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Ethics

NAR Code of Ethics rules for Social Media, Realtors and Associations

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ten-commandments2More “Thou Shalts”

It’s true according to VarBuzz that the new wisdom coming from NAR Midyear are new amendments to beef up the existing code of thou shall not talk smack about your fellow agents in blog posts or comments that cannot be backed up by empirical evidence- that’s a good thing, right? Yes, but be careful.

First of all, you shouldn’t be writing things that aren’t true on your blog in the first place, stories should be attributed to fact, or you should have possession of absolute fact.

On the other hand, the idea that you should or could actually edit commentary (post comments) is the deal breaker- because the minute you edit the comment, you own it. In other words, with the proper disclaimers, commenters own their words, until you edit them to suit your point of view- this includes redaction.

The answer is simple, the second a name is mentioned or you believe a comment could be offensive or do harm to reputation or business, just delete it.

Things that are missing from the amendment from what’s been released are as follows:

  • We’re a global read- how shall we deal with across state or board lines?
  • What constitutes a clarification- a disclaimer should suffice, do boards agree?
  • I noticed that the amendment did not include all social arenas (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Will the NAR back Realtors who wish to sue 3rd party sites for misleading or false allegations?
  • Who will moderate he said/she saids between Realtors/Consumers in the social space?

Here’s a snippet provided by VarBuzz

Standard of Practice 15-2 was amended and a new Standard of Practice was approved to strengthen members’ obligations to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, including in use of social media tools.

The new amendment 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. For example, if you’re publishing a blog and someone posts a false or misleading comment about a fellow REALTOR® on it, it’s your duty to remove the post or publish a clarification when you become aware of it.

Separately, the board approved a change to the NAR Bylaws, imposing the same duties on associations and MLSs as on members to not make false or misleading statements against competitors, competitors’ business practices, or competitors’ companies.

For what it’s worth, I actually think this is a good thing- it’s just too easy for losers to attack you when they have nothing credible to add to the conversation.

What are your thoughts? Sick of public smears on fellow Realtors, bloggers? Do you think that in order to use MLS data that 3rd party sites like Trulia or Zillow have to agree to the same COE?

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    May 18, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I’m in agreement.

    Should be some rules about sucker punching with a smear haymaker. If you wouldn’t print your false and misleading statements in a newspaper or a magazine, you shouldn’t on the web either.

    Let’s face it, the web/blogging/etc., well, it’s been a sorta free range, Deadwood style from time to time.

    I don’t see how NAR could impose these article on 3rd parties.

    I imagine that over time, most every article will have to edited to include forms of electoric/web media.

    Interesting times.

    Yep, I think deleting is the way to go.

  2. Benn Rosales

    May 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I just got an offline clarification that the amendment covers all media used by Realtors to include any form of electronic media, so it would include Twitter and facebook and other forums as well.

  3. Benn Rosales

    May 18, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    “I don’t see how NAR could impose these article on 3rd parties.”

    and that’s the most unfortunate part- we’re held to a different standard than 3rd party sites that publish our content.

  4. Spero Speropoulos

    May 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Yes Realtor’s should be held to a higher standard.
    No we can’t hold third parties to our standards.
    We should by no means, social or other, smear the name of anyone, especially one of our own. We have a fantastic system for complaints.
    Let the media and the others say what they want. Stone throwing only makes the pitcher look bad anyway.
    The public is not stupid. In the long run we will be judged fairly.

  5. Jack Lindberg

    May 28, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    wow… a small step. We are worried about 3rd parties? And yet I see brokers hand over their data to just about anyone for display…without that party being held to the same standards – esp. licensing! When Google came to me about their ‘widget’, the first thing i warned my broker clients about is that once they hand that data over, they lose control and if Google did something that was against licensing laws, the broker is still responsible. We still have major problems with technology in the industry and not enough people that know what they are doing…

  6. Joe Loomer

    May 28, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    @Jack – check out the MIBOR/NAR vs Paula Henry stuff about indexing vs. scraping – right up your alley.

    I’m a firm believer in not worrying about the future and just live by the lessons I’ve learned from my parents and the World’s Finest Navy. I figure it’s kept me out of trouble this long.

    I do think that first time the 3rd party issue pops up is going to fun to watch – or not – depending on how it plays out.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

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Ethics

The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.

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An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics

Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?

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Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Ethics

Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already

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A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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