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Opinion Editorials

Ethics of blogging competing broker property listings

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Is there a definitive answer?

I’ve been an active Realtor in the San Francisco real estate market since 2002, and blogging about SF real estate since 2006, so I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t have a definitive answer to this question: is it a violation of the NAR Code of Ethics to blog about another Realtor’s listing? Many have opined, yet there is still a major disconnect between opinions. I’ve researched this topic, and I can’t find a definitive answer online… I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

The NAR code of ethics has a section titled “Duties to Other Realtors” – and it covers three basic concepts: 1) You will mediate and/or arbitrate grievances with other real estate professionals. 2) Don’t interfere with another agent’s exclusive representation agreement and 3) Don’t talk trash about a fellow real estate professional. The third concept is written a bit more precisely by NAR, and reads:


    REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.

A strange conclusion

It seems to me that this statement comes closest to answering the question about what one Realtor may blog about another Realtor’s listing. And the answer, to me at least, seems to be a strange one, with the answer being – you can say anything you want online about another agent’s listing as long as what your write is nice and positive.

If I want to write about your listing and I have nothing but good things to say about it (and I clearly identify it as your listing) it doesn’t seem to me you have much of a claim against my writing about your listing. The comments making agents so frothy at the mouth that they’ll actually go to the trouble to file an ethics complaint aren’t the false compliments, they are the critical comments that are often a matter of judgement.

For example, another agent has a new listing. It’s priced at $500,000, which for purposes of discussion, I decide is a bargain. So I go on and blog about what a great property it is and how phenomenal the price is, and that it offers great value, etc. I identify the listing agent and brokerage and don’t in any way try to present it as my listing, just my commentary about someone else’ listing. And let’s say months later this property sells for $400,000. Did I make a false or misleading statement about another real estate professional, their business, or business practices when I said it was a bargain at $500,000? I have yet to hear of anyone being served with an ethics complaint for praising the list price of another agent.

But what if we reverse the situation?

Another agent has a new listing at $500,000, which I think is an absolute rip-off and completely overpriced. So I blog about what a beautiful home it is, but my opinion of value is substantially less than the list price and suggest it will only sell for $400,000. Have I violated the Code of Ethics now? Is my statement false or misleading if I believe it to be true and accurate? Until the property sells, if I can make an argument with comparable properties, have I made a false or misleading statement? If the property eventually sells for the price I state is reasonable, does the listing agent have a valid ethics complaint against me? Even if I’m right about the value of the property, have I implied in my criticism of the initial pricing that the other agent has knowingly taken an overpriced listing or inflating their estimate of value to get the listing?

Here’s my concern: If all a Realtor that blogs is allowed to write about another agent’s listing is positive cheer-leading or nothing at all, it seems that the real estate industry has made a huge strategic blunder.

Sellers and buyers are having plenty of conversations online about the value of properties. I think it is ridiculous to silent the critical voice of real estate professionals who make their living about accurately knowing the market and the value of a property. At the same time, though, I don’t want to see real estate blogs and forums become a venue for trash talking others.

How do you handle blogging about listings?

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Daniel Bates

    January 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I am a Broker and real estate blogging coach and find it interesting how agents decide to cover other agent's listings (despite my coaching). The broad majority will not list more than an address in passing (i.e. a hot sheet or list of homes in a specific niche). Some agents will copy and paste a hot listing straight from the MLS (probably 50/50 whether I see them give credit). Rarely do I find someone really putting themselves out there in terms where I would even begin to think they are violating any code of Ethics and I think it's because we're so scared of lawsuits.

    I like to examine good deals from different angles. Your typical agent is going to give you just the facts. I can write a post with a single picture of that listing (I always take my own, because I do believe that that MLS photo is the agent's property) and mention the price and the listing brokerage but then go on to examine the listing from a rental perspective or compare it to a different type of home to show it's value. I'm not selling the listing, I'm using it to demonstrate my services though. At the end of the day when the consumer sees both articles (mine always rank better though), who do you think they want to contact about the listing, the one that gave them information available on every website or the one that told them something that no one else would?

    A final thought I've had is to do walkthrough videos of other agents listings. I'm a little nervous about how that will be perceived and whether a broker would grant permission for that (now look who's afraid of getting sued) so I've thought about making them private and sharing them behind a password protected site where access is controlled by me (theoretically to clients), but I'd love to hear other agents' thoughts on video and photography rights?

  2. Matt Thomson

    January 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Doesn't matter how many times it comes up, still an interesting and difficult question. Our MLS offers "Blogging" as a mandatory category when inputting a listing. We can check if we want to prohibit blogging. I don't often blog about other agent's listings, but when I do I obtain email permission.
    I want something in writing saying the agent is okay with it.
    Then, I really only write the nice things (I'm not going to make many friends getting permission to blog nasty things about their listings).
    If I don't have anything positive to say about it, why blog about it?

  3. Houston Real Estate Guy

    January 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. My belief is that we should always follow the proper internet protocol and never slander anyone or any company.

  4. Hugo Torres

    January 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    The public has the right to opine and share their thoughts publicly on nearly anything imaginable.

    Social networks thrive on peer review and they therefore encourage with badges, points, etc.

    When it comes to Real Estate, one of the most fiscally impacting transaction of most people, it seems foolhardy to not seek the advice of a professional whose knowledge of the market can help a prospective client seek the best deal possible.

    How in today's day are REALTORS supposed to showcase this priceless commodity I call – KNOWLEDGE if they are not allowed to display it for the world?

    The trouble lies is that critical writing is a skill that takes years to wield appropriately. Many of those who would take to the web to share their opinion would do so without regard to how their words could harm a seller or a buyer who sees their "opinion" as truth even if they don't make references to sources or credible data.

    But just because a few bad apples may put their foot in their mouth doesn't mean that responsible and knowledgeable agents shouldn't share on the world wide web. To the contrary, their words could help educate the public and other agents and that is truly a wonderful gift.

    @hugorealtor

  5. Michael Corley

    January 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I think any broker whose interested in growing their market share and increasing their revenue should embrace blogging about other agency listings, provided your analysis is based on market factors that are not in dispute and the broker blogging isn't attacking another agent's business practices.

    Editorial opinion is a long accepted practice and can be found in other professions where competing opinions exist.

    Market value for any assets is nothing more than an informed opinion.

    NAR's code of ethics isn't a replacement for codified agency and business laws in the state your licensed in.

    Make blogging your way of demonstrating real value to consumers in the marketplace you provide service to and divorce yourself of the idea you make money solely at the discretion of MLS brokers.

    Consumers (both homeowners and buyers) will find your value proposition vital in a difficult market.

  6. Marlow Harris

    January 12, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Our MLS prohibits writing about or advertising other agents listing without their permission.

    Because of that, we tend to write only about interesting, beautiful or unusual properties. As Matt points out, one wouldn't ask for permission and then write snarky comments about another agent's listings.

  7. Matt Fuller, GRI

    January 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments – our association does not (as far as I know) have a specific policy with regards to blogging listings…

    I've always felt that the Golden Rule is the best one to follow, but I've always been intrigued by how vague the guidelines seem to be.

    Michael C. – When it comes to a pricing analysis with a listing agent, any time you take issue with the list price being too high I'm pretty sure the market factors will be disputed 😉

  8. Smith John

    March 22, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Hi Matt,

    I agree with you your article and especially by the point that Its not good to discourage any other person in your profession or in the related profession by your comments, its totally out of ethics not only in real estates but in all of the professions every where in the world.

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