The Code of Ethics - Bite your tongue!

Real Estate Agent with Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME

Rules For the Control of The Tongue

The Code Of Ethics and Standards Of Practice.

A recent conversation between myself and Randy Hooker brought up some interesting thoughts on the National Association of Realtor®'s Code Of Ethics.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Code (as we call it, also referred to as the COE), it is basically a set of guidelines to help determine our duties to clients and customers, the public, and other Realtors®.  Within the code, we are taught to apply these ethics to our daily practice of real estate and it also sets forth a system to deal with those that break the Code.

I love the fact that the National Association of Realtors® has put forth this set of 17 Articles in order to help define our business and I take the idea of ethics quite seriously as in this business, as with many others, there is always a potential for unethical actions that could bring harm to the consumer as well as our industry as a whole.

The responsibility of a Realtor®.

Randy and I were talking about the responsibilities of being an agent and best serving our clients.  We were discussing Trulia Voices and bank foreclosures.  Trulia Voices is a great idea, if you've not used it before its pretty simple - people post questions and people answer them.  Typically its consumers asking questions and agents responding, but sometimes it works the other way around.  There has been a lot of debate over the value of Trulia Voices and the potential problems it brings.  As for bank foreclosures, we both agreed that the current state of them in the MLS is unacceptable and its a shame the banks don't care much or know about it.  These foreclosed properties are lucky to get one photo and a line description.  Without showcasing the property, the bank is losing out on potential buyers (in our opinion).  We both wished there were good solutions to the problems.

Of course, the simplest solution would be for Randy and I to rule the world and list all these properties and answer all the questions on Trulia Voices (no offense to all you other great agents out there, but it was Randy and I talking, so we took it upon ourselves to rule the world).  Of course, that's not going to happen and in reality, there are plenty of excellent agents out there who could join our team.  But there are plenty that couldn't join.  They're just no good.  Yep, I said it - there are Realtors® out there that are no good.  They're bad at their jobs, they do a disservice to their clients, they flirt with legal disaster, and they give the rest of us a bad name.  I'm not talking about the ones who slip up here or there - people make mistakes.  The ones who do it consistently time and time again - those were the targets of our ire.

I wish I could paint a rosy picture for you and tell you all Realtors® are perfect and do everything in their client's best interest, but that would make me a liar.  Because of my own ethical code, I wouldn't want to do that.  So, yes, there are bad Realtors® out there.  I don't have some magic list, but in some ways, I wish I did.  The problem with our own Code Of Ethics is that it protects us against each other.  Ever wonder why Realtors® always ask, "Are you working with a Realtor®?"  Its because we're afraid you might have a contractual agency-relationship with another agent and we could get in big trouble for getting in the way of that relationship. 

So how does the Code Of Ethics create a problem?

Article 15 of the Code Of Ethics deals with how we relate to other Realtors®.  Its basic tenet is that we shouldn't "trash talk" other agents (I'm putting it simply there).  In making this Article, my guess is that the National Association Of Realtors was attempting to stop agents from saying things about other agents in order to gain business (ie, "Oh him?  He smokes crack," "You're working with who?  They ripped off their last client," or "That agent?  I heard he eats babies and runs a small-time meth lab out of his office.")  Obviously, this type of business practice is idiotic and not-so-ethical, but things like these happen everyday in all types of businesses.  Competitors trying to run the other into the ground through rumor, false statement, and misleading comments.  Its not the way I would choose to run my business, but there are those that would (ie, politicians).

The problem arises when you want to "call someone out" for what they're doing that isn't in the best interest of the client or the public.  I know a lot of people keep the "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all" idealism going in real estate, but the fact is - if someone's giving a client sub-par service than that consumer deserves to know.  Of course, this brings up a conundrum - whose idea of "best interest" is right.  Because of this little snag, its next to impossible to get around the Code and "call someone out" for their actions (or more typically, their lack of them).  So at the end of the day, those of us who want the world to get the best from real estate and improve the client's experience (and perception of the industry) just have to lead by example and do our best as trying to correct the situation (via open discussion with the client about their agent) really isn't within our reach.

