The ongoing debate amid the COVID-19 pandemic is whether real estate should be classified as life sustaining. Under the order by Gov. Tom Wolf, all non-life sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania were asked to close their physical locations as of 8 p.m. on March 19 to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, medical facilities, government services and banking/financial services were deemed life sustaining in this crisis and are able to continue to operate. Real estate services were not categorized as life sustaining.
“During this crisis, the governor’s order is clear that Realtors® can only do business if they can conduct it from their home. That means you shouldn’t be leaving your house to do any type of business activities. You can, however, contact clients via telephone or electronically. You could still take listings and offers, but you can’t go through a house –even if it’s vacant– to take photos or a video,” said PAR President William Festa. “If you’ve got someone who wants to tour homes you cannot do that as that’s not life sustaining in today’s pandemic environment per the governor’s order.”
“We’re fielding an incredible number of calls, emails and texts from Realtors® across the commonwealth, looking for guidance,” Festa added. “And the association continues to request further clarification from Gov. Wolf’s office, the Department of Community and Economic Development and our legislators.”
The governor’s office has received more than 15,000 requests for waivers and has reviewed less than half of them. And without a public database of waiver requests and responses, there are no specifics available on why one company may have been granted a waiver and one has not.
In the meantime, PAR leaders are telling Realtors® to follow the governor’s orders to cease doing in-person business.
“That means you can’t be going on in-person showings, going through people’s homes or taking clients through homes,” said Chris Raad, PAR’s president-elect. “The governor’s order asks people to be responsible and avoid person-to-person contact unless it’s for your daily life-sustaining needs, like groceries or medications.”
Realtors® frustrated that they are following the governor’s restrictions, only to find other brokers are trying to usurp their clients, continue to contact PAR and vent the issues on social media. “This type of behavior could be a violation of Article 16 of NAR’s Code of Ethics, which prohibits Realtors® from interfering with existing, exclusive relationships with another Realtors®’ clients to get their business,” said PAR First Vice President Chris Beadling. “You can’t decide not to follow the Code of Ethics because this situation seems like an opportunity for you to gain some more business. Realtors® need to follow the Code in every situation.”
“These are unprecedented times,” said PAR Treasurer Al Perry. “We’ve heard from a great many Realtors®, who are acting in the best interests of their community by staying home and trying to avoid personal contact, only to see others boasting that they’re continuing to operate their business as usual. We’re explaining that the governor’s order requires all Pennsylvania Realtors® to stay at home and do the business they can virtually.”
“There are some agents that have tried many ‘creative ways’ to work around the clear language of the governor’s order and still attempt to do business as usual. Don’t. Consider what would happen if your client or someone else involved would become ill. This is certainly not acting in the best interests of your client,” said Bill McFalls Jr., PAR’s 2019 president.
Enforcement of the order began at 8 a.m. Monday, March 23 and will be handled by the Pennsylvania State Police along with other state and local authorities.
For the most up-to-date information, be sure to continue to visit PARealtors.org/coronavirus for answers to the most pressing questions.