REAL ESTATE CLOSINGS PROCEEDING DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
People all over the world are grappling with the daily, and even hourly, disruptions to our normal routines brought on by the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness. These disruptions have reached into all facets of people’s personal and work lives, and likewise have had tremendous effects on the business world. As of this writing, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
These disruptions extend to the heart of what, until now, have been routine real estate closings, and have directly affected many institutions essential to performing real estate closings. In Connecticut many town halls are closed, including the town clerks’ offices, where all instruments affecting title are recorded. This makes the required title searches difficult or sometimes impossible to obtain and affects the recording of documents such as deeds and mortgages after the closing. In addition, these closures are also affecting other municipal offices, such as tax collectors and building departments, preventing or delaying the ability to obtain other important information needed for a closing. Some of the participants in the closing may be directly affected by COVID-19, and be unable to meet face-to-face so as not to further spread the virus. The homeowners who have their house for sale may not want to have strangers in their home for a showing, inspection or appraisal. The realtor, appraiser or home inspector may not feel comfortable exposing themselves to the virus. These are the new challenges for conducting real estate transactions in the face of the pandemic.
To meet these obstacles, many of the players in the real estate industry have been working extremely hard to adjust to the “new normal” in order to be able to proceed with closings. Legal services and “real estate transactions and related services” have been deemed essential in Connecticut by the Governor. Even if town halls are closed, many have opened their town clerks’ offices by appointment; have put the land records online; and have been accepting document recordings by mail. Title insurance companies are insuring real estate titles as of the time of the closing without requiring immediate recording and are “bending” some of the normal title requirements in order to allow closings to occur (for instance, see this information from Connecticut Attorney’s Title). Realtors have expanded the availability of “virtual showings” through online videos. Governor Lamont’s Executive Order Number 7Q temporarily allows for the remote notarization of documents, and also eliminated the existing requirement for the signatures of two witnesses on deeds, potentially alleviating the need to meet in person to sign closing documents (See Paragraph 3 HERE ). Lenders have been directed to allow for appraisals performed without a property inspection and to relax requirements for employment verifications (READ MORE HERE). All of these measures, and others, taken together have permitted closings to proceed. This is not to say that the economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, such as job loss and reduced earnings, are not having a negative impact on many buyers and sellers. Certainly, the long-term effects of this crisis on the real estate market are yet to be determined.
At Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari, all of our attorneys and legal staff are now working remotely. We are able to fully access our computer system to perform closings and other legal tasks for our clients as needed. We will continue to work closely with our real estate partners including the agents, lenders and title companies to facilitate closings as seamlessly as possible under the circumstances. Using our technology, knowledge and contacts, we are able to perform most real estate closings despite the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is of course a very fluid situation, so please keep a close watch on any announcements from state or federal authorities regarding concerns such as “shelter in place” orders which may affect the ability to travel.
We hope everyone remains safe during this unprecedented crisis.