Ongoing COVID Operational Updates

Ongoing COVID Operational Updates

Updates as of May 19, 2020

 

EMEA/APAC

Below is an update to our last communication. 

Moving Services

  • Partner Capacity: Several countries are easing lock down restrictions. However, we continue to experience reduced capacity and rate increases across the globe to air, ocean, road and rail shipments. All planned and scheduled packing, delivery and transport services will continue to be performed, whilst remaining compliant with local government guidelines. A number of countries have also suspended the travel of certain nationalities, hence limiting the movement of their goods. Deloitte is maintaining an interactive map with global updates that you may find useful, and Sterling Lexicon has also compiled this information into an operational report which we are updating regularly.

Click here to see an operational report detailing restrictions by country.

  • Freight: As major airlines continue to cancel flights or indeed stand-down large proportions of their fleets, and the shipping industry is experiencing container displacement, Sterling Lexicon expects to see significant shortages in capacity, resulting in an extension to the usual published door-to-door transit times and an increase in the cost of freight.
  • Customs Clearance: Some countries are experiencing customs clearance delays due to additional vigilance, mandatory inspections and staffing shortages. Shipments may incur (air)port storage charges as a result.

Relocation Services

  • Home Search (temporary and permanent): Sterling Lexicon’s consultants continue to source and assess local properties for our clients. In a limited number of locations, we are now able to provide accompanied tours, but only under very strict social distancing guidelines. We continue to support your assignees via Desktop Home Search and virtual viewings where letting agents have designated the appropriate resource. There are of course risks associated with a remote property selection, such as cleanliness, lack of check-in and assignee expectations, and these risks will need to be balanced with the assignee’s and business’ needs.
  • Immigration Services: We will continue to send out our immigration country updates as legislation changes occur. We are experiencing significant disruptions in the visa issuance process and urge travelers to check prior to booking any travel.


Updates as of May 18, 2020

 

Americas

The specifics outlined below highlight the actions that have been taken to ensure that every mobility service is being provided to transferees and assignees, though many procedures have been modified, and solutions and options have been implemented so that relocations can continue.

In situations where there is face-to-face contact, every precaution is being taken to ensure employees are comfortable and confident that there is a solution that works and fits their desired level of comfort with social distancing requirements.

Like most companies, our suppliers have instituted work from home policies for their employees. This has not affected our service delivery as coordinators are still able to communicate with customers, relocation management companies and on-the-ground personnel.

With few exceptions, on-the-ground personnel have been able to continue to deliver services to assignees. Due to added company sanitation requirements (driven by CDC/WHO recommendations) we are finding that services may take longer than normal to complete.
With the increased discussions on opening up countries and states, we are getting many proactive plans from our suppliers about how different phases of the openings will affect them and how they will be able to open services and increase personnel based on the expected timelines. Most of these phases are very fluid based on the effectiveness of the opening process.
While there is an increased easing of Stay at Home restrictions, they are not uniform by country or even state. Our services have been available through lock downs; the easing of restriction will increase the number of customers that will use them.

To date we have met all service requirements, and we have no services canceled due to service providers. However, we are starting to see some increases in typical service timelines at a file level.

 

Real Estate Services

  • Home Sale
    • Many states have loosened restrictions on real estate open houses.
  • Home Purchase
    • Many states have loosened restrictions on real estate open houses. Buyers are encouraged to continue to practice caution and maintain social distancing guidelines.
  • Appraisal Services
    • Pennsylvania: Effective May 8, in-person real estate activities can be performed by real estate agents, appraisers, inspectors, title companies and notaries (all participants must wear gloves, and foot coverings) for the following residential real estate transactions:
      • Existing homes which were under contract prior to March 18, 2020.
      • New construction homes which were under contract that provides for closing and delivery on or after March 18,2020.
      • Where a buyer can demonstrate prior to March 18, 2020 they had entered an agreement to sell their prior residence or submitted a notice to their landlord to vacate a rental property serving as their residence.
      • Properties located in the “yellow phase” of reopening, which are all counties in the north central and northwest part of the state. (Eastern and southern counties remain under Stay at Home orders)
  • Inspection Services
    • Same update as Appraisal Services.
  • Mortgage Services
    • Per the Mortgage Bankers Association, purchase mortgage applications rose 11% the week ending May 8 from the prior week, indicating some buyers may be entering the market to take advantage of record low mortgage rates. States with the biggest increases include New York, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, California, and North Carolina. This coincides with a study by LendingTree and Google showing online searches for “homes for sale” increased 54% in April from their 2020 lows (based on the evaluation of 50 metro areas). The metros that saw the largest increase were Tucson, AZ; Rochester, NY and Jacksonville, FL. Despite these positive indicators, purchase mortgage applications were still down 12% in April from the same time last year.
    • Some lenders have begun to pause/limit originating cash-out refinances, jumbo refinances and home equity lines of credit due to concerns and uncertainty about the economic impact of COVID-19 on things such as borrowers’ ability to repay (i.e. rising unemployment) and property values.
  • Title and Closing Services
    • Same as appraisal services.

