California real estate professionals are facing a set of different practices and protocols as a result of the COVID-19 which collectively can be called a “new normal” for the profession. Real estate agents, brokers, and associated professionals need to be aware of tactics and strategies that have been recommended as a means of keeping people safe and healthy when involved in the home buying and selling process.

The primary elements of the new normal safe practices for real estate professionals are:

  • Cleaning and disinfection protocols for shown properties
  • Physical distancing standards for shown properties
  • Physical distancing protocols for offices of real estate professionals
  • Preventing premises contamination of offices of real estate professionals
  • Real estate closings in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic

Cleaning and Disinfection Protocols for Shown Properties

A primary area of concern for real estate professionals is protecting against the spread of COVID-19 at properties being shown to prospective homebuyers. The situation is made more complicated because of the fact that multiple real estate professionals, agencies, brokerages, and other professionals will be accessing a property for sale. In addition, in most cases involving residential real estate, people will be living in a home for sale. 

With this in mind, the California Department of Public Health, in conjunction with the Office of the Governor, has created a set of protocols to be followed by real estate professionals and professionals in associated industries in regard to properties being shown for sale:

  • Perform comprehensive, thorough cleaning and disinfection on commonly used surfaces before and after every showing. (Bear in mind you really have no idea who may have been in the property between showings and you cannot safely assume you were the last professional in the premises. Nor can you presume others will be following appropriate COVID-19 protection protocols. 
  • When at all possible, during a showing itself, do your best to introduce fresh outside air into the premises. Fresh flowing air is considered a generally reliable way of decreasing the risk of potential airborne and even person to person coronavirus transmission. 
  • Equip properties being shown with sanitizing products for people’s hands and surfaces. These products should be available for use by anyone who may be present during a showing.
  • Require anyone entering a property, including prospective homebuyers, to wear a mask. 
  • Masks can be available at a property for sale if someone arrives and doesn’t have one. 
  • Require anyone entering a property to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water. Handwashing should occur before a tour. If handwashing is not possible for some reason, the use of hand sanitizer upon entering must be undertaken. 
  • Provide ample time for the implementation of these sanitization practices.
  • Provide additional compensation when appropriate to team members who take on responsibility for implementing these strategies.
  • Adjust showing schedules to provide adequate time for regular deep cleaning and disinfection of a property. Engaging a professional COVID-19 cleaning company typically is recommended for deep cleaning and disinfection. 

Physical Distancing Standards for Shown Properties

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been adamant about the importance of social distancing when it comes to slowing and preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Physical distancing is at the heart of the safe reopening of the state of California. Physical distancing impacts the manner in which real estate for sale is shown:

  • Walk-in open houses should be terminated. Home showings should be undertaken by appointment only. 
  • Conduct home showings with residents away from the residence whenever possible.
  • Take wider advantage of virtual tours for property showing whenever possible.
  • Keep doorways open as a means to enhance airflow through the premises and as a means to avoid unnecessary contact with doorknobs and handles.
  • Remind people at a home showing to maintain physical distancing and to refrain from touching surfaces and objects as much as possible. 
  • Following the cleaning and disinfection protocols set forth previously in this article.
  • Provide marketing and informational materials digitally rather than via hard copies to avoid the unnecessary handling of paper.

Physical Distancing Protocols for Offices of Real Estate Professionals

Physical distancing is an important element of maintaining safe environments in the offices of real estate professionals. Protocols associated with physical distancing in the offices of real estate and associated professionals include:

  • Implement measures that allow for the physical separation of team members in a real estate professional office. These can include the use of physical partitions as well as visual cues to maintain the required separation.
  • Maintain a minimum of six feet of physical separation between team members and clients at all times.
  • Reduce the number of employees and others that are in the office at any particular point in time.
  • Reconfigure office space to manage the occupancy of meeting and conference rooms to allow for a space of at least six feet between individuals using these spaces. 
  • Stagger team member lunch and break times to control physical distancing in the office.
  • Close or restrict access to certain common areas in which physical distancing may be hard to maintain.
  • Generously use signage to inform and remind people of physical distancing requirements.
  • Utilize face coverings when reasonably possible during the course of the workday.
  • Discontinue all nonessential travel.
  • Utilize internet meeting tools and resources rather than in-person sessions. (More discussion on this is presented shortly in regard to closings.)
  • Discontinue shared vehicle trips of all types, including to showings and closings.
  • Do not engage in handshakes. Develop other practices for greetings others that maintain physical distancing mandates. 
  • Do not share pens, keys, and other items. Do not share paperwork, whenever possible. If items like pens need to be shared, clean and sanitize these items. 
  • Eliminate person to person contact when goods need to be delivered to an office. 

Preventing Premises Contamination at Offices of Real Estate Professionals

In addition to the practices and protocols discussed thus far, real estate professionals also need to take a more global, comprehensive, recurring approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting against contamination in the premises. At the heart of this element is appropriately scheduled professional deep cleaning and disinfection of a real estate professional office. 

With appropriate regularity, a real estate professional office should make arrangements with a qualified, reputable coronavirus cleaning and disinfection company for assistance in preventing and remediating COVID-19 contamination. A COVID-19 cleaning company can work with a real estate professional office in the development of an effective and affordable coronavirus contamination prevention and remediation plan. 

Real Estate Closings in the Era of the COVID-19 Pandemic

 Real estate closings present some unique challenges in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. By their very nature, the manner in which real estate closings traditionally were undertaken involve people in close proximity and the exchange of what fairly can be described as a considerable amount of paperwork. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, and until a vaccine is developed, real estate closings need to undergo significant changes to protect the health and welfare of others. Real estate closings can be conducted via digital meeting platforms. The paperwork associated with a real estate closing can be distributed digitally. Some of the documents that need to be signed during the closing process can be executed digitally. Those documents that require a brick and mortar world signature, specifically the title to real estate, can be executed in advance of a closing and held by a title company or lawyer until the closing. 

In the final analysis, the real estate industry will move forward during a period of new normality. Real estate buying and selling will be able to carry on in a manner that is safe and effective for all people involved.