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What two journalists’ mistakes can teach Realtors about ethics

What journalists and Realtors have in common

Two things happened recently with wildly different writers for local paper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Connie Schultz, wife of Senator Sherrod Brown, used to be an opinion columnist. She mainly focused on social issues and human interest pieces while working at the PD, and up until one of her rare columns, did not typically veer into what could be construed as a conflict of interest in regards to her political pieces. 

Mrs. Schultz went to a Tea Party rally in September of 2011, and wrote about the experience. At that rally, a potential competitor for Sen. Brown’s seat spoke. In the first of two columns, Mrs. Schultz did not disclose this. It ultimately got her bounced to the Metro Section of the paper. The two have since amicably parted ways. 

This month, Tony Grossi, (now former) Browns beat reporter sent a Tweet, he says mistakenly. It was supposed to be a direct message, in reference to Browns owner, Randy Lerner. Lerner had made a rare radio appearance, and although Grossi admittedly didn’t listen to the interview, he tweeted, “He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world.” Grossi has been reassigned to a yet to be determined new post as of this week. Yes, everyone has apologized to Mr. Lerner.

Writers and reporters who usually have specific assignments with newspapers and other media venues, or potential conflicts of interest which need to be addressed, in some ways are like Realtors. They (and we as agents) are almost always operating, regardless of the context, under the presumption that our professional hats are continually being worn. For Realtors, there is an excellent reason for this expectation.

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Realtor Code of Ethics

In the pre-Amble to the Code of Ethics which we promise to follow, we agree that “The term REALTOR® has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal. In the interpretation of this obligation, REALTORS® can take no safer guide than that which has been handed down through the centuries, embodied in the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them.”  Accepting this standard as their own, REALTORS® pledge to observe its spirit in all of their activities whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means, and to conduct their business in accordance with the tenets set forth below.

Additionally, Article 15 of the Code of Ethics reads, “Realtors will not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.  In addition to this, Standard of Practice 15-2 was amended as follows; The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses and their business practices includes the duty to not knowingly or recklessly publish, repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others. This duty applies whether false or misleading statements are repeated in person, in writing, by technological means (e.g., the Internet), or by any other means.  Along with Standard of Practice 15-3; The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, and their business practices includes the duty to publish a clarification about or to remove statements made by others on electronic media the REALTOR® controls once the REALTOR® knows the statement is false or misleading.

What the Code does not say

Absolutely none of this is to say we can’t advise our clients, have fact-based opinions about things, including other agents or companies, nor is meant to be a deterrent from using social media, email, or traditional forms of communication. It is a guide to make us stop and think before we, as Realtors (and even as members of the human race) behave, act, and react, in regards to business practices, online networking, and everyday dealings. The writers from the Cleveland Plain Dealer are stellar examples of what can happen when we unintentionally step outside our professional bubble. If we are to make claims or blanket statements about other professionals, or as a somewhat second party to the effect by replying and becoming engaged via Twitter, LinkedIn, G+, FaceBook, or even via more traditional form of communication, we had better be able to back those things up with proof.

I’ll even take the social media aspect one step further, and say that as Realtors, we may (and can) have a perceived reflection to others of who our friends are and what they post. I have un-friended people online who I’ve known them personally for years because of things they’ve said that I felt were completely inappropriate. I have also removed others’ comments on my social networks, or simply not allowed them to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or other networks. While I am a very big supporter of the First Amendment, and not limiting free speech or ideas, I do feel that as Realtors, we have a duty to be respectful in how we interact with other people, and this includes possibly not being “friends” online with those whose’ views are extreme and discriminatory in nature.

If we can learn anything from the missteps of the journalists in my town, it is that we are all being watched, and while journalists have their own ethics rules, we too are bound by a Code of Ethics that we all must follow, and the Code is truly common sense to keep us all above board, even when we tweet irrationally in what was meant to be a direct message. Whether or not we remove an inflammatory comment online we made, (about an agent or brokerage or franchise we compete with, or about a bad neighborhood) we must think about our Code of Ethics before we tweet/Facebook/blog and remember that we are allowed our licenses by following the Code, online and offline.

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Written By

Katie Cosner, occasionally known as Kathleen, or KT, is a Realtor® with Cutler Real Estate and is active in her local Board of Realtors® on the Equal Opportunity & Professional Development Committee. She has been floating around online for a number of years, and is on facebook as well as twitter. While Katie has a few hardcore beliefs, three in the Real Estate World to live and die by are; education, ethics, and the law - insert random quote from “A Few Good Men” here. Katie is also an avid Cleveland Indians fan, which really explains quite a bit of her… quirks.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. real estate guy

    January 31, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    We are a media company and do to the down right poor content,
    marketing of about one dozen realtors/brokers in a selected market area over the entire LAST DECADE WE HAVE STARTED CALLING THESE REAL ESTATE BROKERS OUT!! in the public domain…directly stating why these brokers are losers and do not deserve their commissions. facts, figures and content…As the real estate guy has told ag over the last 2.5 yrs real estate brokers are losers and failures…now we are publishing the facts.
    and we are talking billion dollar franchises taking direct hits from an independent…do your job or get out of the real estate business..

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