PAR’s Legislation History: What Past Leaders Remember

By Kim Shindle | Aug. 20, 2020 | 7 min. read

Since its inception 100 years ago, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® has prioritized legislative advocacy on behalf of its members. One of the initial goals of the association was to encourage the passage of a statewide licensing law. It took several years before the Real Estate Brokers License Act of 1929 was finally signed by then-Gov. John Fisher. That act defined the terms real estate broker and real estate salesman and provided for the licensing, regulation and supervision of resident and nonresident real estate brokers and salesmen until the enactment of the current Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act was signed in 1980.

The state’s General Assembly passed two legislative laws in 1951. The first was the Landlord and Tenant Act and the second was the Realty Transfer Tax, which allowed the commonwealth to impose a tax of 1% of the value of a property being transferred.

Sandy Stevens, PAR president in 1992, remembers PAR opposing a mandatory review period for contracts. “Frank Capone served as president in 1991, when PAR opposed the proposed legislation which would make it mandatory for attorneys to have a three-day period to review all real estate contracts written in Pennsylvania. Realtors® believed this could create problems in the transaction and potentially increase costs to both buyers and sellers.

The final result in 1992 ended with no mandatory right of review, however, PAR continues to advise buyers and sellers to have their legal counsel review their contracts prior to signing if they so desire.

Jim Helsel Jr., who served as PAR president in 1994, recalls there was some contention regarding the Seller Disclosure law, which was originally enacted in 1996. “Some thought it would open us up to questions from the public and from curious attorneys,” Helsel said. “But the goal was to be have the responsibility be on sellers, whether they use a licensed agent or not, to tell potential buyers about an issue, like a wet basement or cracked foundations, with their home.”

Jack Rawlings, PAR’s 1998 president, concurs that this legislation is important for the industry. “Seller disclosure is a huge risk reduction tool for real estate professionals. Almost all sellers must complete the form and are required to disclose mostly everything about the property for sale.”

PAR’s 2006 President Len Ferber agrees that the Seller Disclosure and the Consumer Notice were significant legislative actions. “These two documents are the most important in protecting the consumer in any real estate transaction.”

Agency disclosure laws also protect consumers in the transaction, Rawlings noted. “The agency disclosure law demands that real estate agents disclose to buyers and sellers who they represent, before they enter into substantive discussion,” he said. “The law also requires agents to enter into agency agreements with parties whom they represent.”

Janice Smarto, PAR’s 1999 president, said the changes to the mechanics’ lien law had a significant impact on real estate transactions. When PAR supported changes to the law, many consumers were facing issues with mechanics’ liens on properties from subcontractors who were never paid by general contractors. “We found that homeowners had paid their general contractor in full for the construction of their homes, but the contractor failed to pay subcontractors for the work and those subcontractors placed a lien on the property. Then when the homeowner wanted to sell, they had to pay the lien in order to sell, even though they had, in fact, already paid for their home,” she said. “Realtors® across the state had clients who were experiencing this issue and in response, PAR advocated to change the law.”

Helsel, a commercial Realtor®, believes other important legislation was the Commercial Real Estate Broker Lien Act. “This law provides a way for commercial practitioners to protect themselves in the event they believe a seller or landlord is not going to pay the fee which they have contractually agreed to pay through the listing agreement,” Helsel said. “There are some technicalities, but the Act basically allows a brokerage to file a notice of lien prior to the date of settlement, which will place a cloud on a title and make the title company not want or be able to give a clear title.”

“There are so many pieces of legislation that have had an impact on the industry over the many years,” said PAR 2013 President Bette McTamney. “I believe everything Realtors® do at the local, state and national level is so important to our industry and consumers.”

McTamney recalls being personally involved in advocating to repeal the mandate that required sprinklers in all new home construction in Pennsylvania.

“I was selling a lot of new construction at the time, and it really hurt sales because this additional cost made it impossible for many clients to afford to buy a new home, especially in areas that didn’t have access to public water where sellers would have had to install new wells or large water storage tanks,” McTamney said. “This was a hard-fought legislative battle, but was so important because after surveying consumers, we found that they believed this should be a choice, not a state mandate. Repealing this mandate allowed consumers to decide if they wanted to spend the money in their homes to have sprinklers installed when then-Gov. Tom Corbett signed the legislation in 2011.”

Kathy McQuilkin, 2017 president, said, “Getting legislation passed at any government level is definitely a marathon, not a sprint! Moving through the state officer chairs, you work with amazing leadership teams, PAR staff and diligent legislators, especially those on our PA Real Estate Caucus, through many legislative sessions to advocate for passage of critically important bills. We have worked hard on state/federal tax reform, flood insurance, RELRA amendments for increased educational requirements/broker price opinions and continue work on fantastic proposed legislation like the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Accounts.”

McQuilkin recalls legislation that became effective the year she served as president. “Certainly of great importance was the bi-partisan passage of Act 133, which amended the state Municipal Code and Compliance Act and provided protection for future homebuyers and sellers at point of sale municipal inspections. Act 133 helps ensure that municipalities cannot withhold certificates of occupancy for minor repair issues, which had caused delays and terminations to many real estate transactions. “

Todd Umbenhauer, 2018 president, recalls PAR’s efforts to pass the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account program legislation. “PAR held a press conference in the Capital Rotunda with 100 Realtors® from across the state in support of the program, along with several legislators, who shared their endorsement of this measure,” Umbenhauer said. “While PAR continues to urge the passage of this legislation, that gathering at the Capitol was the most visible and powerful illustration I have ever witnessed of PAR partnering with our legislative real estate champions to advance legislation for the benefit of the residents of the commonwealth. It was an experience I will certainly never forget.”

“The vast majority of PAR’s advocacy and legislative success has focused on protecting private property rights and advocating for the consumer and the clients we represent,” said 2009 PAR President Greg Herb. “Legislators have often shared with me that it’s easy supporting the work of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® as our legislation is not about us or protecting our industry, rather the emphasis is on protecting and safeguarding consumers. Although we aren’t 100% successful, nor always pleased with the time it takes to accomplish our goal, we can all be proud of the myriad of legislative victories on behalf of our members and the clients and consumers we represent.”

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