The coronavirus has caused businesses across the United States and around the world to close and has made it difficult or impossible for many financial transactions to be completed. Real estate closings are complex and some of the parties involved may be unable to perform their duties on schedule or at all due to COVID-19. Agents are therefore including coronavirus clauses in contracts.
How Can a Coronavirus Clause Protect Buyers and Sellers?
A force majeure clause is a provision in a contract that excuses one or both parties’ failure to meet their obligations if they were unable to do so because of circumstances beyond their control. It allows the parties to delay a transaction or to cancel it without facing a penalty. Force majeure clauses may apply to acts of God (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc.), war, epidemics, government actions and other circumstances.
The wording in force majeure clauses varies. It may not apply to COVID-19, or standard language may be open to interpretation. To prevent legal challenges later, real estate agents are adding language specifically addressing the coronavirus to purchase contracts.
Different states have drafted their own coronavirus clauses to include in real estate contracts. Though the specific language differs, the clauses generally allow the parties to delay the closing or to cancel a purchase contract without a penalty.
How Could COVID-19 Affect a Real Estate Closing?
A buyer who has been laid off or furloughed may not be able to return to work anytime soon, or at all, and therefore, may be unable to get a mortgage. That uncertainty can make both buyers and sellers nervous. Coronavirus clauses allow the parties to delay the closing or to cancel the contract if a job loss or reduction in income has left the buyer unable to obtain financing.
Some parts of the home-buying process, such as an inspection and appraisal, require a worker to physically go to a house. Many inspectors and appraisers are reluctant to do so due to fear of contracting the coronavirus, especially if the house is still occupied.
Government and business offices across the country have closed or cut their hours. That means that title searches, mortgage applications and other critical parts of the process may be delayed.
Although some jurisdictions allow virtual closings, others do not. Due to travel restrictions and social distancing, it may be impossible to get the parties together to close as they typically would in the past.
Discuss a Coronavirus Clause With Your Real Estate Agent
COVID-19 has created widespread uncertainty and anxiety. If you were planning to close on a house, the process may be held up for weeks or longer. You may be concerned about your job security and income, leaving you unsure about whether you can or should proceed. Talk to your real estate agent about any concerns you have and how a coronavirus clause could protect you.