Coronavirus guide for realtors® in northwest montana

In response to growing concern regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Northwest Montana Association of REALTORS® is taking precautionary steps in order to protect our members and staff. These steps include closing the office to our members and the public, postponing upcoming classes and events, and utilizing video conferencing tools for meetings. 

We are providing the following guidance to help REALTORS® respond to the coronavirus’ impact on the real estate industry. This information was compiled with the assistance of the Montana Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of REALTORS® and will be updated as we receive new information.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect our member services at NMAR?

In order to take precautions for our members and staff, the NMAR office building will be closed to our members and the public until further notice. However, NMAR staff is still available to assist during regular business hours via phone and email. If you need a lockbox, sign or brochure box, please call ahead to make arrangements (406-752-4313).
Some staff members are working remotely - for the time being, here is the best way to reach us:

Jeri Moon
Executive Officer

Jayne Yatchak
Professional Development and Accounts Manager

Meagan O’Leary
Communications and Member Services Director

Erica Wirtala
Public Affairs Director

What local classes & events have been affected?

At this time, all upcoming NMAR professional development opportunities are being postponed, including the Rookie Course, Supervising Broker Pre-Endorsement class, our April 8th Lunch & Learn, and our May 6th classes. 

Committee meetings will be cancelled or attended via Zoom - please contact your committee staff liaison for more information. 

Tour meetings in Kalispell, Bigfork, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Lake County have been cancelled until further notice. However, some communities are still holding property tours. Please contact your community tour host, or visit your community’s tour group on Connect for more information.

The Montana Association of REALTORS® has also made the difficult decision to cancel GRI and the April Business Meetings.

What unique issues does COVID-19 present to the real estate industry?

When an infectious disease, such as coronavirus, is associated with a specific population or nationality, fear and anxiety may lead to social stigma and potential discrimination. REALTORS® must be mindful of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act, and be sure not to discriminate against any particular segment of the population. While the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, that does not provide a basis for treating Chinese persons or persons of Asian descent differently.

May I ask clients or others I interact with in my real estate business if they have traveled recently, or have signs of respiratory illness?

Yes, you may ask clients or others about their recent travel, particularly to areas identified as having an increased risk of coronavirus. To avoid potential fair housing issues, be sure to ask all clients the same screening questions based on current, factual information from public health authorities.

I typically drive my clients to showings. May I refuse to drive potential clients to see homes?

Yes. However, be sure that any change to your business practices is applied equally to all clients. You may refuse to drive clients who show signs of illness or reveal recent travel to areas of increased risk of coronavirus, or you may instead decide to stop driving clients in your car altogether, and simply arrange to meet clients at a property. If you do continue to drive clients in your car, it is a good idea to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces like door handles and seat belt latches, and to ask clients to use hand sanitizer when getting in and out of the car.

What precautions should brokers consider taking in their offices?

Brokers should use their best judgment when formulating a plan. In addition to performing regular environmental cleaning with special attention paid to frequently touched surfaces, brokers should implement a mandatory "stay-home" policy for any staff member or agent exhibiting any sign of illness. Brokers may want to consider imposing a mandatory or maximum flexibility remote work policy for employees and instructing agents to stay out of the office. In addition, in light of recent recommendations, brokers should take measures to hold virtual meetings when possible, and potentially postpone or cancel in-person meetings or events to limit close contact between individuals. Be sure to monitor updates from the CDC, as well as local health authorities for additional information and guidance on holding meetings or events.

Finally, do not panic, stay informed, and use your best judgment. The situation is rapidly changing, so focus on putting policies and procedures in place to keep your employees and agents informed, safe, and to avoid business disruption in the event the situation worsens. The CDC's Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers is a helpful resource.

What preventative measures may be taken to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus?

The CDC urges individuals to take these measures to protect themselves and others:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Practice social distancing by staying out of crowded places, avoiding group gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Stay home if you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or any other cold or flu-like symptom.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
Additionally, to help prevent the continued spread of coronavirus, on March 15, 2020, the CDC recommended that for the next 8 weeks, all in-person events consisting of 50 or more people, such as conferences and assemblies, be cancelled, postponed or modified to virtual events. On March 16, 2020, President Trump announced new guidelines, advising that individuals avoid groups of more than 10 people for the next 15 days. Avoiding these in-person gatherings is an effective measure that will reduce your risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus.

