COVID19 News

COVID-19 FAQs for REALTORS®

Last updated: 7/9/2020

*Disclaimer: The Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® and State-Wide Multiple Listing Service have provided information and recommendations on this page to assist you.   Please check with your broker or manager to make sure that options, such as virtual showings and walkthroughs, are consistent with your company’s policies.  Your office may wish to consult your company’s attorney for specialized guidance

In Rhode Island, the closing date and mortgage contingency are not “time is of the essence” and the mortgage contingency already gives a buyer the ability to have his/her deposit refunded if the seller refuses to grant an extension. Attorneys can have buyers and sellers separately sign paperwork instead of gathering in person for the closing. As long as municipal government is still accepting closing documents, the transaction can close.

UPDATED 4/8/20: On April 7, 2020, the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® Executive Committee approved a revised COVID-19 Amendment. At the time that the original Amendment was written, town and city halls were closing, it was not clear whether critical government and business functions, such as smoke/CO inspections, title searches, closing, and inspections could take place or even whether real estate would be allowed to continue. Since so much has changed in several short weeks, the Forms Committee updated and streamlined the Amendment. The Committee also attempted to make the form more balanced based on feedback from the membership.

Download: RIAR COVID-19 Amendment to the Purchase and Sales Agreement

This voluntary form can be used with existing or new Purchase and Sales Agreements. This Amendment has been sent to Instanet, dotloop, and zipLogix.

If a cooperating broker has COVID-19 related concerns about attending a showing in person, the cooperating broker should contact the listing broker to discuss other alternatives, such as arranging for a virtual showing, participating by phone and/or video, etc. By sending unaccompanied clients to a showing, a “no show” cooperating broker runs the risk of not being the procuring cause and not being entitled to compensation if the buyers decide to buy the property in addition to showing a lack of consideration towards the listing broker. Finally, this practice raises a question as to whether the cooperating broker is acting in his/her client’s best interest by sending them on their own. (Click here to learn more about what determines procuring cause.)
Those involved with home tours of any means should follow the order issued by Governor Raimondo for Phase 3 to limit open houses to 1 person per 100 square feet. (See Phase 3 Guidance for Realtors for more open house guidance.)   During the early stage of the COVID-19 crisis, State-Wide MLS temporarily allowed tour URLs and Open House information in the Public Remarks section of your listings. As we enter Phase 3, we are reinstating the prohibition against adding Open House information, i.e., dates, times etc. and any URLs in the Public Remarks field. If you would like to include a URL for a virtual tour, you may use the Showing Instructions, Virtual Tour Link, Listing Web Address, or Virtual Open House Link fields.   Some alternatives to in-person open houses include hosting a virtual open house using live chat on Facebook or other platforms or using video and/or conferencing technology so that interested buyers, tenants, and/or cooperating brokers can “tour” the house at the same time. You can have someone available to answer questions during the virtual showing. Keep in mind that buyers and cooperating brokers might audio record answers and information that you provide, so if you’re not certain of an issue, write it down, and check with the seller or other necessary sources before responding.   See more open house guidance from the National Association of REALTORS®. Please remember, prior to any type of showing, discuss the pros and cons with your clients, and advise sellers to disinfect their homes. .
During the COVID 19 crisis, State-Wide MLS is temporarily relaxing its rules requiring in-person/onsite showings for active listings to allow for “virtual showings.” The showing may be pre-recorded or can be live. However, for the showing to qualify, someone from the listing office must be available to answer questions. Listing brokers are cautioned to discuss with their legal counsel any risks associated with such showings. Tour URLs can be added to Showing Instructions field of the listing. REMINDER – The listing broker is required to respond to a cooperating broker within 24 hours on a request for information or showing appointment on an active or Active/Under Contract listing. (MLS Section 5.1 Showings and Listings) UPDATE: State-Wide MLS has re-implemented the prohibition against adding URLs or other contact information from the Public Remarks. If you would like to include a URL for a virtual tour, use the Showing Instructions, Virtual Tour Link, Listing Web Address, or Virtual Open House Link fields.

If the property is not available for in-person showings or virtual showings, its status should be changed to “Withdrawn from Publication” (WW). The WW status indicates that your listing contract is still in full force and effect until the expiration date but is temporarily withdrawn from publication. You can add a note to the “Showing Instructions” field that the property is temporarily withdrawn because showings are currently suspended.

Days on Market (DOM) will NOT accumulate for the period in which the listing is WW. When the sellers are willing to resume showings, change the listing status back to “Active”.

