The real estate industry, struggling with coronavirus-linked limitations, got a boost with its sales business reclassified as an “essential” industry.

The California Association of Realtors said Saturday, March 28, that commercial and residential real estate services were included on an updated list of essential services from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

This list was used to determine what California industries were told to limit operations by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “stay at home” order. The association told its Realtor members on March 20 that any face-to-face real estate sales — then a “non-essential” service — should be halted. That not only put into question how homes would be sold, but if deals awaiting closing could be completed.

“Of paramount importance is that any activities be undertaken with the strictest adherence to health and safety guidelines,” Leslie Appleton Young, the association’s economist, stated on Facebook.

Business limitations, meant to limit the pandemic’s spread, have hammered the state economy. For example, a record 186,809  workers sought  jobless benefits in the week ending March 21.

As a result of economic anxieties, not to mention sales limitations, local house hunters have balked in recent days. ReportsOnHousing said the number of new escrows in the four-county Southern California region fell 16% in the week ended March 26.

The association said this new “essential” designation does not mean back to business as usual. For starters, rules of cities or counties will determine how home sales are conducted at the community level, the association’s advisory noted.

Stricter local business rules and statewide health mandates must still be followed, the association stated. That means “no open houses should be held” and “showings should be done virtually, if at all possible,” the advisory stated.

The association added: “Notwithstanding this new development, all real estate licensees must take into account the health and safety of their clients and fellow licensees, and follow the existing protocols for protecting against the spread of COVID-19. If such health safeguards and protocols are not followed, the rule for the state could easily change to stop or restrict all real estate activity.”

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