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Are Real Estate Closings “Essential Business”? 

By Melanie Niblett 

This post was written at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, 2020.  We believe that it was accurate and up to date as of that time. However, because of the rapid, daily changes in the political, business, and legal climates, we cannot guarantee the post’s currentness.  

As governmental entities are limiting the gathering of people, it has become more and more important to understand what is an “essential business.”  As it relates to real estate, we’ve received several questions about whether real estate closings can go forward.  

Where there is a definition of “essential business” in a local jurisdiction, that definition probably controls.  In the biggest majority of jurisdictions where we do closings, the local definitions include “professional services,” which would include real estate attorneys and, therefore, real estate closings.  

Where there is a lack of definitions, but still a limitation of business restricted to only those that are “essential,” we believe the Federal guidelines probably apply.  

The text of those guidelines are here.

An excerpt from the Department of Homeland Security guidance is as follows:

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) executes the Secretary of Homeland Security’s responsibilities as assigned under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to provide strategic guidance, promote a national unity of effort, and coordinate the overall federal effort to ensure the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure.  CISA uses trusted partnerships with both the public and private sectors to deliver infrastructure resilience assistance and guidance to a broad range of partners.  

In accordance with this mandate, and in collaboration with other federal agencies and the private sector, CISA developed an initial list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help State and local officials as they work to protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.  The list can also inform critical infrastructure community decision-making to determine the sectors, sub-sectors, segments, or critical functions that should continue normal operations, appropriately modified to account for Centers for Disease Control (CDC) workforce and customer protection guidance.  

The initial list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce for the financial services sector includes “clearing and settlement services.”  We interpret this to include real estate closing transactions.  

Smith, Welch, Webb & White, LLC is committed to remaining open to handle your real estate transactions at one of our 6 offices located in Stockbridge, McDonough, Jackson, Griffin, Barnesville, and Peachtree City for as long as we can while still remaining in compliance with the law and being responsible citizens.  For the duration of the emergency in our communities, we will remain dedicated to following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as State and local officials to maintain safe and efficient real estate closing services.

We know that these are uncertain and scary times for many people.  It is our hope that posts, like these, meant to inform, will help ease some of the stress.  As always, please stay safe and let us know if we can help in any way.  

We are making this post to inform as much as possible.  It is not our intent to give legal advice or to create an attorney/client relationship.  If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney. If you have questions about your particular situation, please give us a call, send us an email, or request a video conference. We’ll be happy to assist.