Moving Services

Over the last couple months, we have seen a large percentage of transferees/assignees not commit to dates for initiating a move. As states begin to open, we expect to see an influx of moves commencing.

 

Destination Services

  • We continue to receive reports of re-opening of business activities, including the following in key markets:
    • China: Majority of compounds have lifted or eased restrictions allowing resumption of home searches. Due to decrease in demand, there is more flexibility in rental rates. Some schools are also re-opening campuses for final grades and upper years. Reopening of primary and kindergarten are still TBD
    • Germany agreed in principle with Austria, France and Switzerland to coordinate the reopening of mutual borders by June 15.
    • UK: Nonessential public buildings remain closed, but airports remain open with restricted flights. Home search agents are now permitted to visit homes in order to take photos/videos to market properties; virtual viewings are still encouraged. Schools remain closed.
  • Latin American countries (except Argentina, with some reopening) and some Asian Pacific countries (e.g. Malaysia, Japan) have extended regulations.
  • Latin American destination service providers are operating on reduced working hour schedules.
    Although we continue to see countries starting to re-open for local business, the international travel bans are largely impacting destination services as transferees/assignees can’t travel to host destinations. Suppliers continue to deliver virtual services and support when/where applicable
  • For those transferees/assignees that are already at their host location, home search via virtual support continues to be the best option and creative solutions continue to come up as needed (e.g. area tour convoy- (riding in different cars to do area tours).

 

Temporary Living

With a reduction in bookings, many suppliers are reducing minimum stay and notice to vacate criteria.

 

Furniture Rental

  • UK locations are open for business.
  • The only remaining closures are in the Americas
    • Ecuador
    • Bolivia
    • Dominican Republic

 

Immigration

No change since last update.

 

Language and Cross-cultural Support

No change since last update.

 

Spouse/Partner Support

We are offering educational webinars to support spouses and partners seeking for jobs during these times. Please let me know if you would like more information.

 

Auto Leasing

No change since last update.

 


Updates as of May 5, 2020

 

EMEA/APAC

 

Real Estate Services

  • Home Sale
    No change since last update.
  • Home Purchase
    No change since last update.
  • Appraisal Services
    No change since last update.
  • Inspection Services
    No change since last update.
  • Mortgage Services
    No change since last update.
  • Title and Closing Services
    No change since last update.

 

Moving Services

No change since last update.

 

Destination Services

  • Some countries have started to ease restrictions and reopen for some business activities, allowing suppliers to deliver some accompanied services, including:
    • USA
    • UAE
    • Italy
    • Vietnam
    • China
    • Hong Kong
    • Korea
    • Macau
    • Taiwan
  • Latin American countries continue to follow curfews and stay at home restrictions.
  • Suppliers continue to offer services while following service delivery guidelines following local authorities’ guidance to ensure the safety of transferees/assignees and employees.

 

Temporary Living

No change since last update.

 

Furniture Rental

Furniture rental closures have leveled off and many locations are now reopening to varying levels. These changes are too detailed to include in this communication format, but specific updates can be provided upon request.

 

Immigration

No change since last update.

 

Language and Cross-Cultural Support

No change since last update.

 

Spouse/Partner Support

No change since last update.

 

Auto Leasing

No change since last update.

 


Updates as of April 27, 2020

 

Americas

 

Real Estate Services

 

  • Home Sale
    • No change since last update.
  • Home Purchase
    • No change since last update.
  • Appraisal Services
    • List Create Dates: We are starting to see increased times for our appraisal management companies (AMCs) to provide appraiser lists. This is in part due to COVID-19 related concerns, but also due to relocation appraisals competing with increased mortgage appraisal volume due to refinances. Average list create time in March was 13.7 hours, which is higher than our year-to-date average of 8.9 hours and 7.3 hours for the last 12 months.
    • Vermont: Vermont recently amended their order to permit services operating with a single worker (such as appraisers, inspectors, realtors, municipal clerks, attorneys, etc.) to operate if they can comply with the mandatory health and safety requirements of no more than two people (service provider and client) present at one time.
  • Inspection Services
    • Vermont: Vermont recently amended their order to permit services operating with a single worker (such as appraisers, inspectors, realtors, municipal clerks, attorneys, etc.) to operate if they can comply with the mandatory health and safety requirements of no more than two people (service provider and client) present at one time.
  • Mortgage Services
    • No change since last update.
  • Title and Closing Services
    • No change since last update.

 

Moving Services

No change since last update.

 

Destination Services

  • Partial billing is becoming more common in the United States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and some Latin American countries.
  • Destination services providers (DSPs) in India are now supporting other services, such as facility management, supporting frontline services such as hospitals, and supporting assignees with needs such as groceries, due to very strict restrictions.
  • Remote/virtual services continue to be offered across the world.

Temporary Living

No change since last update.

 

Furniture Rental

Furniture rental closures have leveled off and many locations are now reopening to varying levels. These changes are too detailed to include in this communication format, but specific updates can be provided upon request.

 

Immigration

No change since last update.

 

Language and Cross-cultural Support

No change since last update.

 

Spouse/Partner Support

No change since last update.

 

Auto Leasing

No change since last update.


 


Updates as of April 20, 2020

 

Americas

 

Real Estate Services

  • Home Sale
    • Technology search platforms have stated that virtual tour demand as increased from .5% of houses to over 33%. The Sterling Lexicon Real Estate Network is well positioned to support this increase and is marketing that capability to buyers.
    • Dr. Lawrence Yun at the National Association of Realtors predicts that after a third/fourth quarter rebound, sales may end up only 5-10% lower than 2019 numbers.
  • Home Purchase
    • In the first two weeks of April, some major markets saw new listings drop year-over-year between 37 and 72%.
  • Appraisal Services
    • Most states in the U.S. are still considering appraisers as essential workers so they can continue to perform interior inspections for appraisals; however, recently, Vermont and Pennsylvania have come out and specifically told appraisers they are non-essential workers and cannot perform physical inspections. If/when an appraisal is ordered in these states, the appraisal management companies will reach out for approval to conduct a virtual inspection of the property.
  • Inspection Services
    • Pennsylvania and Vermont have ordered all in-person real estate related activities, including inspections, to stop.
    • Pennsylvania is advising that homes that were not under contract for resale by March 16 cannot be physically inspected unless vacant, though even with vacancy there are challenges finding appraisers and inspectors to go out.
    • Vermont did release a clarification that appraisers, realtors and inspectors are not able to conduct site visits. Only remote work is permitted (listing appointments virtually, appraisals via desktop, eliminating physical property inspections).

 

Mortgage Services

No change since last update.

 

Title and Closing Services

No change since last update.

 

Moving Services

No change since last update.

 

Destination Services

  • We are starting to see reopening of some social activities in some countries heavily impacted by COVID-19, including Italy, mainland China, Spain and Switzerland.
  • Latin American countries’ quarantine/curfews and travel bans remain in majority of countries in the region.
  • Some suppliers reported changing to partial billing instead of waiting for the completion of programs to support their local consultants and maintain engagement.

 

Temporary Living

  • Suppliers with a long-term lease model are extending the time in between guests to 72-96 hours, instead of the industry standard of 24-48 hours. This change allows suppliers to follow a more thorough cleaning protocol in between guests.
  • Amenities or common places such as pools, gyms and coffee bars continue to be closed within properties to prevent virus spread.
  • Global suppliers reported changing to monthly billing to allocate revenue on a monthly basis.

 

Furniture Rental

No change since last update.

 

Immigration

No change since last update.

 

Language and Cross-cultural Training

No change since last update.

 

Spouse/Partner Support

No change since last update.

 

Auto Leasing

No change since last update.

