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How Gov. Wolf’s New Restrictions Impact Real Estate

By: Hank Lerner, Esq. on in  |   | 

Gov. Tom Wolf has begun to roll back certain business opening rules yesterday based on an increase in COVID-19 cases nationally and here in Pennsylvania.

The part of the governor’s order generating the most member questions reads as follows:

“Unless not possible, all businesses are required to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through individual teleworking of their employees in the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which they do business. Where telework is not possible, employees may conduct in-person business operations, provided that the businesses fully comply with all substantive aspects of” the various orders that are already in place.

So what does this mean for Realtors®?

Nothing in the newest orders directly address real estate practice, though the orders and underlying testing trends do suggest some things that Realtors® should keep in mind in your daily practice so real estate avoids the fate of restaurants and bars. Here are some answers to questions we’ve already received:

Q. Has real estate been deemed as essential/life-sustaining?

Honestly, that’s not the right question to ask at this point. While that concept was the starting point for the administration’s original business closure orders, it’s clear that they are taking business categories on a case-by-case at the moment. The most obvious example here is that restaurants are listed as life-sustaining, but their ability to operate is being severely restricted. Real estate and construction are not considered life-sustaining, but are mostly open.

So, to answer directly, no – real estate has not been moved into the category of “life-sustaining” businesses. But the administration is clear that business segments are being handled individually, so real estate practice will rise or fall on how well you are able to protect the health of yourself and your consumers, not that arbitrary categorization.

Q. Are brokers required to close their office and only allow remote work?

If there are activities that must be done in-person, you can keep doing them in-person. And realistically, in-person activities can be maintained for those things that are just waaaay better when they’re in person. But for things that don’t need in-person contact, brokers and agents should go back to remote work.

For example, even though remote notary is legal, we know that many lenders won’t accept electronic notarization, or there are areas where it’s almost impossible to make it happen. So, in-person closings shouldn’t be affected.

Similarly, there is no effective substitute to a prospective buyer actually walking through a property before purchasing it. But while in-person walkthroughs can be maintained because of their transactional value, brokers and agents should tighten down how often they happen and be sure to re-emphasize virtual showings and similar marketing techniques.

Q. Can we still do open houses?

The order does not directly address open houses, but does state that in-person activity should only occur where it is “not possible” to do things remotely. Brokers and agents will have to make their own decisions, but the main question will become whether there are other effective ways to market the property virtually, or simply whether there are less risky ways to conduct in-person walkthroughs (e.g., expanding individual appointments rather than having an open house).

Q. Will there be additional restrictions on real estate?

Well…that depends.

The new rounds of restrictions in Pennsylvania and other states are based on data showing the types of places and behaviors that are generating new infections. The best way to stay off that list is to keep following the rules that are in place. At this point, we’re not aware that real estate has been identified as an major source of infections in Pennsylvania or other states, so let’s just keep it that way.

PAR will be maintaining our best practice recommendations as-is. These mix the minimum state requirements with some next-level precautions that should help minimize infection risks. Keep in-person activities to a minimum. Wear masks. Wipe off the things that get touched. Just generally be a solid citizen and look out for your health and that of your clients.

Of course, if anything changes PAR will let you know. Continue to use our coronavirus resource page to answer your questions, and call the PAR Legal Hotline if you have issues not addressed in our FAQ.

Buyers Still Motivated, Despite Pandemic Challenges

“Home is more important than ever before, and ownership has become a key priority for many, particularly those who have never bought a home before,” said D. Steve Boland, president of retail at Bank of America. “Owning a home has historically helped families create a legacy and enabled them to build long-term wealth.”

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Comments (25)

Comments

  • Karen Benincasa   July 16, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    I appreciate it if I’m kept updated on home rules concerning realestate. Also has the licensing been extended or the schooling been extended? Due to call dead I have not been able to go to continuing cat therefore I have not been able to renew my license please advise

    Reply to Karen Benincasa
  • Richard Smeltz   July 16, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Common sense prevails. If we follow the re-opening Guidelines that were in place until we went green, we should have no problem staying open. That is if the Governor uses common sense and a spirit of fairness to businesses. If agents have attitudes of “he cannot tell me what to do” we may end up back in he RED again. At this point it is not whether I agree with the Governor, it is a matter of doing the best to protect me, my family, my clients and anyone else, from the virus. Wearing a mask is not fun, but to MOST people it is merely an inconvenience. I would prefer to be inconvenienced rather than my business closed down and struggling to make a living.