While we understand some sellers will insist on leaving a property “active” despite not making showings available in any manner, doing so is a disservice to the brokerage community as it drives up the active inventory for properties not realistically available. Additionally, this is also a potential disservice to your sellers since leaving the listing active will simply drive up the DOM.
Smoke/CO inspections, title searches, recording of deeds, and related functions could be affected if a municipality decides to shut down these functions. Buyers and sellers can agree to extend their purchase and sales agreement if this occurs. Please see municipal information page for updates.
Home inspections must adhere to the Governor's Executive Orders re: social distancing Also, please note, as of July 1, all home inspectors must be licensed in Rhode Island. Out-of-state inspectors should follow the guidance of their state upon returning home.
Rhode Island (R.I.G.L. § 34-18-26) allows landlords, including listing brokers, property managers, and others to enter a rental unit for showings, inspections, repairs, etc. if the landlord gives the tenant “at least two (2) days’ notice of his or her intent to enter and may enter only at reasonable times.” While this legal right exists, the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® recommends that property owners and REALTORS® be respectful of tenants’ health concerns and/or quarantine status during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Consider offering a video tour of the rental property. You could offer audio and/or video conference with the listing broker and/or landlord available to answer questions about the property. Even if the tenant agrees to “in-person” showings, follow government recommended protocols about social distancing and cleaning.
Typically, a brokerage or landlord would have no legal obligation to refund a non-refundable deposit as long the rental unit is accessible during the rental term. However, some tenants may be panicking because they are out of work, suffered a major loss in retirement income, or had to close a business during this state of emergency. The Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® encourages listing brokers to discuss options with your property owner clients. Options offering cancellations with full refunds; partial refunds; credits for a future booking, or taking a “wait and see” approach and wait until later this spring before making a firm decision.
See the answer to the open house question (#5). While it is easier to maintain a social distance if only a listing broker, cooperating broker and buyer(s) are viewing a property, there are still issues to consider, such as whether any of the occupants are under quarantine or are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 by having strangers walking through or touching light switches, doorknobs, walls, etc. in their living space. (If a “shelter in place” order is issued by federal or state government, “in-person” showings could be on hold for a period of time unless real estate is treated by the government as an essential service that must continue.)
The Rhode Island Judiciary will not hear COVID-19 related eviction hearings until July 1. This means that a landlord cannot file a new eviction proceeding in court until that date or longer if the order is extended. While no new eviction cases will be heard, tenants for whom a judge has already ordered an eviction can still be forcibly removed from their homes. Emergency hearings are still being held, so someone facing eviction could ask a judge to review the situation. (See the Attorney General's Guidance on landlord tenant disputes.)

If a tenant cannot afford the rent due to loss of a job or income as a result of the COVID-19 virus, the landlord could consider working with the tenant to arrange a payment plan. Even when the moratorium on new eviction actions and the federal and Rhode Island state of emergency is lifted, it will take time for workers in hospitality, retail, and other fields to restore their income.
Yes. One option is that a listing broker and seller may agree in writing to limit a showing to the necessary parties, which could include a cooperating broker and only those potential buyers whose names would appear on a purchase and sales agreement and deed instead of an extended family. A listing broker and seller could also decide to require anyone who attends a showing in person to be 18 or older to help limit the number of surfaces and items that are touched throughout the property. Listing brokers should make sure to obtain written authorization from the seller and to post any instructions or restrictions in MLS showing instructions.  All showings should adhere to Governor Raimondo's orders, which as of March 29th, state that no more than five people should gather in once place.
Even though mortgage rates are currently low, that could change once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. If you are a designated client representative for the buyer, consider advising the buyer to include a specific interest rate in the blank of this section of the Mortgage Contingency: “at an initial rate of interest not to exceed ________%.” If you’re not sure whether to use an amount instead of the prevailing rate, make sure to check with your broker or office administrator. If you decide to include an interest rate as a cap, check with a lender or mortgage broker.
In Phase 3, Governor Raimondo ordered anyone from another state who plans to rent, live in a second or new home or stay with family or friends to self-quarantine for 14 days IF they are coming from a state with a COVID-19 positive rate of 5% or greater. State coronavirus rates can be found here.
Yes, FEMA continues to take proactive steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic and to help serve its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) customers who may be experiencing financial hardships. The agency is extending the grace period to renew flood insurance policies from 30 to 120 days.