 


Updates as of April 13, 2020

 

Americas

 

Real Estate Services

  • Home Sale
    • Feedback from brokers in major markets is that the spring retail listings are down 25-35%.
      • Spring market expected to become a summer market.
    • Reduced spring market should preserve value of homes currently on the market.
      There is an increase in virtual FaceTime agent showings, and an increase in “sight unseen” offers.
    • Vacant homes continue to be a popular choice for buyers.
      • Where we can, we are advertising home is vacant.
      • Where there is availability in a market, we are cleaning and advertising “disinfected after each showing”.
    • We see some indications that condominiums and especially high rises are experiencing even slower activity due to potential concerns about health and exposure to other tenants.
  • Home Purchase
    • No change since last update.
  • Appraisal Services
    • No change since last update.
  • Inspection Services
    • We are seeing an increase in requests from transferees/assignees for in-home inspections to be placed on hold, rescheduled for later months.
  • Mortgage Services
    • Rate Locks: Some lenders are delaying locking interest rates in states with shelter-in-place/stay-at home orders until closer to closing, primarily due to potential COVID-19 related delays. Additionally, some lenders are providing customers with lender-paid credits to cover extended rate lock costs and/or financial impacts of delayed rate locks due to market fluctuations. (Note: Programs vary by lender.)
    • Servicing: Many lenders are starting to see an increased volume of phone calls from customers asking about payment options, including forbearance. This is largely due to the record unemployment claims due to COVID-19.
  • Title and Closing Services
    • No change since last update.

Moving Services

  • Van lines with peak season rates have eliminated them for this year.
    To allow for social distancing, we have seen some movers reduce the size of their crews. This may add time for packing, loading and delivery. Any affected transferees/assignees will be notified.
  • Many movers have eliminated overtime rates for weekend moves.
  • High rise buildings are limiting access by non-residents.
  • In the past week, we have seen an increase in rush moves.

Destination Services

No change since last update.

Temporary Living

  • Suppliers continue to support us and our clients by trying to negotiate fees down for cancellation and/or date changes, while continuing to offer inventory for those requiring corporate housing support.
  • Through our suppliers’ support negotiating with properties, we have been able to save our clients over $120,000 due to reservation cancellation.

Furniture Rental

US-based furniture rental suspensions now include Detroit, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge.

Immigration

No change since last update.

Language and Cross-cultural Support

No change since last update.

Spouse/Partner Support

No change since last update.

Auto Leasing

No change since last update.


 

Updates as of April 6, 2020

 

Real Estate Services

Home Sale

  • Most general open houses have been put on hold or canceled.
  • Increase in virtual showings.
  • Vacant inventory homes are not affected.
    • We recommend a thorough “COVID cleaning” followed by labeling on listing of cleaned vacant home.
  • There has been a 24% drop in purchase mortgage applications; we expect listing times to increase.

Home Purchase

  • We expect a reduction in available homes due to economic conditions and seller reluctance to open their homes to buyers.

Appraisal Services

  • Appraisal management companies are starting to see appraisers forecasting down based on expected negative impact on the real estate market.
  • In locations where the customer or the appraiser do not allow home entry we can (with client approval) do the following:
    • Virtual, Facetime/Skype video tours of the interior of home
    • Desktop appraisals (market value, not anticipated sales price)
    • Broker marker analysis
  • From a network perspective, overall, transactions having been proceeding with minimal disruptions. Appraisal turn-times are still within normal ranges (excluding any delays by the transferee/assignee) as are appraisal variances. To date, it has been business as usual.

Inspection Services

  • All exterior home inspections are conducted as normal.
  • There are no virtual alternatives to internal home inspections. Should a transferee/assignee not allow, the inspections would need to be put on hold.
    • If approved, inspections could be done post move-out, with a hold at equity.
  • From a network perspective, overall, transactions having been proceeding with minimal disruptions. Inspection turn-times are still within normal ranges (excluding any delays by the transferee/assignee). To date, it has been business as usual.

