Pa. Realtors continue push for life-sustaining business designation

Real estate agents in Pennsylvania aren’t giving up their fight to have their industry declared life-sustaining so real estate sales can resume statewide. Pennsylvania is currently the only state banning most in-person real estate activity.

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is urging the General Assembly to pass House Bill 2412 by Rep. Todd Polinchoc, R-Bucks, or Senate Bill 1135 by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, that would recognize real estate as a life-sustaining business and allow agents to return to work.

While some real estate activity will be allowed soon in the 37 counties that will transition to “yellow” in the governor’s “red” “yellow” and “green” stage reopening plan, Chris Raad, president-elect of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors in Lemoyne, said that’s not enough and could even lead to more problems.

“There’s a lot of inconsistency in the governor’s orders,” Raad said. “The issue is what is happening with the fractured reopening… It creates chaos”
Under current conditions, a seller in the Lehigh Valley buying a house in the state’s northern tier, could buy the house, but not sell their own, he said. Agents throughout the region are frustrated by their inability to sell and rent property under the current orders.

“It’s been horrible,” said Andrea Decker, former president of PAR and associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtor’s Coopersburg office. “I’ll have a client call me and say ‘Andy come sell my home.’ People don’t understand. Consumers are confused.”

Tejas Gosai, a realtor with Century 21 Keim Realtors in Allentown, said the shutdown has created a hardship for both clients and agents.

He has clients that range from those desperate to move, looking to escape domestic violence situations, and stuck in hotels because their home sale can’t be completed.

It’s also been rough on Realtors who rely solely on sales commissions for their income and have not had sales for nearly two months.

Gosai created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for those affected by the shutdown of real estate, both for clients in bad housing situations and agents facing a financial crisis. He’s only raised about $1,100 of his $500,000 goal, but said it was raising awareness of the issue.

“Guidelines for in-person real estate should be consistent with other professions and allow at least four people in a property, while practicing social distancing,” PAR President Bill Festa said.

Radd said Realtors understand that it won’t be business as usual, there won’t be open houses, for example, for a long time. But, he said his association feels showing homes to one person at a time – especially a vacant property – presents much less risk than other activities that are allowed.

“We know we can do this safely,” said Raad.

One positive note, said Decker, is that when real estate activity does resume there will be a demand.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll all be very busy,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s realtors back bill that would put them back to work

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is throwing its support behind House Bill 2412, sponsored by Todd Polinchock, R-Chalfont, that would reopen the real estate industry as a life-sustaining business.

“Real estate is an essential business and we believe we can practice safely under CDC guidelines,” said William Festa, president of PAR.

He noted that real estate is not a high contact industry. “We meet a few people at a time,” he said.

PAR is not recommending business as usual. While it can’t control what individual firms do, it would caution against such things as open houses. Festa said the association has a task force in place that is putting together a standardized guide on how it’s best to operate once the governor lifts the order issued on March 19.

Kim Shindle, PAR’s director of communications, said most states are allowing real estate sales to continue, which causes another set of problems for Pennsylvania Realtors and those looking to move here from other states.

“There are some people who may have sold a home in another state and can’t settle on their home in Pennsylvania,” Festa said. “There are a lot of people carrying two mortgages. There’s a lot of economic distress.”

PAR also sees inconsistency in Gov. Wolf’s red-yellow-green plan to re-open the state gradually. PAR wants real estate opened uniformly.

“Otherwise we’re creating a lot of confusion,” Shindle said.

The governor’s plan creates challenges if buyers in red regions are looking to buy in green regions – or the other way around, she said.

“Allowing real estate services to be conducted in one county, while those in a bordering county are unable to do so, simply isn’t practical,” added Festa. “The phased reopening would provide housing relief to some Pennsylvanians, while prohibiting others’ ability to gain shelter.”

In the meantime, Festa said the industry is doing what it can. Sales are off between 75% and 80%, but a few have gone through. Such sales have been rare and complicated because vital components of a sale, such as home inspections and appraisals, aren’t allowed.

“A buyer would pretty much have to waive everything, but some have,” he said.

A study by the National Association of Realtors show that home sellers are holding steady and there hasn’t been any major decline in home prices during the pandemic. Prices are holding steady in Pennsylvania as well, Festa said. The properties just aren’t selling.