To avoid a lapse in coverage, there is typically a 30-day grace period to renew National Flood Insurance Program policies. However, due to the widespread economic disruption arising from this pandemic, FEMA recognizes that policyholders may not meet the standard deadline.

This extension will allow additional time for policyholders who may be struggling financially to pay insurance premiums and ensure their policies are not cancelled for nonpayment of premium due to circumstances beyond their control.

If a policy has an expiration date between February 13, 2020 and June 15, 2020, then the NFIP insurer must receive the appropriate renewal premium within 120 days of the expiration date to avoid a lapse in coverage. Likewise, if a policyholder receives an underpayment notice dated between February 13, 2020, and June 15, 2020, then the NFIP insurer must receive the additional premium amount requested within 120 days of the date of the notice.

Policyholders who need additional time to pay their premiums, beyond the 120-day extension, should contact their agent or insurer to inquire about other options the insurer may offer for premium payment.

If you have any questions, please contact the Office of External Affairs, Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Division at (202) 646-3444 or at FEMA-IGA@fema.dhs.gov
Governor Raimondo has ordered those coming from out of state to a new or vacation home, short-term rental or renting a hotel room, to self-quarantine for 14 days if they are coming from a state with a COVID-19 positive rate of 5% or more. Realtors are asked to apprise their clients.
The quarantine provisions apply to those coming to RI for non-work reasons. Movers would be here for work. All commercial trucks are being allowed to pass / enter without interruption. Nevertheless, movers should follow Rhode Island's general guidance for social distancing. Upon returning to their state of origin, they should follow the guidance of that state.
We recommend they view the property via zoom/facetime, etc. Anyone coming from out of state and staying should quarantine for 14 days. . If they come to the showing in RI, and return to some other state, it would depend on that state’s guidance. There would be an exception if the buyer was a healthcare or public safety worker moving here for work. And yes, they can also be present at closings, though in most circumstances they will be recommended to quarantine after. For example, if they are from MA, Baker’s order would say they need to quarantine when they return to MA. If they come from out of state and stay in RI, they should quarantine for 14 days. If they come to the closing in RI, and return to some other state, it would also depend on that state’s guidance.
FHA and VA have joined Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in temporarily easing their appraisal standards to allow appraisers to examine the exterior of the property only. In some situations, the appraiser may be allowed to conduct an appraisal using only public records, MLS information, and other reliable third-party sources. Check with your mortgage broker, lender, and/or appraiser if have you questions about what standards will be used in a specific transaction. Appraisers who enter Rhode Island from another state may still conduct appraisals in Rhode Island as long as they leave as soon as they have completed their work to help minimize exposure to the COVID-19 virus. They would have to follow the guidance or their home state when leaving Rhode Island. See best practices for REALTORS.
Yes, you may cross the border for showings.You can also make other stops to get gas, use a bathroom, etc. Just don't linger by getting takeout, hanging out in parks, meeting up with groups, etc. in Rhode Island.
Yes, as you long as you comply with fair housing laws and (1) obtain written authorization from the property owner; (2) ask whether the person has a fever or lives in a household that is in quarantine but do not ask whether they have been diagnosed with COVID-19; and(3) do not share the information with others outside of the transaction. Also, if a client or customer are health care providers or otherwise covered by federal HIPAA medical privacy laws, they cannot legally answer whether they have been exposed to a patient with the virus. There is no guarantee that a questionnaire will protect you. Even if a potential buyer or tenant answers “no” to a question about whether he or she has fever, the person could still have the virus. According to the CDC, anyone can be a COVID-19 carrier and infect others without showing symptoms. Consider whether It is safer to assume that everyone is a carrier and using safe showing practices instead relying on a piece of paper for protection.
The State-Wide Multiple Listing Service sales and rental listing agreements only require the broker to make “reasonable” or “diligent efforts” to procure a buyer or tenant unless the listing broker and seller incorporated a more detailed marketing plan into the listing agreement. These agreements also require the seller to provide “reasonable access” to the property. If the broker and/or seller wish to hold virtual showings exclusively or for a first showing, restrict access to the property to avoid disturbing the occupants, limit the number of people who attend in-person showings, require everyone to wear a mask and gloves, etc., the listing broker and property owners should agree in writing to these procedures. Sample language : “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seller (or landlord) and listing broker agree that showings will be conducted as follows during the term of this Agreement:_____________________________________________.”
