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Public Versus Private Conversations in Real Estate

Realtors are ethical, right?

How do we know if we don’t talk about it?

We know cities are safe because there are statistics.

We know how politicians are motivated because we know (mostly) who gives them money.

We know which local restaurants are good or bad.

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How do we know Realtors are ethical?

Because we trust us?

What Realtor discussions should be held behind closed doors? Free from the view of the general public?

What are we afraid of?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post discussing the (lack of) differences between Realtors and real estate agents – a story that caused a bit of consternation by some who felt this sort of thing should be discussed by Realtors, ostensibly with Realtors, rather than in public. Obviously, I disagree.

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In any organization, there are conversations that should be private – political strategies, financial standings, employment decisions … but ethics?

Here’s the thing – Realtors are public, as is our profession that we are more ethical than mere real estate agents. We depend and – trade on – the public’s trusting us.

The Code of Ethics is your pathway to professionalism. Make sure you understand what separates you, as a REALTOR®, from other real estate professionals, and get your office talking about and living by the Code.

Shouldn’t our discussions about our collective ethics be held in public?

How about a badge on local associations’ pages, “no ethics complaints in the past 123 days”? To be credible our system has to be credible.

It is incumbent upon us to discuss our collective ethical successes and shortcomings …

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How much transparency is too much?

Written By

Dad, Husband, Charlottesville Realtor, real estate Blogger, occasional speaker - Inman Connects, NAR Conferences - based in Charlottesville, Virginia. A native Virginian, I graduated from VMI in 1998, am a third generation Realtor (since 2001) and have been "publishing" as a real estate blogger since January 2005. I've chosen to get involved in Realtor Associations on the local, state & national levels, having served on the NAR's RPR & MLS groups. Find me in Charlottesville, Crozet and Twitter.



  1. Atlanta Real Estate

    October 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Are “ethics complaints” commonplace or something?

    And just exactly what are we going to be publicly discussing about ethics?

  2. Keith Lutz

    October 20, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Here’s what I don’t get. How much business can you have without being a REALTOR? I mean maybe it is different in other parts, but for me to get the MLS data (CMLS), you need to join the REALTOR organization (for us that is CRRA). Without that, I would have to depend on Zillow or Trulia or drive around and look for homes for sale. Am I missing something?!?! I know in Manhattan they have there own entity and do not belong to NAR, but that is the exception, not the rule.

  3. Atlanta Real Estate

    October 20, 2009 at 8:52 pm


    As far as I know, in Atlanta, it doesn’t matter as far as access to MLS data, etc.

    But, many brokerages require membership.

    But you know, I’ve never tested it, I just begrudgingly pay the dues.

  4. Ted Mackel

    October 21, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Actually it is against the law for an MLS require you to be a member of the AOR. Here is the catch 22. If your Broker is a member of the AOR, The AOR rules state that all agents under that Broker must join the AOR. What this means is that since your Broker will also be a MLS member, you will join the MLS because you need the data and you will Join the AOR not because of the MLS, but because of your Broker is a member of the AOR.

    You can move companies and find a Broker that is not a member of the AOR and only the MLS, but NAR is not a bad thing. It’s lobbying power is extremely important to our industry and home owners.

  5. teresa boardman

    October 21, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Interesting. I don’t have a clue how many ethics complaints are filed and I don’t have any sense for how ethical our local agents are. I guess the general public doesn’t either.

  6. Atlanta Real Estate

    October 21, 2009 at 7:06 am


    that’s what I’m talking about

    and if we are going to have “public” debates about ethics for realtors, why not have them for every other profession out there: teachers, mechanics, doctors, etc.

  7. Bob Wilson

    October 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

    People have public debates about ethics in many industries.

    Jim, are you suggesting that the debate over what defines ethics be public, or the accusation of unethical behavior be made public?

  8. Jim Duncan

    October 21, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Bob –

    I’m thinking that we should have public conversations about the efficacy of our ethics system –

    How many ethics complaints are filed per year?

    Accusations should be (in my thinking) private, but “convictions” public.

    Atlanta –

    “and if we are going to have “public” debates about ethics for realtors, why not have them for every other profession out there: teachers, mechanics, doctors, etc.”

    We do now – transparency has been moving towards these respective industries slowly, and with some fight, but it’s happening.

  9. Matthew Hardy

    October 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    There’s no such thing as an “ethical” organization or an “ethical” industry. Discussing ethics is good, especially when the discussion serves to clarify what is generally ethical behavior, but only individuals can be ethical, or not.

    The idea of marketing “no ethics complaints in the past 123 days” is a little like a doctor marketing “no patients killed in the last 123 days”, or a CPA “sober for 123 days”…

    People know that there are ethical people and unethical people and they know that there are methods of redress. I’m not sure that heralding how unethical behavior is handled group-wide would do anything but cause the public to assume that there are more ethics problems in real estate than perhaps there really are; i.e. would contribute to *more* disdain for the industry.

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