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Blogger says Realtors lie, gets slapped with disciplinary hearing

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Blog opinion at the center of controversy

Well known real estate blog, IrvineHousingBlog.com and its voice Larry Roberts are currently under fire by the Orange County Association of Realtors (OCAR) for violating the Realtor Code of Ethics for statements made on his blog. According to the OC Register, Roberts has a broker’s license but doesn’t run a brokerage or sell real estate and we verified he is not a Realtor or member of OCAR but OCAR is still calling Roberts in for a disciplinary hearing centering around his blog post that stated “Realtors take advantage of their status as trusted experts to manipulate buyers, and they feel no responsibility when their statements are exposed as lies.”

Roberts is well regarded in the real estate industry as a “bubble blogger” and admits to being “over the top,” a quality that is obvious in every article he writes from his choice of words to his parody images.

Roberts claims that OCAR has not explained why he is being called in for a disciplinary hearing (or “kangaroo court” as he calls it), rather he has only been notified that he violated the Realtor Code of Ethics’ Article 15 which states “Realtors shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices.”

It is standard practice for grievance committees of Associations to consider all complaints lodged against them, and although not so in this case, often, the agent lodging a complaint is not kept anonymous as some associations adhere to the American standard of giving the accused the right to face their accuser.

At the heart of the anonymous complaint

The anonymous complaint lodged to OCAR was about an article Roberts wrote about Dr. Brent White’s paper, Trust, Expert Advice, and Realtor Responsibility wherein he opined that “Realtors take advantage of their status as trusted experts to manipulate buyers, and they feel no responsibility when their statements are exposed as lies.”

The article was removed shortly thereafter according to Roberts who said removal came not because of his language, rather Dr. White chose to publish it in full elsewhere. Roberts said, “The post containing Dr. White’s paper is apparently part of the the OCAR complaint against me — A post that was 90% someone else’s writing. I was drawn to Dr. White’s paper because he was making the same argument I was in The Great Housing Bubble and in many posts on the IHB: realtors should stop making representations of financial returns in real estate as an inducement to buy.”

“My statement is my reality.”

Publicly defending himself against OCAR, Roberts said, “I don’t seek to shame people, I try to point out what people do whether it be borrowers or realtors so people can see the wisdom or the foolishness in the behavior for themselves.” He also noted that “My statement is my reality. If I am mistaken, and if no realtor has ever made an intentionally misleading statement as to future value of a house, then I am mistaken, not a liar. That being said, I don’t think I am mistaken.”

Roberts has been a contrarian voice for years in the real estate sector so his ruffling of some feathers is no surprise, but the disciplinary hearing given his not being a Realtor or even a member of OCAR is puzzling to us. As of publication, OCAR had not returned our call.

Putting the shoe on the other foot

OCRegister commenter JackD asked, “So, does this mean we can now sue the NAR for fraud and misrepresentation? Let us not forget that the NAR and David Lereah spent millions of dollars trying to convince people that Realtors were housing experts and that home prices would never drop.”

This sentiment is common for people supporting Roberts and calling OCAR’s move hypocritical and noting the irony of the specific sentiment the anonymous complaint has taken issue with.

Convergence of Ethics and Realtor rights

Although only 10% of Realtors have a blog, the issue of the first amendment has long been an issue- where does the First Amendment start and the Code of Ethics end and when they converge, which takes precedent? Can Realtors openly opine? It’s not just the Code of Ethics agents contend with, it is Fair Housing and other laws, and Realtors are fairly limited as to what they can say.

In this case, if Roberts was a Realtor, it would make sense to uphold the Realtor Code of Ethics, but in this case, his lawyer asserts that his First Amendment rights have been violated and Robert alludes to pursuing national consumer focused news outlets like 60 Minutes if the hearing isn’t called off, a news magazine that favors bubble bloggers and Redfins and would likely be open to hearing Robert’s story.

One Roberts supporter told us, “It is unlikely that consumers will understand that when a person says something negative and false about a Realtor or a Realtor organization, their feet are put to the fire, but when they say something positive and false (like Lereah), they are given a pass.”

Your thoughts on the controversy

We want to know what you think- does this disciplinary hearing make sense? Is OCAR doing their duty and simply responding to a Realtor complaint? Is the anonymous complainer out of line? Should the CoE be enforced amongst non-Realtors? Is Roberts’ First Amendment right being violated by OCAR? Tell us in comments what you think of this heated controversy.

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61 Comments

61 Comments

  1. Pat hallesy

    June 9, 2011 at 5:42 am

    OCAR has about as much jurisdiction over him as they do over me in Virginia!