Yes. Placing $150 in escrow is an option offered by a number of municipalities and fire districts to ensure that an inspection will take place after the closing as an alternative to an “in person” or video inspection while COVID-19 restrictions remain in effect. A buyer or buyer’s lender may wish to negotiate with the seller to hold back a larger amount of proceeds from the seller at closing to cover the costs of repairs or replacement in case the smoke detector fails inspection after the closing.
Now that more buyers are purchasing real estate “sight unseen” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some REALTORS® have expressed interest in using a hold harmless agreement in which the buyer agrees to waive all claims against the listing broker, cooperating broker and seller or landlord. However, this type of agreement is unlikely to be enforceable if a real estate licensee and/or seller fail to disclose known deficient conditions of the property in accordance with the Rhode Island sales disclosure law or misrepresent the zoning, legal use, square footage or other aspects of the property to a buyer. A more effective alternative to a hold harmless agreement, is to have the buyer(s) sign an acknowledgement. Sample language: Buyer(s) acknowledges that Buyer is purchasing Property without having physically viewed Property in person. Buyer has been informed of Buyer’s legal right to have inspections of Property conducted. Buyer acknowledges that by choosing not to view or have an inspection of the property, Buyer agrees that Buyer is solely responsible for determining whether Property meets Buyer’s needs, including, but not limited to, the location, value, use, usability, and size of Property.
While individual brokerages can choose to use such a form, RIAR does not intend to create one. The COVID-19 VIRUS is a worldwide pandemic, that has been widely publicized. Given that, according to medical experts, anyone can be a COVID-19 carrier without showing any symptoms for days or ever. As a result, it would be extremely difficult- if not impossible - for a buyer to prove that he or she contracted the COVID-19 virus because the REALTOR® failed to warn or otherwise protect him or her from the virus.
Yes. State-Wide MLS allows the seller and listing broker to refuse to schedule a showing unless and until the buyer delivers a preapproval letter or proof of funds to the listing broker prior to showing a long as the seller has issued written instructions to the listing broker. MLS can require the listing broker to provide these instructions. Also, this preapproval/financing requirement must be included in showing instructions in order for the listing to remain in MLS. Since requiring financial documentation prior to showing can alienate some buyers, a listing broker should discuss with the seller the pros and cons of doing so, and obtain written documentation from the seller. Make sure to keep the buyer’s financial information confidential.
A designated client representative for a buyer must obtain the buyer’s written consent before sharing a preapproval letter or other financial information with the listing broker and/or sellers. Buyers would be wise to conceal account numbers. A buyer can ask his/her mortgage broker to provide documentation of preapproval for the listing price or slightly above it instead of sharing the highest amount that the buyer could potentially afford or all of the conditions of such a preapproval.
Unemployment is taxable income. If you do not withhold state or federal taxes from your benefits you will be responsible to pay them when you file your tax return. Everyone who collects UI will receive a 1099 detailing the total payments received and any taxes paid on that income. You may request changes to your claim’s tax deductions anytime.
Yes. Even if social distancing is possible during a showing or open housing, the property owner and listing broker can require anyone who enters a property to wear a mask for the protection of occupants, including tenants. It is a good idea for listing brokers to add the mask requirement to showing instructions in MLS. Some listing brokers keep a supply of paper masks on hand for this purpose. Governor Raimondo’s Executive Order requires the wearing of masks when social distancing is not possible. The Department of Business Regulation has begun to enforce these orders and post the names of violators here. See Phase 3 REALTOR Guidance here.

Information REALTORS® need to know:

This page and the links below will be continually updated as information becomes available.

 

Thank you for your patience during this challenging time. Please check this website often for updates. If you have further questions after reviewing this information, please email covid19@rirealtors.org.

For legal questions, please contact Monica Staaf – General Counsel at 401-432-6945 or monica@rirealtors.org.

Looking for legislative or municipal updates? Email your questions to governmentaffairs@rirealtors.org.

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Chris Whitten
Chris Whitten

Thanks for all the work you are doing. I know much of it is unnoticed and behind the scenes but it’s comforting that our RIAR leaders and RIAR staff are always looking out for not only our members but our clients and communities! #RealtorStrong

Stephen Antoni
Stephen Antoni

Thank you for the information and best practices. they are timely and appreciated.

Janie Aracil
Janie Aracil

I want to thank RIAR leadership and committees for helping and guiding us during these difficult times. There are so many unknowns with this pandemic and you all have been on it ! Your dedication to all the members has been impressive. Thank you for addressing all of our questions and concerns in a timely manner.
Best,
Janie Aracil

DAVID A BINNS
DAVID A BINNS

Is there an RIAR sanctioned health form for buyers to fill out?