Today I attended a very useful session at my local Realtor Association, Suburban West Realtors Association who have a very good web site for both consumers and Realtors. It was a mock ethics hearing basically to educate us on the process to encourage both us and our customers to use the process as well as satisfying the National Association of Realtors requirement for quadrennial ethics training.
The morning started with an overview of the Code of Ethics both the preamble and the articles. It helps to understand the preamble can be summed up with the "Golden Rule" do unto others as you want to be done unto you. also the code can be broken down into your duties to clients and customers Articles 1 through 9, Duties to the Public Articles 10 through 14 and Duties to Realtors Articles 15 through 17.
The code was adopted in 1913 and has been amended 31 times to make it current and relevant to the industry today. Several recent amendments relate to the use of the Internet which as hard as it is to believe even 10 years ago was not such a big feature as it is today.
I also just read today March 29th a great blog entry about this process posted from Colorado, well worth reading, it is titled Code of Ethics Q&A: How Much Responsibility Does a Complainant Really Have?
Initially a complaint has to be made to the Association and it must be in writing. This complaint is then sent to the Grievance Committee who act like a Grand Jury to see decide if there is a possibility of violation of the code of ethics. Also they look to see that the grievance has been filed in due time, 180 days from knowledge of the violation, they also consider if the Association can assemble a panel that is fair to all participants.
This case was as follows:
It basically hung on a member of the public Adele Bleeker seeing a sign on a property belonging to Carl Dean of Iliad Realtors in February 2007 and searching the website of the broker Iliad Realtors and not finding the home on the brokers website searched a little deeper and found Carl Dean the agent's website. The home was shown as available and details about the property made it appealing to Adele. She contacted a relative who was a Realtor, Jack Klinger and asked to see the property. The relative Jack called back later that day to inform Adele that it was no longer available, the listing had expired on January 31st 2007 and he had not been able to find any evidence of it selling or being re-listed.
Jack then offered to find the owner and see if they were interested in selling the property. This he did and a deal was reached. The owner was unaware the sign was still on the property and on Carl Dean's web site.
Adele brought a complaint in that the advertising on Carl Dean's website was misleading as it implied he had a listing which had clearly expired a violation of article 12-8. It was also noticed whilst on his website that he did not mention his broker anywhere on his website, a violation of Article 12-5.
There was also another aspect of the case but to keep this short I will leave that out. It basically was that Carl Dean was recommending "preferred" suppliers who he was charging a fee for links from his website without disclosing that he was receiving this fee.
Anyway after the grievance panel decides if there is a possibility of a violation they refer the case for due process and to a hearing. The Respondent is notified and given 15 days to respond to the complaint.
Due process demands that there is 1) A Full and fair hearing. 2) The member is judged by his/her peers. 3) Everyone involved knows the charges. 4) The Realtor is entitled to prepare defense with the use of counsel or another Realtor and can bring witnesses or evidence in support of their defense.
The hearing can be anywhere from 30 mins to 3 hours. It is recorded and takes the following outline.
The Chair person introduces all present and lays out the ground rules. Witnesses are present for this introduction but must leave the room until they give evidence. The Realtors broker may attend and in some cases is required to attend.
There is a statement of the articles.
The complainant then lays out their case and can bring in witnesses to support their case, these witnesses can be cross examined by the Respondent or their broker or counsel. The complainant concludes testimony. The complainant is cross examined.
The Respondent replies and can bring witnesses and introduce evidence to support their position. They can be cross examined by the complainant.
Both summarize their position.
Both complainant and respondent leave.
The panel then decides and rules. A written notification is sent out to all parties by mail.
20 days are given to all parties to appeal the process. If an appeal is made it is heard before the Board of Directors.
I found the morning very interesting for several reasons, one to see the actual process and know that it is fair to all parties. Secondly that knowledge lessened some of the fear of the process, I certainly do not want to have to defend my self but also feel that it is not the end of the world either and you will be listened to. I also believe it is not a hard process for the public to enter into and make a case if they are upset and want to be heard.
In summation, I will definitely read my code of ethics more regularly as it was drummed into us that most cases are ignorance rather than wilful deception. So I encourage each of you to read the code, know it and apply it, I think it will make all of us better Realtors.