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Legal Counsel Offers Thoughts on COVID Restrictions

by Goldsmith, James on

Like all other recent days, the New York Times lead article is about the coronavirus. A recent article, however, strikes a positive note even as it suggests that only an extraordinary level of trust and cooperation by our nation’s citizens is necessary. The positive is that China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have “with furious efforts… brought [the contagion] to heel. Italy, which early on adopted a lax social policy, has not and suffers the worst.”

There is no disagreement among the experts. “Containment becomes realistic only when Americans realize that working together is the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones” and no, “working together” does not mean business as usual. “Americans must be persuaded to stay home.”

The calls that leadership, PAR’s Legal Hotline and counsel are receiving in great number are from members whose livelihood and well-being are at stake, from members who feel great pressure and an altruistic desire to relieve the calamitous situations their clients are undergoing. Members are turning to us seeking clarity when little is to be had. They look to us because we are the leaders of the trade association whose mission is to support and advance the ability to practice the profession and earn a decent living for and support their families. We strive to answer our member’s questions and meet their needs.

Certain limited portions of a real estate transaction – such closings conducted by title companies – may still be able to move forward under the governor’s order, though there is broader language that indicates other real estate activities can no longer be done in-person. But even with this language and the clear intent of the governor’s message, there are still plenty of questions being asked. Is it OK to enter a vacant property? One that is inhabited but that the owners have left for a period of time? There are many scenarios that are equally head-spinning and difficult to answer.

PAR cannot enforce what members will do in this period of shut-down, but your association and your leadership can certainly explain the situation and take a position in what Realtors® should be doing, what is in our nation’s interest and how we can be good soldiers in what is described daily as a war.

While we are a trade organization with a mission to support our members, we are also aspirational. Realtors® subscribe to NAR’s Code of Ethics, which exceeds what the commonwealth demands of our members, and routinely put the interests of our clients and community above our own. If there was ever a time to put the interests of others at the forefront, it is now. If there a time for our industry to support the call of our state and nations leaders, it is now.

We take this opportunity to ask you to join us, the leaders of your association. Let us abide by the clear intent of our governor’s order. Let us undertake the only responsible position in this struggle, by following both the letter and the spirit of the governor’s order by avoiding social contact and by adhering to clear guidance we are receiving from health experts rather than putting ourselves and others at further risk.


Code of Ethics Coronavirus
Comments (36)


  • Karen Detwiler    March 24, 2020 | 7:24 am

    Thank you so much for this statement!!

    Reply to Karen Detwiler
  • Sherrie Miller    March 24, 2020 | 7:25 am

    Well written. The sooner we stay home, the sooner life can start working and building our lives again

    Reply to Sherrie Miller
  • Terese Brittingham    March 24, 2020 | 7:38 am

    Thank you Jim,
    We have moved to online training and communication. It’s funny we are having very meaningful focused conversation with more of our agents engaging right now. This is a powerful time. We can choose to do the right thing, protect our consumers and stay home. Right now information and communication will win the day. This is a great time to reach out and check on our past customers and see how they are doing.

    Reply to Terese Brittingham
  • Joseph D’Alonzo    March 24, 2020 | 7:40 am

    The MLS has to be taken off-line to make it clear to us that all real estate activities must cease for the time being!

    Reply to Joseph D’Alonzo
  • Nancy schappell    March 24, 2020 | 8:04 am

    This is what is needed an organization willing to say the hard but necessary action that must be taken. Thank you

    Reply to Nancy schappell
  • Michael Howell    March 24, 2020 | 8:11 am

    Thank you Jim! Great message.

    Reply to Michael Howell
  • Helen Miernicki    March 24, 2020 | 8:21 am

    Thank you. I am saddened to see some REALTORS post how they plan to interpret the PA Governors order to go against the order. This is serious. I just was informed that if you are tested positive your actions are traceable(cell phone). Can you imagine all of your past contacts being informed that they were exposed from your actions. This can happen even with the best practices. Can a REALTOR be proud of infecting others or being infected based on not following the rules? Take a break. Free on line education is available. Plan for a busy summer Real Estate market.
    I have 8 agreements of sale being affected. I am using the new new PAR COVID-19 addendum. No negative feedback from my buyers and sellers. They all understand.