  2. Julia

    June 9, 2011 at 6:54 am

    I don't get why he would even acknowledge their existence or "summons." If he's not a Realtor, he's never pledged to uphold the COE and it isn't a legal issue as far as I can tell from the facts presented here.

    What are they going to do if they find him "guilty?" Throw him out of the Association? The one he doesn't belong to.

  3. Ray

    June 9, 2011 at 10:48 am

    What's preventing him from sending them a three fingered salute about this?

  4. herman chan

    June 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

    sounds like their fragile ego was bruised & theyre lashing out. is the real story about bullying?

  5. Sissy

    June 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Larry IS a realtor, and DOES sell houses in Orange County. He just does it under Shevy Akason's license. He wants it both ways. What a sleezebag!

  6. BawldGuy

    June 9, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Every time you think a Realtor organization can't possibly embarrass themselves further, they slam egg on your face. I'd dare them to sue me if I was the blogger. OCAR would back off faster than you could say clueless.

  7. Roberta Murphy

    June 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Have rolled my eyes at the stupidity of agents who assured clients about future appreciation of real estate. Almost rolled out of my chair at the stupidity of OCAR in trying to discipline a non-member.

  8. Liz Benitez

    June 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I see why some Realtor somewhere was upset that this dude called him a liar, but really what are they going to do about it. Sounds like "I think I have digger and badder friends than you, lets have a cat fight at recess."

  9. Matt Stigliano

    June 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Oh no, someone said something bad about Realtors (r). Wed better nip that in the bud and fast! Seriously, this is absolutely redonkulous. How do you discipline someone not under your jurisdiction. We talk about the COE and it's value to separate us from non-Realtors (r), then something like this happens where an association ignores that there is indeed that difference and tries to attack some with the COE. Stupidest thing I've ever heard. I sure hope they drop it and move on.

    What I find more shameful is the anonymous complaint system, which thanks to CA's shining example, Texas has adopted as well. What a slimy, shameful way to make a complaint. Oh but Matt, they are protecting themselves from future reprisals by those they complain against! I call bullshit on that. Reprisals? What are we warring factions? Sure there are those that will play dirty pool, but let them…and let it show for all the world to see. Ugh. Somedays, I find real estate tiresome.

  10. sfvrealestate

    June 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Matt, regarding CA's shining example on the anonymous complaint system: there's also no obligation to follow up with the anonymous complainer. So how do the complaints get handled since there's no accountability? That's right, they go to the circular file. That's been my experience here anyway.

  11. Jim Duncan

    June 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Is Roberts planning to attend this hearing to which he's not subject?

  12. John Perkins

    June 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Its his opinion and you can't tread on it. They will be lucky if they aren't sued for more than just wasting his time. How dare they interfere with his rights as a citizen of the United States of America whether he has a real estate license or not. Shame on them!

    btw: Hey Larry, haters will make you famous.

  13. Roland Estrada

    June 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Any agent that is stupid enough to offer assured gains deserves what he or she gets and especially in this climate. There is a portion of licensed agents out there that should not be practicing and I've met my fair share.

  14. Ted Mackel

    June 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    The only thing that has not been discussed is that you can be an MLS member and not an AOR member. As and MLS member you agree to the Code of Ethics. He has IDX on his site and you need to be an member of a MLS to have IDX. The code of ethics is national so if you create a problem in other states, you can have a code of ethics problem.

    I have know idea if there is a violation here, but if he is an MLS member, he agreed to the Code of Ethics and if he is not an MLS member, then how does he have access to IDX data?

    • Randy Pereira

      June 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      Ted that is an excellent point! I think OCAR might actually have a case based on that fact alone.

      Interesting to see how this plays out…

  15. Sig Buster, III

    June 10, 2011 at 7:23 am

    So how does this affect us Realtors? If we are invited to state our opinion of the stupid dues increase by NAR and we object to it, and Phipps doesn't like it, do we get disiplined by NAR?

  16. Missy Caulk

    June 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    In our board we can have non-member sales person. They are not a member of NAR but have IDX and list and sell.

    Some E&0's insurance doesn't cover for them.

    If they are not a Member of the Board, NAR, MAR they can not vote at meetings and can not be called up for grievance.

  17. Jonathan Benya

    June 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    What am I missing here? How do they have any authority whatsoever to say anything about what he wrote? My understanding is that they have no authority, control, or influence here, right?

    Tell the board to kiss a duck!

  18. Paula Henry

    June 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    It seems fairly cut and dry – he's not a member; how can he be subject to their rules and code of ethics? Bad publicity for OAR, if you ask me.

  19. Paula Henry

    June 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    OCAR, that is!

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