I love real estate, but (and I've stated this before) we sometimes get a bit touchy about the subject of ethics and what to do about the agent who's giving us all a bad name.  I've seen many posts here on ActiveRain revolving around "taking the high road" or "best not to air our (Realtors®) dirty laundry in public" and I have to politely disagree.  If this industry is to move forward and adapt to work with a changing society, then we need to discuss things openly and honestly - with the public involved.  Locking out the public, just creates a secret society that will fuel the images of corruption and greed within the consumer's mind.  It does us no good to not involve the public in our growth as they are the people we serve (I sound like I should be running for City Council) and without them, we're a huge number of our of jobless people with useless licenses.

photo courtesy of ^Berd

Article 15
REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices. (Amended 1/92)

Standard of Practice 15-1

REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly file false or unfounded ethics complaints. (Adopted 1/00)

Standard of Practice 15-2

The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors’ businesses and competitors’ business practices includes the duty to not knowingly or recklessly repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others. This duty applies whether false or misleading statements are repeated in person, in writing, by technological means (e.g., the Internet), or by any other means. (Adopted 1/07)


Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. C Tann-Starr 03/23/2009 07:11 AM
  2. Randy Hooker 03/23/2009 05:59 PM
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C Tann-Starr
Tann Starr & Associates, Inc. - Palm Bay, FL

Awesome post. I am sooooo re-blogging you. :-)

Enjoy your day. Regards, C.

Mar 23, 2009 07:22 AM #1
_ _

Matt - I agree with you.  Perhaps an open forum where buyers and sellers could share their experiences with agents and allow agents to respond to their customers comments would be a good way to throw back the curtain.  If the public sensed more transparency and as much energy put into protecting their best interest as is put into protecting the reputations of Realtors it would be a very positive thing!

Mar 23, 2009 07:27 AM #2
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

C Tann-Starr - Thank you.  I should have known you'd like this.  You're on of the outspoken agents I admire...not afraid to say what's on your mind.

Jason - That was a whole other part of the discussions I've been having about this.  There are several sites that say they give you info on the agent, but in many cases, the info was wrong (there were several topics about it on AgentGenius) or there was a pay-factor (Realtor® that pays for the top spot doesn't necessarily have the best "credentials").  I thought of a utopian world where we could have a not-for-profit database of agents with frank honest discussions and comments.  No top spot for a fee, no selling leads back to agents - nothing like so many other sites.  Almost an online arbitration panel.  One where the consumer could make their case and the agents could respond.  The oversite board would be made up of Realtors® as well.  Of course the downside to the this would be the instant questions of fairness from those that got bad grades, but maybe it would help shape up the industry as a whole.  I recently was offered a top spot on a agent-centric website for a fee.  I wasn't interested (I don't like the idea of paying my way to the top), but I did some research on the consumer side of the site.  I forget the numbers, but the site explained to the consumers that each agent was thouroughly vetted and had certain amounts of experience and skill.  One of the claims was that all agents had completed x amount of transaction - I wasn't even close to that number, but here they were offering me the position.  Talk about ethics!  How can this company claim to be pro-consumer when all they are is pro-cash flow.  Sorry for the min-rant in the comments, but I couldn't help myself.  Thanks Jason, its good to see we're not alone!

Mar 23, 2009 08:40 AM #3
Larry Riggs
Century 21 Redwood - Frederick, MD
GRI, SRS Your Frederick County Specialist


     The drawback I see with your idea is the principle of due process. I am an ethics instructor so I agree 100% that agents should be professional and, if necessary, call each other out. There is a process to do so and yes I know it's cumbersome but it needs to be to be fair to agents that have false accusations made. Suppose you work with a client who is totally ungrateful despite the fact you have gone over and above for them. I think we've all had clients like that. No matter what, they have no intention of being reasonable. It would do only harm to give them an open forum to trash good agents who have done nothing wrong. There need to be strict guidelines in place to protect both the public and our Realtor members.

Mar 23, 2009 09:22 AM #4
Thom Abbott |770.713.1505 | Intown Atlanta GA Condo Living - Atlanta, GA
Midtown Atlanta GA Condos For Sale

Oh Matt...I am so, so, so with you on this one. Try calling an agent to ask a question about a listing your buyer is interested in, and no return call. I wonder how the Seller would feel about that service.

Look at a listing, looks great, you go to show it, and there IS NO LOCKBOX. "Oh, yeah, we decided not to put one on there and you need to set an appointment." Well duh, do you think you could update your listing? I wonder how the Seller would feel about that service.

And it goes on, and on, and on.......


Mar 23, 2009 09:55 AM #5
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

Larry - I do understand your problem with what I'm saying and believe me, more thought would have to go into an idea like that before it was ever created.  My counterpoint to your comment though is that these sorts of things are out there - they're on blogs, they're on real estate sites...we have these sorts of things going on all around us.  An organization of it all might make agents more accountable.  I know there's the danger of a witch hunt style complaint party, but I guess I'm just thinking out loud on the issue.  As for your example, that's why I suggest that the "board" of a site like this would have to be agents (and what I missed saying was "consumers as well").  Sure there will always be unrealistic people that just want to complain for the sake of complaining, but would you rather real feedback or paid advertisements getting you to the top?

