Real estate industry adapting to changes amid COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Real estate experts say it's too early to tell if COVID-19 is causing people living in the city to flee to the suburbs, but there's no question the pandemic has upended the real estate business.

In Pennsylvania, real estate transactions are considered a non-essential business. All the aspects that come with buying a home, such as showings and inspections are prohibited from occurring in person.

The Pennsylvania Realtor's Association is advocating for legislators to pass House Bill 2412, which would consider real estate a life-sustaining business.

"I would certainly view real estate as essential," said Kit Anstey, chairman of the Suburban West Realtors Association. "It has created a great hardship with many people that are in the position that they have to move. If it's because a job, if it's because they had their house under agreement before, there just are people that find the need to find housing immediately and it's difficult doing it the way we have."

However, some homebuyers are purchasing homes sight unseen. Kari Dimmick and her husband are under contract to buy a home in Cheltenham Township. They are moving from New York City and say the coronavirus has pushed them out.

"We need outdoor space," said Dimmick. "I think with the whole pandemic and everything like that we are really cooped up the last few weeks and even now more than ever we just want the outdoor space and more space in general."

Anstey says he feels optimistic home sales will increase once things return to normal. He adds that the governor deeming real estate as "non-essential" creates more obstacles.

"Today they (buyers) have to rely on the virtual tour, the photography, that is doable for some people, although myself and the people on my team and fellow realtors, there are buyers that just can't get past without physically going in the home," said Anstey.

The Zillow Real Estate Market Report says pending sales in the Philadelphia metro area were down 56 percent annually. However, it says there are slight signs of a rebound, with sales inching up.

Dimmick says she and her husband can't wait to move in and are set to close at the beginning of June.

"The virtual tour really helps out a lot," said Dimmick. "We got to walk through, ask all the questions that we needed to ask and we just felt confident and again, it was the right price, right interest rates so we thought, 'might as well take the leap.'"

When asked why real estate isn't an essential business given that it provides the basic need of shelter, a spokesperson with the Governor's office sent this statement:

"The governor's order was made with the health and safety of Pennsylvanians as first priority and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Regarding real estate operations, in-person activities such as inspections, appraisals, final walk-throughs, and in-person Title Insurance activities are permitted for only those residential real estate transactions which, with respect to existing homes, were under contract (signed) prior to the date of the March 18th, 2020, or, with respect to new construction, which was under a previously executed contract that provides for closing and delivery to the customer on or after March 18th, 2020."
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