Coronavirus Emergency Legislation: What do REALTORS® need to know?

Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act providing support to American workers, families, and businesses, including the expansion of paid sick leave and family medical leave. It also includes refundable tax credits for small businesses and self-employed individuals to cover the cost of the leave. 

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) advocacy team continues to urder Congressional leaders to include support for self-employed professionals and other small business owners. This was included in the final bill. 
Family Medical Leave Expansion
  • Allows up to 12 weeks of certain virus-related family medical leave at pay of at least 2/3 of regular pay through the end of 2020 (however, employees must use vacation days, personal leave or unpaid time off for first two weeks)
  • Covers employees at businesses with fewer than 500 employees
  • Eligible employees are those not working because the employee is caring for their child due to school or child care closure or unavailability due to a public health emergency
  • Provides a refundable tax credit for eligible self-employed individuals equal to their qualified family leave equivalent
  • Provides employers with a refundable tax credit equal to certain family leave wages paid to employees
  • The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations exempting small businesses with fewer than 50 employees on financial hardship grounds

Paid Sick Leave Expansion
  • Allows two weeks of paid sick leave through the end of 2020 (80 hours for full-time employees; pro-rata rules for part-time employees)
  • Eligible employees are those not working because of quarantine, symptomatic, caring for an individual quarantined or a child due to school or child care provider closed, or for experiencing a similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Covers employees at businesses with fewer than 500 employees
  • Provides a refundable tax credit for eligible self-employed individuals equal to their qualified sick leave equivalent
  • Provides employers with a refundable tax credit equal to certain paid sick leave wages paid to employees
  • The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations exempting small businesses with fewer than 50 employees on financial hardship grounds

Medicare, Medicaid, Health Insurance and Unemployment Changes
  • Requires insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health programs to fully cover testing and related services for COVID-19, without cost-sharing
  • Increases funding to Medicaid to help cover uninsured populations
  • Provides additional funds for certain programs aiding elderly Americans
  • Increases funding for emergency transfers to state unemployment programs and increased flexibility for states to modify unemployment policies based on effects of COVID-19, such as waived work search requirements.

About the Tax Credits
Refundable tax credits are considered especially generous since any amount above taxes due is paid in the form of a refund. The payroll tax credit provided to employers will provide cash to them relatively quickly as it is creditable against their portion of an employee’s Social Security tax liability, which is generally due monthly or semi-weekly. And since most self-employed persons are required to pay quarterly estimated tax payments, they will not have to wait until the end of the tax year to see the cash.
A Final Note

Many of the tax credits and benefits mentioned above have limits and/or qualifications, so we encourage you to explore NAR’s comprehensive briefing document for more details.

This bill mainly addresses employment issues--NAR’s advocacy team expects legislation targeting the overall economy to come later.

Small business owners and the self-employed are crucial to the growth and stability of the national economy and also face disproportionate burdens if they are forced to shut down, temporarily lose employees, or see their customer base drop.

They deserve equal access to emergency funding and programs, and we will continue to engage with Congress as this public health emergency unfolds.

Read the Full Summary Here

How does the governor's Stay at Home directive affect real estate?

Governor Bullock has issued a Stay at Home Directive effective March 28th through April 10th. The directive expressly designates real estate services as 'essential'. We urge our members to exercise caution when carrying out business in order to protect public health and personal safety. 

Read the Stay at Home Directive Here

Guidelines on Stay at Home Directive & Real Estate as an Essential Service

Have there been any changes to our forms?

Yes, the Montana Association of REALTORS® Forms Screening Panel and Legal counsel have provided several forms for use during this time, including a COVID-19 Clause, Mutual Termination Form and a COVID-19 White Paper. 

In order to access the forms, you will need to login to MAR's website using your NRDS # as your username, and your last name (with the first letter capitalized) as your password. 

Access Forms Here

What resources should I look to for credible information during this time?

For the most up-to-date reporting of Montana COVID-19 testing results, visit the DPHHS Coronavirus Page

For information regarding travel warnings and the coronavirus' current impact please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization

The National Association of REALTORS® has compiled several helpful resources regarding COVID-19 and the real estate industry: