Another industry may begin reopening throughout Pennsylvania, irrespective of location. On May 19, 2020, Governor Wolf announced that the real estate industry may immediately begin conducting certain business transactions statewide, irrespective of whether the business is located in a “Yellow” or “Red” zone. The administration also issued industry-specific safety guidance that must be followed by businesses that choose to reopen. Pennsylvania previously permitted the statewide reopening of construction businesses, and issued industry specific guidance shortly thereafter.
Per the newly-released guidance, the real estate industry includes “real estate professionals, appraisers, notaries, title companies, settlement service providers, escrow officers, home inspectors, mortgage loan originators, processors, and underwriters, and other necessary office personnel.” The guidance states that such businesses and personnel may “conduct in-person operations for properties located in counties which have designated as being in the Red and Yellow phases, so long as they strictly adhere to the requirements of this guidance.”
The guidance requires relevant businesses to:
- Follow all applicable provisions of the May 4 Guidance for Businesses Permitted to Reopen, available here and discussed here, including, but not limited to, telework requirements, provisions requiring that every person present at a work site, business location, or property offered for sale, wear masks/face coverings, and provisions requiring the establishment of protocols for execution upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Utilize separate transportation to property showings and all other in-person activities.
- Schedule in-person office visits, property showings, appraisals, inspections, final walk-throughs, and title insurance activities by appointment and maintain records of all appointments, including contact information for all participants. Where possible, utilize unoccupied model homes for in-person showings.
- Limit in-person activities to no more than the real estate professional and two people inside a property at any time, exercising appropriate social distancing.
- When conducting settlements/closings utilize remote notary, powers of attorney (POA) or the exchange of contract documents electronically or by mail wherever possible. Where it is not possible to conduct settlement/closing via remote notary or POA, attendance in-person must be limited to required signatories and their legal counsel or real estate professional only, and steps to preserve social distancing must be followed to the maximum extent possible. Advance copies of documents should be provided for review prior to the settlement date, wherever possible.
- Real estate businesses must conduct operations via telework where feasible.
The guidance also prohibits the following in-person conduct: (1) Providing food during in-person activities; and (2) conducting in-person group showings for either potential buyers or real estate professionals, including open houses, broker opens or office tours.
Finally, the guidance clarifies that businesses that are eventually operating in counties designated as in the Green phase of reopening will not need to follow this industry-specific guidance.
Seyfarth continues to monitor the Wolf Administration’s business-related orders in response to COVID-19 and will provide further updates as available.