In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the U.S. are implementing restrictions on which businesses can remain open and who must work remotely. Several industry groups, including the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), have taken steps to advocate for the housing industry and ensure that lawmakers are taking independent contractors and small business owners into consideration when drafting legislation.
Vince Malta, NAR president, says that it “is working with Congressional leaders on behalf of our members as a flurry of legislative activity providing economic relief from COVID-19 emerges on Capitol Hill. We are committed to ensuring lawmakers consider small business owners, the self-employed and independent contractors in their response.
“Congress has passed two emergency bills so far and continues its work to secure a third [at press time],” Malta says. “NAR urged Congressional leaders several weeks ago to include support for self-employed professionals, small businesses and independent contractors in any COVID-19 relief package, along with a follow-up letter on March 20. (All of NAR’s activity in this space is recorded here.) NAR has also prepared a guide for REALTORS® as our 1.4 million members work to navigate this crisis while continuing their critical work to provide shelter to the American people.”
As states are currently imposing their own rules, NAR is also working with state associations to classify real estate-related services as “essential” in any emergency declarations. NAR has also advocated for deadline relief for the working capital safe harbor for Qualified Opportunity Funds, as well as for 1031 like-kind exchanges 180-day completion deadlines to help with delays in settlements as title companies close during the outbreak.
According to Malta, NAR is also “working with other trade associations and industry partners to expand access to remote online notary services, provide direct rental assistance for families who have income loss due to COVID-19, and push for relief for property owners from the financial obligations of forbearance and foreclosures.”
Property Owners and Renters
Several organizations—including NAR, the National Multifamily Housing Council, the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, the National Association of Home Builders and many others—joined forces to draft a coalition letter that requests direct rental assistance for families who experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19. It stresses the need for relief for property owner-related burdens, such as mortgage and other financial obligation forbearance, and warns against blanket eviction moratoriums. On March 23, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) authorized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accommodate forbearance for multifamily owners, provided that they cease evictions for renters unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.
Real Estate Appraisals, Mortgage
To continue to facilitate real estate transactions, FHFA added flexibility to mortgage requirements, specifically appraisals and employment verifications. In the announcement, also on March 23, FHFA authorized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to implement “appraisal alternatives,” to avoid in-person interaction; as well as continue employment verifications via email from the employer, if unable to verbally verify, or via a bank statement that shows a recent payroll deposit, or a recent year-to-date pay stub.
According to the announcement, “lenders should continue to utilize sound underwriting judgment to ensure these alternatives are appropriate to the borrower’s circumstances.”
The alternatives extend to May 17, 2020.
Foreclosures, Debt Relief
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced they will be suspending foreclosure and evictions through April. According to FHFA, the suspension applies to any homeowners who have a single-family mortgage backed by either company. Fannie and Freddie are also offering payment forbearance.
“This foreclosure and eviction suspension allows homeowners with an Enterprise-backed mortgage to stay in their homes during this national emergency,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria in a statement.
Title and Notarization
NAR, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and others support the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarizations Act of 2020, which would help expand access to remote online notaries.
ALTA is tracking the operating status of recording jurisdictions around the U.S. and has advocated for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which creates emergency paid sick leave, and paid family leave, for working families that are impacted by COVID-19.
Small Businesses and Independent Contractors
Several letters from NAR and other industry groups have pressed Congress to provide easily accessible, unsecured credit to employers and any self-employed individuals to ensure they can pay their workers, rent and any other costs. These letters requested the following:
- “Suspend the filing of business returns and the payment of all business taxes to the federal government for the duration of the pandemic; and amend the Tax Code to, among other items, restore the ability of businesses to carryback any net operating losses against previous year tax payments.”
- “Suspend the application of the Section 163(j) limitation on interest expense deductions for tax year 2020 to avoid penalizing businesses for borrowing during this crisis.”
- “Suspend the Section 461(l) loss limitation on pass-through businesses to allow businesses to full deduct any losses they incur this year.”
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Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior editor. RISMedia is the residential real estate industry’s definitive source for news and information.