    Reply to Richard Smeltz
  • barbara loviscky   July 16, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Excellent advice re. Open Houses…..they’re really too risky & not necessary to sell a property (we have great photos & virtual tours to encourage buyers to request an appt).

    Reply to barbara loviscky
  • Bob Fox   July 16, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for the update Hank.

    Reply to Bob Fox
  • Jodi Diego   July 16, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you so much for the update! Again, we need to use common sense!

    Reply to Jodi Diego
  • Bob Moncavage   July 16, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    PAR has done an excellent job amid all of this confusion. It was a sad day when Wolf “allowed” us to resume business while almost simultaneously vetoing the bill that would have made us essential. Maybe now we can see where we really stand with another looming threat of possible shutdowns. That’s the true takeaway…giving us a nod to move forward (like it was some great honor) but keeping the magic wand to shut us down without warning or input.

    Reply to Bob Moncavage
  • Michele Ashton   July 16, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I renewed both my PA AND DE licenses with online courses from the CESHOP.com. Excellent courses, reasonably priced.

    Reply to Michele Ashton
  • Sarah Dunn   July 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    Hank, thank you as usual you are on top of it and keep us informed

    Reply to Sarah Dunn
  • John Caporale   July 16, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the minimal whining. Let’s keep it that way please.

    Reply to John Caporale
  • Aaron Gray   July 16, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    It is my understanding under the current guidance that no more than three people are allowed in a property and social distancing must be practiced. Based upon this, there would be no need to directly address open houses. Did I miss something in the initial guidance?

    Reply to Aaron Gray
  • José M Rodriguez   July 16, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for the update Hank. Good common sense people!!

    Reply to José M Rodriguez
  • Rita Dallago   July 16, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Hank & PAR have done a very good job working through the series of issues due to COVID-19. It is not easy dealing with legislative issues, or the Governor.

    Reply to Rita Dallago
  • Jerry Gostomski   July 16, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Be smart from a liability and more import safety standpoint right now. Just avoid ooen houses.

    Reply to Jerry Gostomski
  • Lisa Roemer   July 16, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Are agents able to attend settlements?

    Reply to Lisa Roemer
  • Jeff LeFevre   July 16, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    Common sense is the key….wear masks!

    Reply to Jeff LeFevre
  • Matthew   July 16, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    If my company requires agents to perform “office/desk duty” at an office location, is this still permitted? Or, is this something we should be doing remotely?

    Reply to Matthew
    • Hank Lerner, Esq.   July 17, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Per the new order, in-person work is allowed where it is “not possible” to do the same work remotely. A broker would have to analyze whether this work can only be done effectively in the office, or if there’s a reasonable way to do it remotely.

      Reply to Hank Lerner, Esq.
  • Bill Rudge   July 17, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Not a problem for me but I have had to really watch my showings as still some Realtors and potential buyers have determined not to follow the rules of myself and my clients which is masks on all parties and no more than 3 in the house.. Also setting aside 45 minutes for a showing an no over lapping of appointments to show. Still, I have had a couple of agents try to beat the system and ask for 15 minute showings just prior to another agents showings and I am disapproving those. Common sense will keep us all open for business.

    Reply to Bill Rudge
  • Gail christman   July 17, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Thank you Hank
    I am still having agents and their clients show up without masks. If they continue to buck the safety requests ,I ‘m certain those will be the same agents who will complain the loudest and blame the governor if a shut down occurs

    Reply to Gail christman
  • Tony Dahm   July 17, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, PAR for proactively publishing this guidance.

    Reply to Tony Dahm
  • Patrick OConnell   July 17, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply to Patrick OConnell
  • Amy Dellinger   July 20, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Thank you so much for being on top of this situation and keeping us up to date on the latest information!

    Reply to Amy Dellinger

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