    Reply to Helen Miernicki
  • Colleen Gular    March 24, 2020 | 8:22 am

    Thank you for this clear statement of guidance.

    Reply to Colleen Gular
  • Jim Helsel    March 24, 2020 | 8:22 am

    This message is clear. This is not the time to ignore your Association Leaders, the Government, your health care providers and MOST (almost) of all your Attorney!

    Reply to Jim Helsel
  • John P Collins    March 24, 2020 | 8:27 am

    As always, thank you Jim. It’s a time to stay in touch with past clients, potential clients, vendors and fellow agents. Then be ready to run when we get the green light, which will eventually come.

    Reply to John P Collins
  • Gerrie Sobities    March 24, 2020 | 8:37 am

    Thank you Jim for your statement. It’s clear that we need to put the health and well being first.

    Reply to Gerrie Sobities
  • Erica Ramus    March 24, 2020 | 8:39 am

    Some agents are still saying the law is vague. No it is not – real estate offices are to be closed. Not open to the public. Yesterday we had agents trying to schedule showings on our listings. This is not allowed so I’m about to shut all showings down in the system so they cannot attempt to show. We have brokers who have applied for waivers to operate. I think this is wrong. If we all apply for a waiver and many of us get it – then we defeat the purpose of the mandate. Plus, it confuses the public. I say we are closed and our agents won’t show properties, but a competing broker stays open and will? It’s not confusing. Stay home.

    Reply to Erica Ramus
  • Ryan Thomas    March 24, 2020 | 8:48 am

    I do finally agree that it’s worth temporarily isolating myself to slow the spread. This will end and we will bounce back. Just pretend that this is a couple weeks that you were to busy or distracted to do lead gen like we all have from time to time anyway. The above mentioned taking the MLS off line is a horrible idea, but I could see disabling showing time. But this is a good article. Thanks

    Reply to Ryan Thomas
  • Blum, Michael    March 24, 2020 | 9:04 am

    Thank you for you well written words. These are uncharted waters, and I am proud to see how PAR is helping us to navigate them.

    Reply to Blum, Michael
  • SCOTT D GELLER    March 24, 2020 | 9:08 am

    I hope the BPOA/PAREC subpoenas ShowingTime’s and Supra’s records to determine who violated the Governor’s order and then suspends their real estate licenses.

    Reply to SCOTT D GELLER
  • Joe Moore    March 24, 2020 | 9:43 am

    Our clients continue to ask us for service. Especially on vacant listings (sellers) and showings (buyers). Some sort of statement would be helpful to let our clients know that listings and showings need to be suspended at this time of unprecedented regulation. Stay safe, everyone! Thanks Jim and PAR!!

    Reply to Joe Moore
  • Dominic Cardone    March 24, 2020 | 9:53 am

    Thank you Jim. You speak as the conscience of the REALTOR. Let’s all take a minute and read the Preamble of our Code of Ethics. This is our calling as REALTORS.

    Reply to Dominic Cardone
  • Jerry Houk    March 24, 2020 | 9:56 am

    Thank you! All of us are accountable for community health and safety – this is a big part of the REALTOR designation.

    During this period of uncertainty, we look to our Federal, State and Local officials to provide guidance. Official look at the entire situation and make hard decisions based upon the safety of the greater population. Some of us selfishly only look at how this impacts us as individuals. Without the proper perspective, everything looks fine until it doesn’t.

    Reply to Jerry Houk
  • Kenneth Enochs Jr    March 24, 2020 | 10:21 am

    Thank you for your conscientious and thoughtful remarks to keep us focused as an industry on what is most important. We must place our clients and communities first. This time period presents a unique opportunity for all of us to improve ourselves, our businesses, our communities, and our industry, We should take all of our fears, anxiety, frustrations, disappointment, and losses and focus on what we can control and what we can do right now from the comfort of our homes to help others in need. That’s who we are R.

