Collecting Unemployment as a Real Estate Agent in the Age of Coronavirus
Millions of Americans have been impacted by COVID-19, if not health-wise, then economically (and, in some cases, sadly both). Many industries have been suffering, forced to close their doors, furlough employees, and wait and see how these events will continue to unfold. And, in households where providers are self-employed—a demographic that’s often overlooked in these situations—it can be tricky to determine if and how you’d be eligible for unemployment benefits. Though some real estate professionals across the country may be getting by okay in these times, others may be finding it very challenging to make ends meet. The good news is that in addition to the stimulus check, you may be eligible for unemployment.
But, what does this mean and how can you go about it? Are you supposed to halt all business that can potentially grant you more than an unemployment check would, or should you cut your losses and apply while you still can?
Hopefully, these tips will help give you some clarity:
Are Real Estate Agents Eligible for Unemployment?
In a self-employed or an independent contractor profession, real estate agents may not be the only ones wondering whether or not they are eligible for unemployment. But, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) has pledged $2 trillion dollars to help stimulate the economy. This entails not only that $1,200 stimulus check (which you’re eligible for if ) but the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PAU) also expands unemployment benefits to contractors and others who may not normally qualify.
According to a comprehensive FAQ written up by NAR, at this time, these who are self-employed or an independent contractor can apply for full or partial unemployment. To qualify, you must:
- NOT eligible for regular compensation benefits or extended benefits under state or federal law; AND
- Can self-certify that he or she is able to work, but who is unable to work due to COVID-19 such as: movement restrictions, employment closures, medical diagnoses, and quarantines. (See Question 8 below for details.)
Of course, there are some other stipulations. For instance, if you are able to telework with pay, then you will not be eligible. (Though, if you’re only able to work part-time online, then you may be qualified for partial unemployment.)
So, are you eligible for unemployment as a real estate agent, then? While we want to say that most likely the answer is “yes” under these new terms, it really depends on where you work, your state, and how you’re defined as a worker. Ultimately, it’s up to your state to determine whether or not you as an individual are eligible.
How to Apply for Unemployment
If you’re still unsure as to whether or not you’re eligible for unemployment as a real estate agent, the best way to find out is simply by applying and seeing what the results are. Each state will have their own process for applying. To start, you can visit Careeronestop.org, or search for the appropriate web page by typing the name of your state in Google along with “apply for unemployment.” Keep in mind that unemployment offices are getting inundated with unemployment requests. Therefore, if you can manage to do the application online, you may find it more efficient than doing it over the phone, where there will be extensive wait times.
How Much Will I Get and When Will I Receive My Check?
So, the big question is how much will you get for unemployment?
Real estate agents often are not on a salary, so it’s confusing to know how much you’d be eligible for. Usually, this number may be determined by your previous tax returns and what is authorized by your state. Typically, once this number is determined, you’ll get an extra $600 a week on top of that, for a maximum of 39 weeks as per the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PAU) terms.
If for some reason you are not eligible or you need more time to go through the application, the National Association of Realtors also has reserves set aside in order to help out Realtor members in need, according to HousingWire.
Can I Still Accept Work, Especially If I’m Considered Essential?
So, let’s say you could really use those unemployment checks now, but you don’t want to stop working completely. You also may not be able to completely stop, because your state has deemed your profession to be “essential”. Or, perhaps you have clients that were in the midst of closing on a deal, but after this, you won’t have any income for a while due to the situation.
Don’t worry—you can apply for unemployment. In fact, most unemployment applications want some kind of proof that you’re still persuing work in order to have the benefits released, anyway (but, this isn’t so strict at the moment). Therefore, you can still be doing the best you can to bring in leads while you’re getting unemployment checks. However, the amount you earn may be impacted by how much you’re still able to make.
What if I’m a Broker?
If you’re a broker and your agents are independent contractors, then you/your brokerage can qualify for unemployment checks as well. If your agents are employees, then you will need to report this information as you are obligated to (and, because you also likely pay unemployment tax). Aside from this, brokers have the option to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) to keep business afloat and continue paying wages to contractors (if they so choose).
If you have this loan, then you likely wouldn’t qualify for unemployment, too (as both programs serve the same purpose), and neither would your employees as long as you are able to pay them. Independent contractors who are registered as an LLC would be able to apply for one of these loans under PUA as well, as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, these are hard times for everyone. Although applying for unemployment and receiving unemployment seems to be pretty straightforward for most people who work as employees for one company, it’s definitely more challenging to understand for self-employed people or independent contractors—in other words, you. Not all state programs are the same, so the best thing to do is ask around for tips on applying for unemployment, and to contact the Department of Labor in your state for information.
Remember: there’s nothing to be ashamed about. We all need help getting through this scary time, one way or another. And, if you are one of the fortunate ones now, see what you can do to help fellow real estate agents in need.