Real estate in Pennsylvania has reopened for business.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Tuesday that real estate businesses and employees would be able to start conducting limited business activities statewide starting that day. The new guidance now allows real estate professionals to conduct business even in “red phase” counties in the state, those areas currently most restricted by the governor in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Pennsylvania real estate agents that Inman spoke with expressed excitement and an eagerness about getting back to work.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled,” Bill Lesniak, a Realtor with Wayne Evans Realty in Scranton, told Inman. “It’s been a tough time not being able to show properties.”
“When we can’t show things, we can’t make money,” Lesniak added. “Thankfully, I have other streams of income … so that got me through. It’s something I think we could have done safely much earlier and everyone would have been happier.”
“We are pleased with the governor’s decision,” Virginia Rose, president and CEO of Lewith & Freeman in Kingston, told Inman in an email. “We have been proponents and are supportive of the governor’s decision to reopen as an essential business. We have protocols in place, and expect a robust spring and summer market while ensuring the safety of our sellers and buyers.”
Some agents in smaller cities noted that they’ve seen an increase in demand from buyers looking for more quiet refuges outside of larger metro areas nearby. Now, they can help those buyers find homes in less congested areas — a trend that’s recently surfaced across the country.
“I’m ready — my to-do list is long!” Carmen Winters, Realtor at Lewith & Freeman in Kingston, said. “Our buyers and sellers have been waiting for this decision … Our area of Pennsylvania has a large transient community, being just two hours from Philadelphia and New York City, we are seeing a major increase in buyers looking for lake houses, golf community properties, et cetera. The land available here has never been more appealing to buyers.”
In his announcement, Gov. Wolf recognized the significant impact real estate has on businesses and individuals across the state, while stressing the need for caution as the industry reopens.
“This industry impacts numerous types of businesses and Pennsylvania homebuyers who are in the process of, or considering, purchasing a home,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “It’s critical that these businesses, regardless of whether they are in red phase or yellow phase counties, strictly adhere to all appropriate guidelines and guidance.”
Under the governor’s new guidance, all businesses in the real estate industry may resume operations while adhering to certain restrictions.
To the extent that it’s completely necessary, limited office staff may work in an office in order to maintain operations. Business locations must either provide masks for employees to wear on-site or approve masks the employee provides. Offices must also abide by the governor’s social distancing and office density regulations, and establish rules and provide supplies for facility cleaning and sanitizing, as well as post fliers acknowledging the business’ responsibility in these matters.
No more than three individuals — an agent or broker and two others — may be present for in-person activities like meetings and showings. Face masks are required for all in-person activities and anyone present for in-person activities must conduct a “verbal health screening prior to every in-person activity,” including questions about common COVID-19 risk factors and symptoms.
Brokerages will also need to establish a system for keeping records that health screenings have taken place, and maintain records of all appointments and attendees at appointments in order to facilitate contact tracing if needed.
All showings must maintain 30 minutes between them, and groups of people will not be permitted at a property under any circumstances.
On Tuesday, Gov. Wolf also vetoed House Bill 2412, a bill the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR) had been advocating for, which would have reclassified real estate as an essential business in the state, and enable professionals to uniformly conduct business throughout the state.
The governor’s office cited the bill’s insufficient safety protocols as well as the restrictions it would have placed on property transfers in municipalities as reasons for striking it down.
Out of those agents Inman spoke with, none expressed trepidation about the move to resume business.
“I’m confident we can all do it safely and keep our distance and wear masks and gloves if we need to,” Lesniak said. “I’m psyched — I’m excited to get back to work, and I know a lot of people are hurting out there, in my industry at least.”