    Reply to Kenneth Enochs Jr
  • SHERYL MORGAN    March 24, 2020 | 10:48 am

    Thank you, Jim. I appreciate so much your sharing this letter with us. I believe as Realtors® we did agree to take a higher oath in our real estate profession. It is up to us now collectively to show that we abide by it. Sometimes making the right decision is hard, but in the long run, it will pay off. It’s not just about “me” surviving in this profession anymore, it’s about “us”. Let’s join together and do what is required of us right now, put the “Code of Ethics” we agreed to into practice and strive and believe for a better tomorrow for everyone.

    Reply to SHERYL MORGAN
  • Lee Ann Salerno    March 24, 2020 | 10:54 am

    Good morning. Thank you Jim for your thoughts. I think that we all should adhere to the same guidelines, however, agents are still listing new Active listings. I have buyers who are ready to purchase their new home, and who have previously lost homes in multiple offer scenarios. My clients will want to see a new listing if it is listed. Is there a way for the MLS to create a new status “PAUSE” for new listings and current active listings that would allow properties to be advertised on all of the syndicates without allowing agents/consumers to show them? I believe the “Coming Soon” and the “Temporarily off the market” status does not give Sellers the same exposure as an Active Listing. Entering new listings is confusing for the consumers. I do not believe the law is unclear, however, I do think a little more detailed guidelines would be most helpful. I feel PAR should be giving their members specific guidelines and best practices in this environment. Specifically as to whether we can or cannot show homes and list new properties. As it stands now some agents are continuing to show properties and the agents that are following the Governor’s rules are being put at an unfair competitive advantage. PAR needs to be absolutely specific for all agents to follow and provide their members guidance. Stay well, Stay safe and Stay home.

    Reply to Lee Ann Salerno
  • Ruthanne Belus    March 24, 2020 | 12:14 pm

    It pains me to see some agents still out there listing and showing properties as if nothing is going to stop them. If doctors and dentists are cancelling their appointments, why in the world do some agents feel the need to continue on with their health and the health of their clients at risk? I agree all owners of real estate offices should put a stop on new business until we have a clean bill of health to begin again with notice from the governor of Pennsylvania. Lets all buckle down and enjoy this time to get better organized, take some classes online, keep in touch with new and old clients and learn how to be the ethical Realtor our code instills in all of us.

    Reply to Ruthanne Belus
  • Fran Adams-Imbriaco    March 24, 2020 | 12:24 pm

    Thank you Jim for reaching out to all PA Realtors! Common sense to stay healthy should be everyone’s objective!

    Reply to Fran Adams-Imbriaco
  • James D Ross    March 24, 2020 | 12:36 pm

    Thank you, Jim. If we are smart and always think about the common good, we will get through this.

    Reply to James D Ross
  • Jane Maslowski    March 24, 2020 | 2:47 pm

    I certainly agree that no one should be showing properties if that restriction is in place. That being said have none of you never sold a property site unseen? I sold three last year and two the year before through videos, pictures and seller’s disclosures. Bright, our local MLS is allowing unbranded video tour links to be put in the public remarks and branded tour links to be put in agent remarks. Now is the time to use all the wonderful tools that are at our fingertips and stay within the letter of the law. My stager has even gone virtual to be able to get my clients ready for the regular market. Frankly I may be listing a property totally virtually by this weekend. Last week 2 of my clients wanted to go on the market immediately. Both are under agreement. I highly recommend you all concentrate on what you can do and not what you can’t do. You can easily be giving many of your clients something to do by helping you with measurements and features so they can be ready to hit the market running.Thanks for your thoughts, Jim.

    Reply to Jane Maslowski
  • Lisa Plank    March 24, 2020 | 3:11 pm

    Thank you for your guidance in these uncharted waters. Of course we all would still like to be doing the in person work that comes with our business, but it is time to use common sense and not our own interpretations of what is being laid forth by the governor!

    Reply to Lisa Plank
  • Lisa Linn    March 24, 2020 | 4:05 pm

    Whoever said that our MLS should be shut down isn’t thinking. We can still work remotely so why would you want to shut down our system? That makes no sense and is a dumb comment. We still need our data to work. We can still list properties and write contracts. That doesn’t mean we are showing properties or meeting people. I often write contracts on properties that I have not shown and written listing contract of properties that people own who live out of the area and I have not met in person. Just because we are not doing face to face business doesn’t mean the whole world is ending and we can’t use our MLS. I am still busy working remotely from home and I am sure a lot of other Realtors are too.

