In-person home showings, appraisals, inspections, and other real estate activity can resume throughout Pennsylvania under certain COVID-19 safety guidelines, according to an executive order Gov. Tom Wolf issued Tuesday.
Before the order reopened real estate, Pennsylvania was the only state that deemed real estate activity “nonessential” and barred in-person real estate transactions for a majority of its residents. The ban was part of the business shutdown meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The commonwealth permitted in-person real estate activity only in counties in the yellow phase of reopening. Philadelphia and its collar counties are still firmly in the red phase of closure.
All real estate-related businesses, including title companies, notaries, and mortgage loan officers, must follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conduct business remotely when possible, according to the executive order.
In-person activities such as showings and final walk-throughs must be scheduled by appointment and be limited to one real estate professional and two others inside a property at one time. Real estate agents and clients must travel separately. For in-person showings, appointments should be 30 minutes apart or more, agents should minimize the time spent inside the property, and everyone should avoid touching common surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches. Group showings remain banned.
Since Wolf included real estate activity in his business closures roughly two months ago, real estate agents have been relying on virtual tours and open houses to sell properties. But the ban on in-person showings and other interactions has depressed home sales. Some potential sellers and buyers have been stuck in financially perilous situations in which they couldn’t move forward with transactions.
"Frankly, it means that people can move on with their lives,” said Bill Festa, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. "I doubt seriously it’ll be like flicking a light switch and everything will be back to normal, but at least we can start that process.”
Conducting real estate transactions online has been difficult, he said. Many people weren’t comfortable buying a home without being able to walk through it.
“People need to go in,” he said. "They need to see; they need to smell the house.”
Wolf issued the executive order the same day he vetoed a bill that also would have reopened real estate, saying it did not include enough safety protocols. State Rep. Todd Polinchock (R., Bucks), who introduced the bill, said Wolf’s order includes the “basic concepts” of his legislation.
“Although I wish we could have done this as a team, I am grateful that Realtors throughout the commonwealth can finally help families find homes,” Polinchock said in a statement.
He said the real estate industry, as well as other businesses, “have been crippled by this statewide shutdown.”
“It is a great relief to know that we are giving back the citizens of our state one of the most important necessities they have, one that should never have been taken away in the first place,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors had been lobbying for the state to reopen real estate on behalf of its 35,000 members.