WEST CHESTER—Real estate professionals in Pennsylvania got the green light Tuesday to conduct limited business-related activities.
“We continue to review our policies and the scientific data to determine the safest approach for all activities in the commonwealth,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “While at this point more than two-thirds of the state will be in the yellow phase of the state’s reopening plan by Friday, May 22, we are still evaluating how industries may be able to conduct business appropriately in red phase counties, including the real estate industry.
Since the coronavirus began early in April, local realtors have been pushing lawmakers to be considered an essential business. Previously, businesses and employees in the real estate industry were permitted to conduct limited in-person activities in counties in the yellow phase of the commonwealth’s phased reopening plan.
On Monday, state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157th, of Schuylkill, led an initiative to clarify Pennsylvania House and Senate Democrats’ preferences for resuming real estate services throughout the commonwealth in a letter addressed to Gov. Tom Wolf.
“I understand that shelter is essential, and many Pennsylvanians’ leases may be about to end, or they were in the process of moving before the statewide stay-at-home order took effect,” Shusterman said. “In order to safely resume these services, proper protections need to be in place so we can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while preserving the health of both customers and real estate employees."
Matt Fetick, a Kennett Square real estate professional, said realtors were being hampered to provide essential services to people who needed housing.
"There's been a lot of demand, but we haven't been able to do any real estate services," Fetick said. "It's really crippling. There are landlords who need the rental income to pay mortgages and we can't get the work done. There are seniors retiring and moving into assisting, but we aren't allowed to help them."
Until now, Pennsylvania was the only state to continue to call real estate activity “nonessential” during the coronavirus pandemic and restrict in-person transactions for a majority of residents.
The real estate guidance requires businesses and employees to follow all applicable provisions of the guidance for businesses permitted to operate. During the COVID-19 disaster emergency. The provisions require that every person present at a work site, business location, or property offered for sale, wear masks or face coverings, and provisions requiring the establishment of protocols for execution upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.
According to Wolf's amendment, all in-person activities must be scheduled and limited to no more than the real estate professional and two people inside a property at any time, exercising appropriate social distancing.
Businesses and employees are also encouraged to provide sellers with relevant safety information and protocols for cleaning and sanitizing properties; utilize electronic marketing as much as possible; provide all individuals at an in-person activity with a verbal health screening; stagger scheduling of property showings and avoid physical contact with the property by staging in advance.
“This industry impacts numerous types of businesses and Pennsylvania homebuyers who are in the process of, or considering, purchasing a home," Wolf said. "It’s critical that these businesses, regardless of whether they are in red phase or yellow phase counties, strictly adhere to all appropriate guidelines and guidance,” Governor Wolf said.
Real estate professionals have been relying on virtual tours of properties to close sales, which have dropped during the pandemic. Falling mortgage rates have made the housing market lucrative. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage on Tuesday was 3.52 percent. The average 15-year fixed-mortgage rate is 2.93 percent.