    Reply to Lisa Linn
  • Debby Hoffman    March 25, 2020 | 12:38 am

    I 100% believe that housing is essential and yet I also think that if we need to take a moment to pause for the greater good, then it has to happen in the MLS for people to go along with it and to keep clients calm and more understanding. Many buyers have been on an emotional multiple offer rollercoaster in this past year. They are super charged. The only way to really hit the pause button is to temporarily pause the MLS so everyone is on a fair and equal playing field- agents and consumers. Otherwise, the pressure will cause people to continue moving forward. It’s not fair to dangle the carrot with an active MLS and tell our customers “no” at the same time… and we all know it’s very hard to say no as a small business owner. If we’re really shut down, then it should be clear in the MLS. I know it’s a painful thought and yet it’s a reality.

    Reply to Debby Hoffman
  • Jennifer King    March 25, 2020 | 4:53 am

    Totally agree with compliance – while remaining operational. Listing my 2nd property since the shutdown. Pix & virtual tours were completed previously. I’ve had very clear discussions with each seller – current & upcoming – that we cannot allow or accept showings at this time, but why NOT be active? I think requests for the MLS shutdown are unmerited. Why remove our clients’ rights to have their homes marketed? What better time than when everyone is home & online??

    I’ve personally got three clients each with several homes they want to see ASAP once the mandate is lifted. If you are counseling sellers to come off the market – are you ensuring that they understand that they WILL disappear from the public portals by doing so?

    Personally I’m reaching out to some agents to see if we (both agents & both clients) could do a live video walkthrough together of the properties of interest during this time. If both clients are counseled in advance – & sellers are willing to allow / provide the tour – why not? This would at least allow our buyers to rule the property in or out as an option so they can focus on homes of interest! We already have a spreadsheet started for client showing requests so we know what to do immediately upon the release of the mandate.

    Reaching out to all the listing agents today to advise them of our clients’ interest in the interim, which should encourage both the sellers & the listing agents during this unprecedented time when everyone wants to know whether it’s worth being on the market…

    It’s not “business as usual,” for sure, but as someone who’s been through several cycles in this biz, I can say innovation & creativity WITHIN the guidelines given – is worth exploring! Yes, we’ve sold homes without the clients seeing them – or with that as a contingency (seeing in-person within so many days of the mandate lifting, etc.)…

    And – strongly suggest giving all seller clients the pros / cons of the various statuses.

    Lastly – why look to others for further restrictions? If you’re concerned about potential showings – why not block them on ShowingTime &/or remove lockboxes for a period of time… aka “self-manage”…? We are the professionals…Let’s continue to lead the way with our example… 😊


    Reply to Jennifer King
  • Dave Montgomery    March 25, 2020 | 5:01 pm

    MLS does not need to be shut down. Use it on-line for marketing now. Show homes when ban is lifted.

    Reply to Dave Montgomery
  • Michael Bennett    March 26, 2020 | 1:44 am

    PAR’s lead article on the 25th of Mar (the day after Mr. Goldsmith’s excellent article) is all about Kim Shindle’s very positive article on “tips for engaging clients virtually”. She says: ” “We’re blessed, if this had happened 20 years ago, when we didn’t have the technology, it would have been much more difficult. Technology is making it possible to continue to do business. We don’t need to meet in person to sign contracts or to see a house. Last week I started using FaceTime to show houses; it’s not perfect, but it helps show clients a property without meeting them in person.” end quote.