Mortgage Services

  • Lending restrictions are tightening due to the high unemployment rate.
  • Conventional (FNMA/FHLMC), Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans and Veterans Administration (VA) loans are becoming only available products (all government-backed); less options as private investors disappear.
  • Jumbo Loans: Non-bank lenders are putting a pause on jumbo lending; however, banks who offer mortgages are still originating jumbo mortgages (for now).
    • Sterling Lexicon Lender Network Jumbo Availability: TIAA Bank (YES); Wells Fargo (YES); Quicken Loans (NO)

Title and Closing Services

  • In locations in which title/closing services are not considered essential (e.g. Pennsylvania), COVID-19 Contract Addendums are being issued identifying responsibility of individuals accessing property, 30-day auto extension of close date due to COVID-19, and how buyer and seller will handle costs associated with the delays.
  • In locations in which land records are open and/or closed to the public, but still accepting documents for recording, e-recording is available and online title searches can be performed; closings are expected to continue, although delays should be expected as outlined above. (Majority of locations)
  • In locations in which land records are closed and not accepting documents for recording, e-recording is not available, and/or online title searches are not available. Closings may still take place with the property gap insurance in place by the title underwriter. As such, gap indemnities may be required by the title underwriter to be executed by sellers to certify there are no known title defects, liens, encumbrances, adverse claims or other matters appear after the closing date but prior to the actual document recording date. In many cases, Sterling Lexicon is the seller and may be required to execute a gap indemnity. The ability to provide accurate equity calculations in these locations will also be difficult. These are being addressed on a case-by-case basis with clients to determine how to manage. While there are inherent risks, the alternative is to not close the transaction, where the cost could outweigh the risk. (Minority of Locations)

Moving Services

  • All surveys are conducted virtually.
  • E-signing of documents is encouraged, and we are requiring suppliers to use single-use pens.
  • Our in-home teams are following these specialized sanitation requirements:
    • Six-foot distancing at all times except when needed to carry an item
    • Requested bathroom/cleaning station dedicated to only the crew
    • Health kits brought to residence
      • Gloves
      • Hand sanitizer
      • Cleaning wipes
      • Anti-bacterial soaps

Destination Services

  • Destination services have largely transitioned to virtual service delivery due to precautionary actions and/or local requirements. Transferees/assignees can expect:
    • Virtual meet-and-greets
    • Online service portal access
    • Apps to allow move in/out walk-throughs to be completed properly
    • Expanded virtual connectivity options
    • Virtual area and property tours
    • Special forms allowing ability to select properties “sight unseen” (while not a recommended practice, this allows transferees/assignees to secure housing and release employer from any responsibility if property is not what was expected)
    • Online/virtual settling-in resources and guides
  • Suppliers are tailoring and implementing solutions for transferees/assignees as challenges are identified.
    • Isolation program support is being offered, which includes assistance with purchasing groceries, guidance on medical facilities and phone support for immediate questions.

Temporary Living

  • We currently have no issues sourcing available properties or hotels.
  • While we have not had anyone affected, we do expect to see an increase in hotel closures as local municipalities increase travel restrictions.
  • There is an increase in customers cancelling maid service to limit outside exposure.
  •  We are focused on reducing or eliminating charges for cancellations of prior bookings.
  • Cleaning standards for temporary living providers meet the sanitation and disease standards set by the CDC and WHO. This includes:
    • Gloves, goggles and masks (whenever possible) worn by staff entering units
    • Use of sanitizing disinfectants on all high-touch surfaces in units prior to guest check-in and maid service
    • Linens washed with commercial grade products and equipment
    • More frequent cleaning of lobbies and common areas outside of unit
    • Enhanced cleaning processes of furniture prior to guest taking occupancy

Furniture Rental

  • Service suspended in 46 countries and New York City.

Immigration

  • Restrictions and/or concessions are being imposed around the globe in an effort to contain COVID-19.
  • Employers allowing employees to work from home may need to complete additional labor law requirements, such as employment contract amendment.
    • For the US, suspensions of in-person interviews appointments at local USCIS offices at least until May 3, 2020

Language and Cross-Cultural Support

  • Transitioned to virtual only.

Spouse/Partner Support

  • Transitioned to virtual only.

Auto Leasing

  • Available in over 100 countries and remains operational where not restricted by government.

For any questions about impacts to your business or your transferees/assignees, please contact your account manager.

Sterling Lexicon is here for you during and after the crisis. We understand that many of our customers are adjusting business activities during the next 6-8 weeks and will have new needs and priorities. Rest assured that we are here to help you navigate these changes.

We hope you and everyone in your organization is safe.

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