Editor’s Note: As the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is fluid, information in this article was correct at the time of posting and may be out of date at the time you are reading it. For the most up-to-date guidance on coronavirus, please visit PARealtors.org/coronavirus.
New restrictions imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf over the past several days to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus have caused Pennsylvania brokers and Realtors® to rethink how to serve their clients.
On Monday, Wolf issued guidance on essential and non-essential businesses after urging non-essential businesses to close for at least 14 days to mitigate the spread of the disease. The lists could never be comprehensive, and real estate is one of many services not listed in either category. But the latest guidance does say other businesses, including but not limited to legal services, business and management consulting, professional services and insurance services are encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute. If that is not possible, they should employ social distancing best practices and be aware of the Trump administration’s guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
With that in mind, PAR recommends making all reasonable efforts to minimize your physical office operations and in-person interactions with clients as much as possible for the time being. This doesn’t mean you should stop offering real estate services, but that you should examine how those services are being provided to ensure appropriate social distancing efforts are being employed.
Real estate companies in Pennsylvania have offered guidance to their brokers and agents.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox and Roach Realtors®
Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox and Roach Realtors® in Pennsylvania, said, “The health and safety of our sales associates, employees, customers and clients is a priority, as is supporting everyone’s ability to conduct business. We’re leaders in our communities and we want to make sure we’re good citizens and we’re helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
“For everyone’s safety we have closed our offices except for settlements. We have given our employees the ability to work virtually from home. We will have either a sales manager or an office administrator in the office when there is a settlement occurring, so that they can greet the buyers and make sure that the rooms where settlement is occurring is cleaned before and after settlement,” she explained.
Docktor said, “When holding a settlement, we will maintain social distancing. Therefore, we are asking the buyer’s agent to remain in a room close by and communicate with the settlement officer and buyer by phone or FaceTime. The only parties that will be in the same room will be the settlement officer and the buyer. We are asking sellers to sign a deed package so they do not need to be present, however, if they do not do that, they will be in yet a third conference room nearby.”
As of Monday, Berkshire Hathaway has shut down all open houses and broker caravans. “It’s just not smart to hold these events at this time. You’re exposing agents, sellers and buyers to the virus unknowingly, so stopping these is part of being a good citizen and contributing to flattening the curve,” Docktor added. “We’ve gotten little push back. We saw a 50% drop in attendance to the open houses that we did hold on Sunday, so we believe the public feels the same way we do. Instead of open houses, we are suggesting our agents create virtual open houses where agents do a video of the house and upload that to social media. We feel that it’s perfect timing with the increased use of technology today to use these virtual showings.”
Docktor said, “Our agents are running businesses and there are tremendous challenges currently. They may be anxious because they have a family to support and they want to continue to see their business thrive. At the same time, they want to be socially responsible. I have the greatest respect for what agents do every day. We need to support them and that is what our leaders are working tirelessly to do each and every day. We are certain we’ll get through this; our agents will get through this and we’ll be stronger on the other side.”
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
Helen Hanna Casey, CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, said their company recognized the country could be facing a health crisis as the company prepared to take 150 people to Italy several weeks ago.
“We were probably ahead of the curve,” Hanna Casey said. “We were preparing for this trip and we were looking at the situation in Italy and recognized that we could be experiencing a similar situation in the U.S. We’ve been working with our managers and began notifying our agents about 10 days ago to be aware and take safety precautions. Our agents were very creative, handing out gloves and hand sanitizers, and we had successful open houses last week. This week is a different situation. We were planning a big open house weekend, but we won’t be promoting this event.”
Hanna Casey noted that agents are independent contractors and companies walk a fine line telling them how to do business. “Our agents need to work with their clients and meet their needs. We’ve warned agents who have a compromised immune systems or family members or clients, that they need to take extra precautions. We need to communicate as much as we know, without creating fear.”
She said the company has sent a list of tips to agents suggesting ways to market properties at this time. “New listings have continued at the same pace this week. Houses on the market will get lots of buyers looking online and will benefit from buyers being ready to act.”
Howard Hanna’s title company will continue to do business, with more than 1,000 closings scheduled in eight states where the company is located. “Those buyers and sellers would like to close on their homes,” she said.
“This is a time when we all need to work together and not make this a competition,” she added. “We’re working to help our agents to find ways to extend contracts and closing dates if need be because they may not be able to schedule a home inspection. It’s important for everyone to be patient. We are all truly in this together.”
Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said in a memo, “We are living through a historic time none of us will ever forget. In this moment, your health and safety is our top priority — and I want you to know that I fully support you doing whatever you need to do right now in order to take care of yourself, your family and your loved ones.” Reffkin is sending out daily messages to the 20,000 agents across the country, encouraging them to use this time for personal growth.
Pennsylvania Compass associate broker and PAR District 2 Vice President Kenneth Enochs Jr. said, “Internally, our CEO and regional management are very supportive. The company has continued to utilize technology and gone virtual as much as possible as they are encouraging everyone to think about the positive aspects. They are still open for business, but agents should plan to do business virtually for the time being as much as possible. Communicating and reaching out to your clients is critical via email, cell or Zoom. It’s a challenging situation for all businesses right now.”
“There’s a lot of questions about open houses and whether it’s the right thing to do, but that’s really a question that needs to be discussed with your client. Regionally, as a brokerage everyone’s been encouraged to decide what’s best for them, as well what our local and state governments are recommending,” Enochs said.
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® is posting new information on its coronavirus webpage at PARealtors.org/Coronavirus to help Realtors® navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The National Association of Realtors® also provides guidance for members as well.