We've All Heard It Before

Real Estate Attorney MA 9505496/Broker

“That’s a violation of the Code of Ethics.”


We’ve all heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. But what does it really mean when someone says that an action is a violation of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics (the COE)?

The COE addresses three distinct duties of all REALTORS®: Duties to Clients and Customers; Duties to the Public; and Duties to REALTORS®.  Seventeen Articles or Duties comprise the COE.  Any of those 17 articles can be cited in a complaint (a grievance) against another REALTOR®, which if reviewed by a Professional Standards Hearing Panel could ultimately result in sanctions and/or fines if the other party is found to be in violation.  But what about those “violations” that aren’t addressed by the 17 articles of the COE.  How about the one duty that is often overlooked, but is actually a cornerstone of the COE?

Located in the Preamble to the COE is the following:

“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.”

Unfortunately, we can’t file grievances against others based on the Golden Rule.  However, as REALTORS® you do have options when you see or hear something that you don’t think is right and believe needs to be corrected.

The first step is to make sure that you did not misunderstand the other REALTOR®.  Go ahead and ask the question a different way.  If necessary, put it down in writing so that the other party responds in writing.

If the above validates your concern, talk to your broker or office manager.  Don’t fall victim to a violation of the COE yourself by speaking poorly about another REALTOR® to others in your office or your circle of friends.  If there is an ethics issue here, your broker or office manager needs to know about it - - especially if there is a deal in the works.  This can not be emphasized enough - - don’t be the hero and keep it to yourself as a sales agent.  Let your broker or sales manager know of any potential problem right away!

Dispute resolution is easiest when it is done up-front before things get messy.  Misunderstandings can get easily resolved. Business practices can get modified, hurt feelings can get smoothed over before becoming damaged.  Relationships can remain intact before they are forever damaged.  Ethical violations can be avoided before they become serious problems.

Your local or State Association of REALTORS® offers a full range of alternative dispute resolution services to its Members including Ombudsman and Mediation services in addition to ethics and arbitration hearings by trained Professional Standards volunteers.  If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities,  contact your local or State Association.  I've often been told that our dispute resolution services are one of the top REALTOR® benefits offered.


Martin E. Kalisker is the current Chair of the Mediation and Ombudsman Committees for the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® and past Chair of Professional Standards.  In addition to being a Broker/Owner of his own real estate company, he is actively involved involved in alternative dispute resolution for real estate companies.


First published in The Informer™ - August 25, 2016. ©Greater Boston Association of REALTORS®

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Comments (4)

Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Martin. Your post is spot on and well written but I like your pups more.

Aug 26, 2016 01:11 AM
Debe Maxwell, CRS
Savvy + Company (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC

I totally agree Martin Kalisker - knock it out before it gets to the point of no return and RESOLVE it.  That saves a LOT of valuable time down the road as well.

Dec 05, 2016 05:47 PM
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

I'm lucky to work in an area where most of the agents are a really good bunch and there's not much to complain about.

Jan 22, 2017 04:00 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Martin, there are always a few bad apples every organization. I am in a pool of 10,000 agents in the greater Los Angeles area so needless to say we happen to run into a few bad apples... but overall the bulk is good:) GO RED SOX,Endre

Feb 10, 2017 10:58 PM