On May 19, the Wolf administration issued new statewide real estate guidance that applies to all real estate transactions in Pennsylvania. Though it’s definitely not “business as usual” for Realtors®, this new guidance opens up the industry with uniform rules across all markets and eliminates much of the confusing and contradictory information that had been put out in previous documents. Specifically, this completely eliminates the Department of State memo from April 28 and all the confusion it created.
So let’s get to it:
Under these rules, in-person services can be provided under the same rules in red-phase counties as in yellow-phase counties. To be clear, if a thing can be done it can be done anywhere in the state. If a thing can’t be done, it can’t be done anywhere in the state.
Once counties move to green, many of the restrictions listed below will no longer be required… but since that hasn’t happened yet, those rules are still being drafted, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, OK?
Who is covered?
The guidance applies to “all businesses in the real estate industry, which includes real estate professionals, appraisers, notaries, title companies, settlement service providers, escrow officers, home inspectors, mortgage loan originators, processors, and underwriters, and other necessary office personnel including IT professionals and back office staff necessary to maintain office operations.”
To the extent that prior guidance had a much more limited list of occupations, this does make it clear that any business or personnel that are considered part of the industry are allowed to provide in-person services. It is still a little hazy whether applies to other service providers that interact with real estate transactions. For example, a photographer who takes pictures of videos of listings is in the commercial photography business, not the real estate business. PAR is still looking to get additional clarity on this issue.
All real estate?
Yes. Unlike prior information that singled out residential sales, this guidance applies to “all businesses in the real estate industry.” This means residential sales, new construction sales, residential leasing, commercial, vacant land…you name it, if it requires a real estate license, it’s now permitted under these rules.
Can offices open?
Yes. Though nothing in the document specifically says the words “real estate offices may open,” it does reference “office staff necessary to maintain office operations,” “schedule[ing] in-person office visits” and conducting “office functions.”
To the extent an office or business location is permitted to open, that office must comply with a different set of general business guidance initially published on May 4. All brokers should carefully read this document. Among other requirements, a business location such as a real estate office, must provide masks for employees to wear on site (or approve masks the employee supplies), must abide by social distancing and office density rules (how many people can be on site at a time), must provide rules and appropriate supplies for facility cleaning and sanitizing, and must post certain required posters that acknowledge the business’s responsibilities.
Who can be at a property?
The magic number is THREE. Under this guidance, up to one licensee and up to two other individuals can be present for an in-person activity. This might be a buyer agent along with two buyers at a showing. It might be a prospective listing agent and two owners at a listing appointment. It might be a home inspector who is let into the property by an agent. And so on. But no more than three at a time.
What am I wearing?
Just a mask.
I mean… not just a mask – that would be really weird, and violates several other laws – but the only required PPE is a mask/face covering, which must be worn by all those at the property. Gloves and booties are no longer required, although you could certainly wear them if you want or if a seller decides to require them as a condition of showing the property.
An addition to the state guidance is that “all individuals who will be present for in-person real estate activities” are encouraged to do a “verbal health screening prior to every in-person activity.” The specific questions for the screening are not identified, but it would include questions about the common risk factors and symptoms that could indicate possible COVID-19 exposure -“How ya’ feeling today?” is not going to be sufficient.
Brokers would need to institute policies on how this screening will be done, and how to keep records showing that it was done uniformly for all in-person visits. PAR will be reviewing the Health Screening Acknowledgment (Form COVID-HSA) to see if it could/should be amended to better facilitate verbal screenings, but it could also still be used in its present format if desired. Note that there is no requirement to use the form at all if a broker chooses to institute a different office policy.
Another new requirement is that “all businesses…must…maintain records of all appointments, including contact information for all participants.” Maintaining records of all visitors will allow for more efficient contact tracing if it turns out that someone who visited the property later tested positive.
Though buyer agents traditionally prefer to not provide specific client information to listing agents and sellers, this suggests that listing brokers should be maintaining records of the buyers and their contact information for compliance purposes. If a listing broker is notified of a positive test from one of the property visitors, this would allow the state to follow up with every other visitor directly. If the detailed information is not provided to seller, this means that a state investigator would have to contact every buyer agent to ask them to look through their files for which client(s) viewed a property, then reach out to the buyers directly, which doubles the work necessary to do that job.
Space it out
All showings should be spaced out with at least 30 minutes between them. This was previously included in PAR’s best practices, but is now included in the state guidance. And remember that in no circumstances is it permitted to have groups of people at a property. No open houses, broker opens, office previews, caravans, or whatever you might call them.
And that’s not all
There are additional details in the guidance, all of which will be spelled out in more detail in the FAQs on the PAR website. Please continue to use that as your primary source to answer questions. Additional information will be provided about updated forms and best practices, and we are working on updating the materials on other topics such as PUA and education topics as well.