The $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package signed into law last month provides a broad stroke of support for the nation’s workers and small business owners. But real estate pros are finding that when it comes to obtaining benefits or loans, patience is a virtue—as the federal and state governments scramble to put rules, applications, and personnel into place.
The National Association of REALTORS® and state REALTOR® associations are stepping into the breach to provide updated guidance daily to members. On Wednesday, NAR hosted Leadership Live on Facebook to share expert insights on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and to talk about other ways NAR is responding to the crisis. (Watch a playback of the event below.)
Many state association executives have also hosted live events (watch Maryland REALTORS® CEO Chuck Kasky and Senior Vice President Bill Castelli, for example), along with creating COVID-19 resource pages on their websites to explain stay-at-home orders, share COVID contract addenda, and outline the resources that will be made available to individuals and small businesses through federal and state programs.
Florida REALTORS® has launched a series of videos and infographics called “Be the Responsible REALTOR®,” which includes advice about adhering to state and local health guidelines while conducting business—a message NAR has championed as well. “Our tech helpline, our legal hotline, our videos, and newsletters—it’s all meant to show members that they have strong support right now,” says Margy Grant, CEO of Florida REALTORS®.
Most of all, association executives are urging patience as the federal government works to roll out the two most talked about provisions under the CARES Act:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends unemployment benefits to those not traditionally eligible, including self-employed individuals.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Grants and the Paycheck Protection Program, which provide loans (in some cases forgivable or partially forgivable), backed by the Small Business Administration.
If you live in a state participating in the PUA program, you’ll have the opportunity to apply for full or partial compensation benefits for weeks when your work is impacted by COVID-19 closures. New York State has an application available through its Department of Labor, but most states are awaiting federal guidance and caution it may be weeks before REALTORS® can begin applying for PUA. “You’re asking a state government to put something in place for independent contractors that has never existed before,” Grant says. In the Sunshine State, she adds, “our Department of Economic Opportunity has to build it from the ground up.”
Several state associations are recommending that REALTORS® not try to apply for PUA benefits until states have additional details from the federal government. “Applying now could result in significant delays,” the California Association of REALTORS® says on its website.
By contrast, EIDLG stems from an existing program, and SBA was quick to make the application available. In addition, sole proprietors and businesses with fewer than 500 employees can now apply for the SBA’s PPP, while independent contractors can begin applying April 10. Still, the rollout hasn't been smooth, as many lenders have said they need more federal guidance about documentation. “Many local SBA banks are racing to meet the high demand [for PPP loans],” Shannon McGahn, NAR’s senior vice president of government affairs, said in an all-member email sent April 3, the day the PPP launched. “We encourage members to keep trying, as the applications will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Just about everyone agrees that Congress will need to increase funding for small businesses in its next coronavirus relief package. NAR is working directly with Congress on the next round of relief and communicating at least weekly with state associations to share resources and ensure members are receiving up-to-date, reliable information. “The NAR staff in Washington, D.C., has passed information to us very quickly, which we immediately put into our own FAQs,” says Joel Singer, CEO of the California Association of REALTORS®.
Singer says CAR has been receiving 400 calls a day to its legal hotline. “There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment, but we’re giving as much advice as we can give,” he says.
Above all else, even when they don't have all the answers, association leaders and executives are seeking to provide emotional support. This week, NAR Vice President of Advocacy Christine Hansen, a former Florida association president, offered tips on practicing emotional self-care and communicating with clients. Her video was part of NAR Leadership’s “Pivot in Place” video series.“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with REALTORS® and their resiliency,” Grant says.