March 23, 2020
To Our Valued Clients, Longtime Friends, & Colleagues,
During this time of unprecedented uncertainly, as new information and changes related to the real estate, mortgage, and closing industries unfolds, we will be periodically providing updates that we feel are pertinent to professionals in our sphere.
While lengthy, we ask that you take a moment to read the following notes. We believe the points below will give you a good indication of where things stand right now related to the real estate business and how things will proceed in relation to the outbreak:
*For now and for the most part, it continues to be business as usual here at Kriss Law/Atlantic. While like most other businesses across the county we have certainly been affected by municipal closings, a large portion of our staff working remotely, and a general slowdown in production from many of our vendors, we are continuing to close files at a highly efficient level.
*With concern over the virus so great, we are frequently running into situations where clients are hesitant to meet with our attorneys and staff for closings. While understandable, we have put firm protocols into place that once disclosed, set minds at ease and allows the meeting to go forward. These in person closing protocols include but are not limited to:
-Written confirmation from both client(s) and Kriss Law/Atlantic representative that there has been no known exposure to the virus, overseas travel within 45 days, and no current symptoms indicative of COVID-19;
-For closings conducted in a client's home, client(s) agrees to sanitize the signing surface prior to our arrival, all parties agree to be no less than 7 feet apart at all times during the meeting, all parties agree to wear masks and rubber gloves if possible, and both the Kriss Law/Atlantic representative and client(s) agree to wash their hands with warm, soapy water or use hand sanitizer prior to the commencement of the signing;
-To ensure the least contact, we are requiring all clients to provide copies of their identification electronically prior to the closing;
-For closings conducted in any Kriss Law/Atlantic office, we require client(s) to wash their hands with warm, soapy water prior to entering the closing area, require a distance between parties of no less than 7 feet, and encourage the use of rubber gloves and/or masks if possible. Conversely, all Kriss Law/Atlantic offices have been fully sanitized in the past two weeks and we will always disinfect the closing surface prior to the outset of the closing;
-For closings taking place at offices other than our own, the Kriss Law/Atlantic representative will wash their hands with warm, soapy water prior to entering the closing area, will wear rubber gloves and a mask if possible, will sanitize the closing surface prior to the signing, and will maintain a distance of at least 7 feet from all parties to the transaction.
*The above listed protocols are necessary in those jurisdictions where E-Notarization, or RON's, are not permitted. While there is proposed legislation in many jurisdictions, including our home State of Massachusetts, requesting the allowance of closings to occur electronically at least temporarily during the pandemic, government officials certainly have more pressing matters on their hands currently. However, the initiatives are being considered and any updates related thereto will be provided when available. Upon request, we are happy to provide a list of jurisdictions that do currently allow E-Notarization/RON's.
*In many jurisdictions, several of the government offices key to the closing process--Registries of Deeds, town/city clerks that issue Municipal Lien Certificates or tax bills, fire inspection services, etc.--have closed or are prohibiting in-person visits from non-employee third parties. These limitations have certainly caused stress and confusion to those in the real estate industry. However, we are happy to report that for the most part, solutions to many of the issues caused by the closures have been quick to materialize:
-Title work has continued to be completed both electronically and via limited in-person access to land records. While there are government offices throughout the country that are closed and do not offer online access to land records, luckily, these situations, at this juncture, are few. If you have concerns regarding the availability of title in a certain area, please let us know, we are doing our best to keep comprehensive lists of closures and limited access;
-In all of the craziness of the past week, the topic we have fielded the most questions on is smoke detector/fire inspections in jurisdictions that require them pre-closing. In another positive development, we have seen quick governmental work that is allowing closings to move forward when subject municipalities are not conducting smoke inspections. With this said, we at Kriss Law/Atlantic are evaluating this issue on a transaction-by-transaction basis. In many states where a closing can now temporarily occur without a smoke certification, liability related to any fallout due to having the improper level of smoke detector coverage, or faulty devices, is shifted to buyer. This is a serious development, one that also requires lender agreement if applicable, a possible holdback, and something that should be discussed at length with buyer before proceeding;
-In regard to tax and other municipal information, we are seeing very little difference in obtaining what is needed for closings. As a high percentage of municipal information has been obtainable online for some time, for now, this portion of the process appears to be primarily unaffected;
-Another frequently asked question since the outbreak, especially in states where it is normally prohibited, is related to GAP insurance. In another positive trend during this past week, all of the title insurers with whom we work have agreed to allow the coverage, regardless of state, when necessary. Simply, GAP insurance allows a closing to occur, funds to change hands, and lender, seller, and buyer to be protected against any intervening liens or encumbrances that may arise during a period from closing to recording where state offices may be closed and recording impossible.
While the above news is mostly positive, please check back with us often regarding closures and the ability to complete transactions in different areas.
*In jurisdictions in which we prepare or alter the Purchase and Sale Agreement, we are continuing to include a clause providing for buyer, seller, and lender protection related to any COVID-19 delays. It is our opinion that something similar should be used in all real estate contracts for the time being. In that light, we continue to amend our clause to address virus-related issues as they evolve.
*We have and will continue to have open dialogues with the lenders across the county with whom we work related to the handling of rate locks in the event of a significant shutdown. As those discussion evolve, we will be happy to answer any questions related thereto.
*Like so many of you, we are hearing continual rumors of state-by state or national shutdowns. We are committed to dealing only with information that is coming directly from our state and/or Federal governmental officials. With that said, should the time come when those officials order more stringent shelter in place guidelines, we at Kriss Law/Atlantic will fully comply. Even if this means that closings and settlements cease for a time, we will still continue to handle contracts and produce title and any other documents that are not affected by a more comprehensive order. Of course, during this time, our attorneys and staff will be available to discuss pending transactions with all clients. On a related note, from what we have seen thus far and using Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont's Order as an example, it appears that in an effort to keep the economy moving, there is a push to exempt legal transactions such as purchases and refinances from the business that is halted. Like all other aspects of the current situation, we will keep you updated as to this line of action as well.
For those of you who have relied on Kriss Law/Atlantic as your title provider for many years, we are here for you during this trying time. We'll do our best to continue to safely get your transactions closed, to pass on any updated industry information as it arises, and will be available to talk you through any of the many business intricacies we are dealing with currently.
Not only are we in uncharted territory, but the situation is constantly evolving. While in a time like this work is secondary to the health and well-being of our loved ones, let us help you deal with the business-related anxiety.
We urge you to follow all suggested health best practices during this time and make the most informed decisions possible.
Please consult our website and social media feeds often for industry updates related to the outbreak.
We appreciate your anticipated patience during this time. This will pass and life will be back to normal before you know it. Until then, we'll get through it together.
Stay safe and stay at home!!
-Your Friends At Kriss Law/Atlantic