The Council of MLS hosted a meeting last week to gather perspectives from brokers and MLSs about COVID-19 related issues.
- Waive, reduce, delay as many dues, fees and penalties as possible for as long as possible, knowing cash flow and liquidity are the top issues brokers and agents are facing.
- Hold a discussion about ways to handle “days on market” with your participants to determine what works best for your market in the short term and in the long term.
- Leave restrictions/bans on showings and/or open houses to various local, state and/or federal authorities instead of the MLS setting any limits. (But, for MLSs that might still prohibit open houses, please disable the ability to search by open house.)
- Facilitate inclusion of and prominent featuring of open house alternatives, such as virtual open houses, and structure these so as to translate onto portal displays, as well.
- Keep scheduling services and other products/services running, as participants will need them eventually, if not today.
- Look at rules and status categories to see if there are any rules or policies that might be getting in the way unnecessarily of practicing real estate remotely or via physical distancing. Look for possible additions and/or changes that would allow for real estate practice under current restrictions to go more smoothly.
- Look at limits on “temporarily off the market” and similar statuses. Lengthen those appropriately and consider whether market time should continue to accrue with this kind of status.
- Examine rules such as “If the listing can’t be shown for X days it must be withdrawn.” Some sellers still want their property available for viewing and to be marketed, but they are not ready for it to be shown at this time.
- Let the broker and agent participants be the ones to communicate directly with the public. MLSs only should communicate MLS-specific news and just to participants. Please communicate clear rules of engagement allowed/required with the public based on the latest state/local directives: showings; open houses; listing presentations; appraisals; property inspections; final inspections prior to closing.
- Have the property status and showing procedures reflect the various, specific states of emergency. For example, in Delaware, participants might be allowed to list and physically show with safety guidelines, while in Pennsylvania they are not. So, it would be good to have Pennsylvania MLSs reflect all active listings as “no physical showing” per state law, but to have Delaware MLSs reflect “allows physical showings,” etc.
- Give special attention to any fines for activities that are hard to control in these times, such as for lack of timeliness or getting for getting a listing showable when the seller changes his mind.
- Keep MLS office doors open when legal. Participants are out in the field in most cases, using lockboxes and showing property and needing support from the MLS office. Physical distancing and other precautions can be put in place while still delivering critical, basic services to participants that require something from the MLS office.
- Utilize this opportunity to deliver education and reminders, especially in the case of the “Clear Cooperation” policy that will go into effect this spring.
- Consider applying your enforcement role to those in the market who are performing prohibited activities, perhaps treating those as ethics violations.
- Allow “Virtual Open House at 123 Main Street at 2pm Sunday” or similar notices in public remarks so they show up on portal displays.
- Facilitate the development and distribution of consistent forms and procedures relating to screening customers who want to see a property, disclosures for individuals and properties that might have been exposed, and other needed addenda and documents and guidance. And, help communicate clarity on what participants can ask and how they may or may not adjust their activity based on the virus and Fair Housing policy.
- One suggestion is to create a new showing field that breaks out options, such as “yes, virtual only,” “yes, with precautions,” “no, temporarily suspended due to COVID-19,” etc.
- Prepare your processes and infrastructure and team to be ready for perhaps the most active market in history once restrictions are lifted. Let’s be sure we are ready in case we have the busiest late spring and summer ever.
Local circumstances, which may vary on a county by county basis, will shape how an MLS considers each of these recommendations. “Brokers and MLSs working together always has been key, but this never has been more the case than now,” says Craig Cheatham. “Brokers are looking for their MLSs to be flexible, to give extra attention to communication and to think locally when it comes to what approaches to take.” Moreover, as the situation remains fluid, be prepared for the reality that the impact of COVID-19 may worsen in your area before it improves and prompt your organization to nimbly make policy changes as the situation evolves.