If a Realtor is found to be unethical in a vacuum, does it matter?
Have a hypothetical:
Realtor X has a listing that has been on the market for 180 days. When re-listing the property on the 181st day, Realtor changes the street name from “Main Street” to “Main St” – Days on Market reset – thereby making this a “new” property on the market. Other Realtors may catch this, consumers may suspect this, and the systems – MLS and Realtor Ethics – lose trust and credibility.
Realtors gaming the MLS to manipulate days on market is an old story and makes good blog fodder, but if we just accept this as “the way it is” aren’t we all culpable? Coincidentally, Missy Caulk wrote a related article last week.
There are two questions –
1 – Is it ethical?
2 – So what if it isn’t?
Let’s look at the Realtor Code of Ethics … (bolding mine):
REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations. REALTORS® shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising, marketing, and other representations, and that the recipients of all real estate communications are, or have been, notified that those communications are from a real estate professional.
Standard of Practice 12-10
REALTORS®’ obligation to present a true picture in their advertising and representations to the public includes the URLs and domain names they use, and prohibits REALTORS® from:
1. engaging in deceptive or unauthorized framing of real estate brokerage websites;
2. manipulating (e.g., presenting content developed by others) listing content in any way that produces a deceptive or misleading result; or
3. deceptively using metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive, or divert Internet traffic, or to otherwise mislead consumers.
Is Anonymity the Answer?
By doing nothing, Realtors potentially protect their current and future clients from retribution wrought by Realtor X. If anonymous reporting were an option, I’d argue that there would be more reporting of violations. Sure there would be frivolous accusations, but in the current environment, less is certainly not more. Less is less – less reporting + less accountability + less fear of the system = less trust.
Anonymity – Some MLS’ have anonymous reporting for rules violations, but anonymous reporting for ethics violations are anathema to how we work. Why?
Our business as it is currently set up requires competition and cooperation. Wouldn’t you be inclined to hold a grudge against someone who filed a complaint against you? (assuming that for readers here it would be a frivolous complaint 🙂 )
1 – File an ethics complaint and accept the consequences – Realtor X may not present your offer next time, may bad-mouth you to her customers and fellow Realtors … and your clients may (will) suffer.
2 – Do Nothing. Continue weeping about the dearth of ethical Realtors without doing anything, and allow the systems to be devalued.
3 – Direct the Association to file an ethics complaint against one of their own members. (is this even possible?)
Until the public can search on a state or national site whether a Realtor has a history of ethics violations, why bother with the system?
But here’s the rub – There are no real consequences for unethical violators and – the results of ethics hearings are secret. The only ones who know are staff, the accused and the accuser. Heck, the only way other Realtors find out is a certain behavior has been deemed unethical is when the NAR releases a “case study.”
Keeping Realtor ethics “in house” doesn’t work. We’re not protecting the public from ourselves by not telling anyone. Hell, we’re not even protecting ourselves.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?
Personally, if there is an egregious violation, I am more inclined to file a complaint with my state’s regulators; at least that way the public will be informed – and there will be a public record of the violation.
Here’s another twist:
If this behavior is never proven to be true in a Code of Ethics Tribunal (or whatever it’s called) could a story or statement about this specific behavior fall under the new social media section of the Realtor Code of Ethics?