-19 Update
I hope everybody is staying safe and healthy during this unprecedented challenge we're all facing with the COVID-19 Pandemic.
I also wanted to share some of the National, State and Local regulations and guidelines that affect our business and our operations in particular.
Our market area is Primarily Southeast Florida, with a brave outpost in Central Florida, and each County that we conduct business in has their own rules regarding real estate activities and how we interact with each other in general.
Since our office is located in Tamarac, which is in Broward County, our main operations through this office must follow the Broward County requirements - in addition to State and Federal requirements and guidelines. Plus we want to make sure that everyone continues to remain as safe and productive as possible as we work our way through this pandemic. Staying healthy should always be your number one concern - and it is certainly ours.
Broward County has a Shelter in Place order requiring everyone to remain at home except for essential travel - to groceries and supplies, medical visits, etc. Whenever possible, you should try to have items you need delivered to you. All non-essential businesses must close. Real estate has been designated an essential business in Broward County, which means that our office can remain open, but only for limited use, as necessary to conduct business, by our agents and staff. If more than one agent is in the office at the same time, please try to keep at least 6 feet apart. Hand sanitizer and hand soap are available, along with paper towels and toilet paper, for use as needed in the office (please leave it there, lol). Agents cannot meet with customers or non-company agents or staff at the office. Real estate agents also cannot physically show property to buyers, or meet in person with sellers. Closings cannot take place in person at title companies.
To address this, listings can still be taken, but all paperwork will need to be electronically executed. Any time that an agent is at the seller's home, the seller should not also be there. For buyers, all contracts and documents should also be electronically signed. To "show" property, agents can conduct live virtual tours. This can be done with apps like Facetime, Duo or WhatsApp, all of which allow live, two-way communication and video as the agent tours the property with the buyer(s) on the other end. Agents can also conduct livestream walk-throughs and open houses using Facebook or YouTube (for example). Physical open houses cannot be done until the restriction is lifted. We strongly recommend that you sanitize all contact surfaces before and after touching them and if possible, use hand sanitizer if washing your hands is not possible and/or use gloves if you have them.
These measures are temporary, but likely to remain in place until COVID-19 is no longer a threat, and it is difficult to predict when that might be.
I'm sure most of you have heard that a massive COVID-19 Relief Bill and economic stimulus package was signed into law today that intends to offer at least some relief to everyone suffering financially because of COVID-19. It allows, among many other things, for temporary unemployment benefits for independent contractors and self-employed individuals, who normally would not qualify for unemployment benefits. This would include real estate agents and others in the Gig Economy like Uber and Lyft drivers, etc. Also included in this bill are several relief options for small business owners to continue to pay their employees, even if there is no work that can be performed. For the first time, this also includes employees who are paid on commission only, or as independent contractors, like real estate agents.
We are going to apply for one of these grants. If we are successful, it would appear that we would be able to pay our agents an amount approximately equal to the average amount they earned per month during the previous year (2019), even if there are no transactions closing - until the program ends. This law was just passed today and all of the details and processes are still coming out. We intend to pursue this at the beginning of next week and we do not yet know what will happen, but we will keep you informed as soon as we have any concrete information. Each agent can decide on their own if they want to apply for unemployment compensation during this period, or if they want to be paid unearned commissions by the company, if we are able to obtain the grant. I'm pretty sure you won't be able to get both, so you may have to make a decision at some point.
Also depending on your income and number of members in your family, you may also be receiving a check from the Treasury Dept. for a lump sum payment, regardless of any of the rest of this.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me any time and I'll do my best to answer them. As soon as we have any additional information (hopefully by this Tuesday, March 31, 2020), we'll pass it along.
Thanks for your time and stay well!
An update to our attempt to get PPP grant approval to pay our agents their average earnings per month for two months under the CARES Act: The SBA issued an updated Final Guidance on Friday, April 3, 2020 essentially excluding over 86,000 real estate brokerage firms in the US from qualifying for PPP to pay agent commissions, even though the CARES legislation itself includes small businesses that pay single affiliation, independent contractors paid based on commission and with 1099 reporting.
However, individual agents can apply for their own PPP loan starting on April 10, 2020 through their bank or an independent approved lender like Kabbage.com. Individual agents can also supposedly qualify for expanded unemployment compensation allowed for in the CARES Act. This allows independent contractors to qualify for both the basic State unemployment through the end of 2020, plus $600 per week extra for up to 13 weeks.
The exact rules for how an agent would qualify for this and what would happen if they earned commissions during that time, or were able to work but chose not to, etc., have not been issued yet. Also, as of today, no Federal Funds for the program have been disbursed to the State of Florida and no applications for the expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act have been approved.
Each agent should decide whether PPP or Unemployment would be better. There is also a distinct possibility that funds will be exhausted for the PPP program before any independent contractors could get their applications approved.
We tried to run the process through the company, but the SBA disallowed it. Sorry.