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What Real Estate Agents Do Now May Write The Future Of The Industry

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
A home for sale in Pittsburgh's Swisshelm Park neighborhood.

2020 was shaping up to be a bumper year for home sales in the Pittsburgh region before real estate agents were forced into a holding pattern by the coronavirus pandemic; real estate did not make Gov. Tom Wolf’s original or updated list of life-sustaining businesses.

John Adair with Coldwell Banker said he’s of two minds about the essential nature of his business. On one hand, he helps people to secure shelter. And real estate creates an economy, because a single sale translates into multiple jobs, he said.

“When I sell a property … a home inspector is hired, a mortgage application is made, an underwriter has a loan to review, a closing company has a title order.”

But Adair supports the governor’s order as a necessary means of protecting the public and checking the spread of the coronavirus. During the forced slow-down, Adair said he’s moving sales as far ahead as he can, and investing in his business by taking online classes.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors supported an effort to reclassify the industry as essential, but Bob Moncavage, president of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, isn’t hopeful.

“This is a political hot potato,” he said. “No one really wants to do anything that’s … going to come back on them.”

Instead, RAMP members are trying to embrace doing business remotely, though Moncavage noted there are limits. He said the governor’s order prohibits physical operations for activities related to real estate, which means appraisers can’t go out to a site to determine its value. Without an appraisal a bank won’t make a loan, he said. So unless you put up cash, you’d have to sit tight.

“It makes for almost an impossible transaction,” Moncavage said.

Katina Hunter of Coldwell Banker said some banks or mortgage brokers will allow a drive-by appraisal, and that right now it’s crucial to be open to doing things differently.

“Being open-minded to virtual tours, and trusting that your agent is going to be able to put together the verbage that you need to be protected, yet still secure the house that you’re interested in.”

Hunter said doing so may provide an edge to people for when the stay-at-home order is lifted or amended and potential buyers flood the market. She added that some buyers are closing on houses sight unseen.

An April report from the National Association of Realtors found that 25 percent of agents had at least one prospective buyer make an offer on a house without ever physically seeing it.

The pandemic forced agents to overhaul how they do business, and all of them expect some changes to be permanent. While many people want to see a home they intend to buy, open houses may change, said John Marzullo, another Howard Hanna agent.

“Is it even going to be allowed?” he wondered.

A lot more will be done online, agreed Kelly Cheponis of Howard Hanna, noting that Pennsylvania is one of the few states in which digital closings are not recognized.

“You actually have to attend a closing and give a wet signature,” she said. She expects closing companies and lending companies to move all of their work online in the future. “I know at least for me, I’m going to be so comfortable with digital that I don’t see myself going back.”