Only those real estate agents who belong to the National Association of Realtors can lay claim to the title "Realtor." Members of NAR are required to adhere to the Code of Ethics, which is divided into three sections: Duties to clients and customers, duties to the public, and duties to other Realtors. This article will concentrate on the first two sections. In our daily lives, we will frequently hear people say that someone else's behavior is unethical without establishing a definition or frame of reference for the term "ethics." For Realtors, conduct is held to be unethical if it violates one or more of the seventeen articles of the Code.
* Duties to Clients and Customers: Understandably, more than half of the articles in the Code pertain to clients and customers. Under these, Realtors must protect and promote the interests of their clients while still having a duty to treat all parties to the transaction honestly. Realtors shall not undertake to provide professional services concerning a property or its value where they have a present or contemplated interest unless such interest is disclosed to all affected parties. In a transaction, Realtors shall not accept compensation from more than one party without the informed consent of all. Realtors shall assure that all agreements related to real estate transactions are in writing. There are more provisions in this section of the Code but we will move on for the sake of brevity.
* Duties to the Public: Realtors shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin or sexual orientation. The services which Realtors provide must conform to reasonably expected standards of practice and competence. Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations. A requirement of the Code that causes much reflection due to the voluminous paperwork involved in a transaction is that Realtors shall not engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
People will sometimes be puzzled by situations that arise in real estate and may question whether they are being treated properly by a Realtor. The first step should usually be to contact the Realtor directly and discuss concerns. The next step is to speak to the Realtor's broker or office manager. If concerns remain, we as Realtors have programs to assist people in understanding their rights. Please remember that we only have control over those who are members of NAR and subject to the Code of Ethics. Of course, if non-members, or Realtors too for that matter, violate the law, they are subject to discipline by the California Department of Real Estate, but that subject is beyond the scope of this article.
* Ombudsman: This is a program offered by the California Association of Realtors and also by many local Realtor associations. The ombudsman provides a neutral sounding board for both Realtors and non-Realtors and can advise people on course of further action if necessary. Most importantly, people will feel that they have been heard.
* Ethics Advocate: Many local Associations offer a mechanism to assist those who feel a need to file a formal ethics complaint against a Realtor but are not cognizant of the process. Ethics Advocates are neither lawyers nor parties to a complaint but may assist the complainant in every aspect other than giving direct testimony. EA is part of a comprehensive program designed to upgrade professionalism, streamline the complaint process and to get at wrongdoers in our profession.
The Realtor Code of Ethics was adopted on July 29, 1913, but we are celebrating the centennial all year long. I hope that this article provides some degree of clarity on expectations that we have of people in our profession. I am a Realtor and I live by the Code.
--Bill Hickman is a licensed Real Estate Broker, serving as the Professional Standards Chairman for the Bay East Association of Realtors. In a prior life, Bill was a U.S. Navy Officer for 26 years. He has held a Real Estate License for 25 years and can be reached at 254-9573.