Information as of July 10, 2020.
On July 2, the Departments of Public Health and Cal/OSHA released new guidance on COVID-19, including some relating to real estate. While there are some changes in office openings, cleaning protocols and other issues which required minor changes in the BPPP and related forms, they do not significantly change practices.
“Open Houses” on a walk-in basis are still prohibited. All showings still require either an appointment or a digital sign-in process prior to entry including completing a PEAD form. Any such showings still must follow these rules: (1) Have protective equipment made available like masks and hand sanitizer; (2) Thoroughly clean all shown properties and disinfect commonly used areas such as doors and door knobs, cabinet handles, switches, etc; (3) Control the number of people in the house by only allowing in one buying party at a time (which could be more than one person). The listing agent and buyer’s agent may also be on the property at the same time; (4) All showings require appointments OR digital sign-ins.
Based on this, an advertisement using the term “Open House” alone is likely deceptive as it implies a walk-in basis without the mandatory appointments/digital sign-in protocols that are not typical for an “Open House.” Although it is recommended that no “Open House” signs be used, if they are, they must also include information on the sign or a sign rider indicating that appointments or digital sign-in are required before entry. Of course, the regular protocols of advance digital completion of PEAD forms before entering, social distancing, limitations on persons going through the house at one time, cleaning and disinfecting between each showing, etc. apply. However, any type of traditional open houses — spontaneous walk-up with no digital sign-in or appointment or adherence to all protocols—would threaten the policy allowing licensees to show property and, worse, threaten the health of the seller and those visiting potentially causing a super-spreader event.
REALTORS® using “Open House” signs or advertisements without the riders about advance appointments or digital sign-in may be subject to ethics discipline for violating the “true picture” test under Article 12 as the common understanding of an “Open House” by the public and the industry does not include advance digital sign-ins or appointments, along with the other protocols that would delay a spontaneous showing. In the end, variations on this would have to be decided by panels, in the context of the COVID-19 rules in place at the time.
As a reminder, cities or counties may be more restrictive than State Guidance and orders. Some local rules prohibit any type of “Open House” or restrict the number of persons who can view the property to two at one time. The more restrictive local rules will supersede the statewide industry guidance and must be followed. Of course, in those jurisdictions prohibiting “Open Houses” altogether, “Open House” signs should not be used at all.
Please also be aware the Department of Real Estate has reassigned 17 employees including 5 or 6 recently hired special investigators from its Los Angeles office to assist the Department of Public Health with contact tracing efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As for licensees who may be violating/have violated the Governor’s Executive Orders, if the DRE learns of such violations, they indicated their focus is to educate the subject licensee and remind him/her of the importance to follow the Executive Orders and take efforts to minimize/eliminate the spread of the virus. Although the DRE did not explicitly so state, it is also possible that if these violations are egregious or repeated, they may also be reported to the authorities for further action.
Members who have questions should direct their questions to the C.A.R. Legal Hotline. The Agent phone number is 213-739-8282 and the Broker-Owner, Office Managers and/or Designated REALTORS® phone number is 213-739-8350.