Across Pennsylvania, the stories from real estate’s front lines were rampant: retirees unable to close on homes they’d vacated, because inspections were suddenly not allowed; a hospital nurse who’s a single mother with no place to live; a veteran who couldn’t find housing for his mother; families stuck with two mortgage payments, prohibited from completing the sale of their home after buying a new one. With 48 other states allowing at least some form of in-person real-estate business during the public health lockdown, the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS® worked tirelessly for its members – and for the countless consumers in a tight spot because of the pandemic – convincing a reluctant governor that housing is essential business.
“Our 35,000 members fully understood and respected the need for social distancing,” says Kim Shindle, Director of Communications at PAR. “But shelter is an essential need, as the governor himself had declared in a speech earlier this year, so our challenge was to have that fundamental importance reflected in the state’s policy that was unfolding during the crisis.” The governor’s initial guidance for a partial re-open was piecemeal, contradictory, and confusing, she notes, and further complicated by the fact that most real estate transactions occur across the boundaries of the commonwealth’s 67 counties, which had not received consistent instructions.
The association is fortunate in having Representative Todd Polinchock as an advocate in the State House: a REALTOR®, himself, he served as PAR’s 2016 President prior to his election to the legislature. With PAR’s help, Polinchock sponsored legislation to re-open the industry with safety precautions, a bill that received strong bi-partisan support in the house and the senate.
Meanwhile, as Pennsylvania’s voice for real estate, PAR was pulling out all the stops to enlist vocal support from its members and consumers. Anchoring its message with the governor’s own recent statement that “Housing is essential,” the association launched a statewide issues mobilization campaign with a dedicated website of centralized information at www.HousingIsEssential.org, which served as a platform for calls and emails to the governor’s office, policy updates, and FAQs. Using a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant, they crafted a series of three short online video ads, which dominated Facebook and Google during the five-day campaign. “NAR was great to work with, and so responsive, pivoting in a quickly evolving legislative situation,” says Sherri Martin, Political Affairs Manager for PAR.
“Our members were terrific advocates for our consumers,” reports Kevin Juliano, PAR’s Digital Director, who managed a statewide call for action in support of Polinchock’s bill, HB2412. “In just four days, over 13,000 individual calls and messages went out to the governor. More than 43% of those were from consumers, many from the private client lists of our members.” The governor’s office, he reports, actually had to turn off its phone lines.
Although ultimately vetoing HB2412, the governor almost immediately issued an executive order re-opening in-person real estate activities statewide.
Martin adds that the association had been sharing best practices with the governor’s office all along. “Though it was a massive undertaking to convince him to allow certain in-person real estate activities, it’s gratifying that many of our points and suggestions were included verbatim in the policy that was eventually issued,” she says. “We had thought through all the possible scenarios very carefully, with the health and safety of our members and consumers as our top priority, so we’re glad and grateful that he listened to our industry expertise!”
To learn more about how Pennsylvania’s REALTORS® are showing their legislature just how ‘essential’ the real estate industry is, contact Kim Shindle, Director of Communications, at 800-555-3390 ext. 3005.