    That Mar 25th PAR article DOES seem to encourage us to use the practices which the article describes: So, IF the main concern is a very understandable restriction on IN PERSON activity, then that makes total sense for the well being, health, recovery and stopping the spread of CV19. We closed our physical office nearly 2 weeks before the Guv put out his shutdown list. So perhaps PAR could/should provide a list of permitted virtual activities. The encouraging March 25th Article would seem to suggest that we temper any severely draconian measures like shutting down the MLS, or ratting out colleagues who are using technology. Seems to me we can BOTH, continue with virtual business, AND safeguard everyone involved accordingly. We can achieve BOTH objectives thanks to technology, innovation, and using creativity along with compliance with safety measures we can all can peacefully coexist and thrive. Even the local, state and federal governments encourage us to work from home, which fortunately in our profession is possible with technology. We already sign documents routinely via electronic signature. My concern is the lack of consultation by Guv with our business community and our associations being left in the dark on this surprise shutdown, and the many inconsistencies in which many professions are still shutdown from our GUVs original list even with his revised. That is troubling. I noticed that the legal profession was on the original hit list and is now okay to be open. That did not take very long…the threat of several lawsuits, perhaps. For reference, if the restriction on the number of people meeting in groups is like 10, so even a showing with 2 agents, 2 buyers, and 2 sellers who all stay 6 feet apart (6 people 6 feet apart) seems to meet the letter of the “law” and is well within the CDC and COVID Taskforce guidelines, technically speaking. All of the new legislation on COV19 at the state and federal levels include waivers of liability in cases of causation in virus transmission. So, will we now need to modify the SPD to reflect diseases that sellers have or have had while living in a home or rental property to “prevent the spread”? We would NEVER do that with HIV/Aids so, we should not start down that path now. That would in pre-COV19 days have been against the laws on Hippa and personal privacy; so will COV19 be the new “stigmatized house” issue going forward? But it sounds like some might be opening that door. I certainly hope not. One could make an argument that having a sign on a property is “real estate activity”. It could get that extreme if we allow it. I would hope that rather than knee jerk, unthinking blanket mandates, we should be able to thoughtfully, intelligently and with the COV19 National guidelines in mind all reach a consensus using reason and common sense, and not just shut down everything by blanket order. If we go the route of full draconian shutdown, then even simply calling past clients could then be construed as “real estateactivity”. That is unreasonable. Two other activities included in GUVs shutdown are: Advertising and political activity. Judging by the ongoing number of tv commercials, newspaper ads, and radio ads across all trades, and the onslaught of political activity and ads, no one is paying attention to the GUV and PSP is not out arresting campaign managers and advertising venues and executives. What gives? Lastly, the concern that some practitioners may or may not have a competitive advantage, simply because they use technology, innovation and creativity smacks of professional jealousy.

    Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Obviously, Ben did not have the technology issues we face and probably never faced COV19, but he and his fellow American freedom fighters did prefer to risk, “His Life, his fortune and his sacred honor”, rather than continue to live under the greater threat of the tyranny of life under King George and British Rule. In our nation today, we are seemingly always not very far from tyranny. Hoping and praying we can all get back to the future very soon. Let’s all move forward confidently find ways to BOTH serve our clients and keep our communities safe. This is an opportunity to further innovate, create, enhance and revolutionize the way we do business in any climate. Respectfully.

    Reply to Michael Bennett
  • Jennifer King    March 26, 2020 | 11:19 am

    Spot..on! Very well stated. Are we looking for solutions while abiding by the laws? Or complaining about the same agents who are continuing to do business – legally & ethically? This is a time to encourage & support one another & our clients. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply to Jennifer King
  • R. Dennis McClelland (Emeritus REALTOR)    March 26, 2020 | 11:28 am

    As ALWAYS Jim, great words of wisdom…Thank you

    Reply to R. Dennis McClelland (Emeritus REALTOR)
  • Bonnie Eshelman    March 27, 2020 | 12:44 pm

    Very well written, Jim! Agents should take heed of your comments………I truly believe this virus is bigger than what a lot of people think. We all need to go by the rules established and help other agents realize this fact, as well as keep our clients informed at the same time. We will get through this…..people just have to utilize their intelligence and think beyond today.

    Reply to Bonnie Eshelman
  • Deborah Spence    March 29, 2020 | 11:55 am

    With the mls still on-line, it is sending mix signal. I get several showing request per day. Not right.

    Reply to Deborah Spence
    • Kevin Juliano, CAE, RCE    March 30, 2020 | 7:51 am

      Deborah – There are over 20 MLS systems in Pennsylvania and they are not maintained or overseen by PAR.

      Reply to Kevin Juliano, CAE, RCE

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