Thom and Ray - That's where the discussion orginated - with bad listings, no return calls, etc.  Randy is not the only person I have ever discussed this with that's for sure.  It angers me that their are consumers out there not getting what they are due.  I want the consumer to be looked after so that our industry isn't looked down upon.  If we don't take care of them, of course they'll leave with a bad taste in their mouth (I did once before thanks to an agent).  I just think some agents have moved away from consumer-centric thinking into commission-centric thinking (moved away from?  or never been there?).  Its a shame and its definitely a stigma to our industry.

Mar 23, 2009 10:04 AM #6
Richard Weisser
Richard Weisser Realty - Newnan, GA
Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional

Brother Matt...

If you know for a fact, for example, that another realtor is under indictment for fraud, you may reveal that to a potential client. The COE only refers to false or misleading statements.

Mar 23, 2009 10:17 AM #7
Cameron Wilson
Labrum Real Estate - Murrieta, CA
The Short Guy - Murrieta,Temecula,Menifee Californ

Hey I'll just say some agents "suck" and I wish I could say more.

Now Matt I want you to know I told Randy a while back the solution for the banks to get great results was to list with me. Since he neglected to inform this and we all are in different markets we can share. LOL

Mar 23, 2009 12:29 PM #8
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

Brother Richard - If they're under indictment for fraud, I hope they've stepped away from real estate until its cleared up.

Cameron - I highly recommend (and re-blogged it myself) Stephanie Edwards-Musa's post "Markteting 101 For Banks With Active Foreclosures" for a look at what some other agents have to say.  I think the banks need to step it up or risk holding those properties for a lot longer than they should.  I gladly accept your offer of the listings and will share with you and Randy any of the pooled commissions.

Mar 23, 2009 01:03 PM #9
Randy Hooker
Dreamcatcher Realty / Greater Phoenix Area - Gilbert, AZ
Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Queen Creek

Just wait one damn minute, Matt!  I dont' even know you!!   LOL   And another thing - don't assume that Cameron's giving you the full story; he made that suggestion, but I never agreed!  It's you and me, buddy ~ all listings and ruling the world!!  (Sorry to throw you under the bus, Cameron, but for co-rulership, a king's gotta do what a king's gotta do)  You already know full well how I feel, Matt, and that I'm in 100% agreement with your post.  The only other point I'll make is that the Code of Ethics is a set of guidelines that ALL Realtors are supposed to uphold.  I honestly believe 98-99% of us do so, or at least strive to do so.  What's really gets my dander up, however, is the 1-2% that flagrantly, openly, boldly, unashamedly and arrogantly make a mockery of our profession - and yet somehow hide behind the COE and manage to escape accountability.  Now I'm pissed off, all over again.  Great post, my friend!  GREAT post!!

Mar 23, 2009 05:47 PM #10
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI

Too often (including on sites as ours) we'll run across the non control of the fingers hitting the keyboard (same as no control of tongue :) and bottom line...we have a fiduciary duty to our clients, our profession and certainly have some self control and hold ourselves in the highest of esteem the pic...the meaning ....and shall study.

Mar 23, 2009 06:08 PM #11
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

Randy - Great, now I have to choose who to rule the world with?  I thought this was going to be easy being the ruler.  So much for that.  I think we had talked about how its shameful that those that do uphold the Code get the bad rap for those that don't.  And as with any rules, law, guideline or suggestion - there are the myriad ways of interpretation that leave it open for differences in how its used.  Just take the vs. NAR problems they were going back and forth with.  My opinion is  that any agent listing a property in the MLS isn't taking their fiduciary duty very seriously if that's all they do - but NAR has had to remain pretty mute on that issue because of variances in state laws and their own difficulties with the Department of Justice.  I'm sure they're beating their heads against a wall trying to figure out ways to fight it.  Maybe we should end our friendship - we both wind up fired up after talking.

"Sally" - It is difficult at times, I admit to re-reading something I wrote and thinking, "maybe I ought to say it a different way."  Its easy to type what you're thinking - often easier than speaking it and sometimes its not the best thing to put out there.  Blogging is a very honest and open platform for the most part, but you do still have to have some control.  The pic was a great accidental find (I love Flickr) and seemed rather appropriate.

Mar 24, 2009 02:57 AM #12
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