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Know When to Blow the Whistle

Basketball on the brain…

My first college basketball games of the season are just a few days away, and high school scrimmages start next week.  The officiating season has already begun, so I’ve got basketball on the brain.  Don’t worry, though; I’m still thinking about real estate. . .

People tend to watch referees when they blow the whistle, and pretty much ingore them the rest of the time.  Referees are okay with that, believe me.  If, however, people watched the referees when they weren’t blowing the whistle, they would gain a new perspective on the game.  One of the things that people don’t realize is that referees do more officiating without the whistle, then they do with it.  As I have always thought of it like this:  knowing when to blow the whistle is the science of officiating.  Knowing when not to blow the whistle is the art.

Trust me when I say this:  basketball referees do much more communicating without the whistle than they do with it.  Calling fouls is done when there are no other options.  Technical fouls and ejections are a perfect example of this.  No referee wants to call a technical foul.  Typically, there is a lot of communication that has gone on between referee and coach/player before the foul is called.  Referees do whatever is in their power to try and communicate to a coach/player before they have to resort to the technical foul.

Translating this into the real estate game

Let’s talk about the Code of Ethics for a minute.  Personally, I find it to be much more of a “Code of Rules,” since many of the articles have little to do with a REALTOR’s ethics.  Here is just one illustration of what I mean:

Let’s say you get a call from a buyer client who was looking at a listing on another agent’s website.  The client tells you the listing is $225,000.  She wants to see the house.

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You go to the MLS and find the listing.  In the MLS, the price says, $200,000.  Hmmm. . .that’s not right.

According to Standard of Practice 12-8, one could argue the agent has violated of the Code of Ethics.  You are now face with 2 options:

1)  You could file an ethics violation and have your board investigate it.  Letters will be sent, maybe even a hearing will be held, yadda, yadda, yadda.


2)  You could just call the agent on the phone, let him know that you have a client that is interested in the listing, and let him know that the price needs to be updated on his website.

If you chose option number 1, PLEASE don’t become a basketball referee.  You won’t make it through a middle-school game.

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Know when to blow the whistle

I’m not saying that the COE isn’t important, just as I would never say that the basketball rule book isn’t important.  What is more important, however, is how those rules are enforced on the ground by the people responsible for/to them.

When I officiate a basketball game, I want the game to be conducted as incident-free as possible.  The game is for the players, so I want their experience to be a safe and enjoyable one.  I know that players and coaches are going to break the rules.  If I have an opportunity to talk to a player or coach before they commit a foul, I’ll do it.  If I have the opportunity to pass on a possible foul and talk a player out of doing that behavior again, I’ll do it.  Blowing the whistle stops the game.  The game is no good if it is stopping all the time.

When I practice real estate, I want similar things.  I want transactions to go smoothly. I want all of the people involved to have as pleasant and rewarding an experience as possible.  I know that sometimes, agents and customers are going to do and say things they shouldn’t.  If I have an opportunity to talk to them about it and address it, I’ll do it.  If I can help them from preventing mistakes in the future, I’ll do it.

Sure, I could run around, combing ads and websites, looking for COE violations.  I could spend time filing those violations, and I could spend even more time going to hearings and not talking about them (since the hearings are confidential).  Honestly, I have better things to do with my time, and phone calls and emails are far more efficient than any board proceeding I have ever been to.

But what if people don’t respond?

Good question.

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I’m not stupid. I live in the real world.  There are some bad people in the real world, some real @$$holes.  I know this.  Between being a basketball referee and a practicing REALTOR, I think I’ve met most of them.  One thing I’ve learned is-  you can’t save everyone.

You might encounter someone who won’t respond to your communication, no matter how friendly or well-intentioned it may be.  When that is the case, you gotta do what you gotta do.  On the basketball floor, that means blowing the whistle.  In real estate, you just might have to go to one of those confidential hearings.  Part of subscribing to a Code of Ethics is accepting the responsibility for enforcing it.  Living up to that responsibility sometimes requires difficult action.

Knowing when to blow that whistle is critical to officiating basketball, and an often ignored part of being a REALTOR.  Making that choice isn’t always easy; but, as basketball officials often quip– hey, that’s why we get paid the big bucks. 😉

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Written By

I'm a REALTOR, basketball referee, happy husband, and Community Manager (in no particular order). I have a passion for the real estate industry and officiating, a passion that I try to turn into inspiration on my blog, The Real Estate Zebra. I am also the Community Manager at Inman News. When I'm not blogging here on AG or the Zebra, you can usually find me on Twitter.



  1. Matt Stigliano

    November 13, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    As a hockey fan, I see the referees do the same things. Its always fun to watch the experienced referees warn the players. They’re often as vocal as some of the players, but without the punching.

    I definitely agree with you on this one. Its easy to point fingers and file complaints. Its harder to speak to someone and mention the problem so it can be resolved. Of course, some people don’t like any sort of criticism, so I can imagine it can be hard to resolve something with another agent, but I do agree you should try that avenue first.

  2. Paula Henry

    November 13, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Daniel – Last year our brokerage merged with another RE/MAX and I forgot to change the name and address on a few sites. It’s really hard to remember every where you put your info.

    An agent in the office told me one day – hey, do you know your site still has the old name and address on it. I was thankful for the polite reminder.

    I think most agents would feel the same, but know a few who would not be. It’s a tough call when you have to decide the next step, if you don’t get an amicable response.

  3. Daniel Rothamel

    November 13, 2008 at 4:24 pm


    Your example is a perfect one. As far as responses and the “next step” go, you are exactly right. It is a tough call. A Zebra lives for the tough call.

    Like I said, that’s why we get paid the big bucks. 😉

  4. Ben Goheen

    November 13, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    If I reported all the violations I see on our MLS I’d never get work done. You’re exactly right – just have to know when to say ‘oh well’ and move on. I’m not perfect and know I’ve possibly violated a couple rules here and there, but I’d much rather get a phone call from an agent than someone at the MLS board.

    By the way, is it sad that I wondered if @$$holes was already taken on Twitter?

  5. Missy Caulk

    November 13, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    I tried to call an agent today to give her a referral, and he old company and brokerage were still on her web-site. Oh my…

    I know some MLS’s are heavy into fines, our’s is just a report of something not right and the IT guy calls the agent. I check back and usually nothing has changed.

    Too busy to deal with it all…

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    November 13, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve said this before, and will repeat it here. I am concerned about the small group that intentionally try to harm people; all the rest simply need to be educated better.

    As a Pro Standards Administrator I see and hear tons of complaints and most of the time it’s about a bitter agent who “lost” an argument or deal. It almost always comes back to something not being “fair.” Life isn’t fair and there is no law against it.

  7. Deborah Madey

    November 14, 2008 at 3:12 am

    Ditto for reports to state real estate commissions. Clogging the system with issues that can be easily resolved in other ways leaves less time for the associations and boards to focus on situations that warrant their attention.

    I have a closet with a witch hat and a big broom, but I usually leave that closet door locked. Every once in a while, there is a need to open the closet door….just like sometimes there is a need for you to blow your whistle.

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