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Pa. officials allow scaled-back real estate operations to resume statewide

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In mid-March, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all businesses not considered “life-sustaining” to shutter in a statewide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Dan Moyle / Flickr

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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania real estate companies can resume in-person operations, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday, shortly after he vetoed a bill aimed at restarting the stalled industry.

The guidance issued by the Wolf administration allows those in the real estate sector — including realtors, appraisers, notaries, and home inspectors — to resume in-person operations if they follow certain guidelines. That includes maintaining a list of appointments with contact information for all participants and using separate vehicles for property viewings. Open houses and other group showings are still prohibited.

The guidance applies statewide, including in counties that are still under strict coronavirus lockdown orders.

Last week, the legislature gave final approval to a bill that would have required Wolf’s administration to issue waivers to real estate businesses, allowing them to resume operations if they followed federal and state safety precautions. Wolf had been urged by both Republicans and some Democrats to lift the restrictions.

In his veto message, Wolf called the bill an “infringement on the authority and responsibility of the executive,” and said it “violates the separation of powers which is critical to the proper functioning of our democracy.”

A spokesperson for the governor additionally said the legislation did not provide enough safety measures to mitigate the coronavirus.

Rep. Todd Polinchock (R., Bucks), a former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors who authored the bill, said he was “thrilled that people can once again find homes and that realtor professionals can safely start earning a living.”

Other Republicans, however, criticized Wolf for vetoing the legislature’s bill then issuing his own measure on the same topic.

“It fits with his pattern of acquiescing and actually doing something, but only after the legislature takes action,” Jenn Kocher, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP majority, said.

In mid-March, Wolf ordered all real estate companies and other businesses not considered “life-sustaining” to shutter in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients.

Since then, his administration has begun to gradually reopen counties, though the hard-hit southeast remains under a stay-at-home order with most businesses still closed.

As Wolf has repeatedly pledged a measured and regional approach to reopening, frustrated Republicans in the legislature have passed bills to restart certain industries statewide.

Wolf vetoed more of those bills Tuesday, including one that would have allowed car dealerships, garden centers, barbershops, and pet groomers that take safety precautions to reopen.

In a veto message, Wolf said his administration is deciding which counties can move out of the restrictive “red” phase of his tiered reopening plan “based on the advice of expert epidemiologists.”

“These decisions are not based just on the number of cases of COVID-19, but are also based on other critical factors, such as how community members interact, the county’s number of potential transmission points, a county’s geographic location, the capacity to undertake contact tracing, and testing availability,” he said.

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