N.Y. real estate agents, home inspectors, appraisers deemed essential

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New York's Real estate agents, home inspectors and residential appraisers are now considered "essential employees," according to the Empire State Development agency.

The change comes after real estate agents implored the state to amend their designation as "non-essential" amid the COVID-19 crisis. This means that after a week and a half hiatus real estate agents will once again be able to give clients tours of residential and commercial properties on the market.

"Our industry has been given a great responsibility in this time of crisis to help meet the needs of New York's residential and commercial property buyers and owners, and the overall welfare of the local and state economy," said Jennifer Stevenson, president of the New York State Association of Realtors. "But our priority must be to the safety of our customers, clients and indeed for ourselves, as we all continue to practice socially responsible distancing that is helping to flatten the curve during this national health crisis. Our mantra must be 'safety first, work second.'"

But not all real estate agents agree with the move.

Broker Brian Brosen, the co-owner of The Capital Team at eXp Realty, said it's too soon.

"I don't think we should have the all clear to go back into houses," Brosen said. "They won't let our kids back into school yet, why are they letting us do this?"

Brosen wrote letters to both NYSAR and the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, which he also posted on social media.

"My fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in the best interest of another party. In this unprecedented and unsettling time, I believe that involves looking out for the greater good of my fellow man, not profits and dollars and cents," Brosen wrote.

A statement from the ESD agency on Wednesday instructed real estate salespeople, inspectors and appraisers to "continue to comply with the guidance and directives for maintaining a clean and safe work environment issued by the Department of Health and every business, even if essential, is strongly urged to maintain social distance to the extent possible."

Back-office real estate work is also deemed essential, but the agency asked staff to "utilize telecommuting or work from home procedures to the maximum extent possible."

Local real estate agent Nellie Ackerman-Vellano said the guidance is unclear and she doesn't want to get left behind. Real estate agents are independent contractors, free to make their own choices about how they run their businesses, but it might put agents who choose not to do live showings at a disadvantage to those who do.

"How do we ensure the clients we bring into homes are safe?," Ackerman-Vellano said. "How do we protect ourselves? Are we going to be issued PPE (personal protective equipment)? Are we going to require our clients to wear gloves and masks? Are we going to take their temperatures? I want to work, it's not that I don't want to do it, it's that I don't want to do it right now, during a national pandemic."

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