Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ethics In The Real Estate Business

Written by Posted On Monday, 14 December 2015 21:22

It's no secret that real estate salespeople do not, by and large, enjoy a very good reputation. Indeed, the true professionals in the business are discomforted by the fact that opinion polls regularly show that the public ranks real estate sales pretty low on the list of occupations whose practitioners are to be admired.

More particularly there are common perceptions that, in the course of their business, many real estate people cannot be depended on to tell the truth, and that they do not hesitate to manipulate others for their own self interest.

Yet the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), and its state and local affiliated organizations, persistently claim that accountability to a Code of Ethics is a central and predominant fact of membership.

What's wrong with this picture?

One wrong answer should be laid to rest immediately. It is not the case that the unethical real estate people are predominantly those licensees who don't belong to NAR, whereas those who are members can almost always be depended upon to be pure and good.

Anyone who has been around the Realtor® associations for a while is aware of the fact that it is a perennial complaint from within the organization that ethical standards are not sufficiently adhered to, and that "something ought to be done..."

Nor is the point that the Code of Ethics itself needs fixing. The REALTORS®' Code of Ethics (along with its supplementary Standards of Practice) is both comprehensive and relevant to current business practices. To be sure, because we live in a world of change, it is constantly subject to revisions, amendments, and further interpretive commentary. But it is not the Code that is broken.

The Realtor®organization has a relevant and workable code of ethics, yet many of its members do not adhere to that code. Why?

One possible answer is ignorance.Perhaps there is insufficient knowledge among real estate salespeople as to what they should and should not do. In certain cases there is some plausibility to this. Certainly there are, so to speak, finer points of some ethical matters where one just doesn't know what the right course of action might be. But, clearly, this does not apply to the vast majority of cases where right or wrong may be determined by central and well-known principles.

More plausible is the claim that the disparity between behavior and the Code of Ethics is a result of the fact that the Code is not sufficiently enforced. No doubt there is some truth to this. Realtor®organizations do not have an ethics police. Although there is a fairly elaborate quasi-judicial system for dealing with violations of the Code of Ethics, that whole system only comes into play when complaints are filed. And, frankly, the filing and pursuit of an ethics complaint is a time-consuming and not particularly pleasant process for the person who has been wronged. Most people would prefer simply to move on.

For reasons of cumbersome process alone, it is unlikely that enforcement at the organization level will ever have much influence on the inclination of practitioners to adhere to the Code of Ethics.

Moreover, if one thinks about it, the point of enforcement in ethics is not to get people to behave in a certain way because they fear punishment. Think of training a child. The point is to demonstrate that the principles are taken seriously; and the aim is that the learner will internalize the values

The ethical behavior of real estate salespeople will improve only when salespeople are shown that their peers, and most importantly, their trainers and employers, take ethical principles seriously. That kind of demonstration cannot be done by the Realtor®association. It can only occur at the level of individual companies and offices.

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors®. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Bob Hunt

Bob Hunt is a former director of the National Association of Realtors and is author of the recently published book, "Real Estate the Ethical Way." A graduate of Princeton with a master's degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt has served as a U.S. Marine, Realtor association president in South Orange County, and director of the California Association of Realtors, and is an award-winning Realtor. Contact Bob at


  • Comment Link Marie Haydock Monday, 28 December 2015 19:23 posted by Marie Haydock

    Thanks for posting, Bob. There's little dialogue about the code of ethics on a daily basis at our real estate firms. A simple first step is just to start a conversation. Dialogue and transparency will go a long way to raise the bar in our industry.

  • Comment Link Antoine Pirson Wednesday, 16 December 2015 19:10 posted by Antoine Pirson

    I agree with Hank that the NAR "objective" is to get as many agents pay dues as possible, regardless of the knowledge of the agent, the professional behavior or of their results. I do not know how much the NAR executives get paid, but they are not in my opinion, working to clean up and improve the industry. I have promised to write a book on real estate once I retire. I still think the first thing they have to do is raise the bar to get into real estate. With a high school degree and reading two books and an exam, you can represent a buyer who is looking to pay $500,000 for a property??? Who would hire such a person? My slogan on my website is: if integrity is important to you too.

  • Comment Link Hank Miller, SRA Tuesday, 15 December 2015 15:11 posted by Hank Miller, SRA

    The reputation of agents in this industry is due to many issues - and NAR has dirty hands as well. Using the "ethics" argument and saying that non members are the issue is hollow.

    1. The industry promotes and encourages no time and very part time agents. These are often untrained/poorly trained and not up to speed with guidelines. Some simply don't care
    2. The industry - with NAR's blessing - is most concerned about membership and fees. Fees are above all because fees drive the train from local to national.
    3. The industry encourages "creative advertising" at a minimum - turns a blind eye to dishonest advertising at the worst. How many agents can be #1? How many agents/companies twist data? How many truly nonsensical "check book designations" exist? How many managing brokers KNOW an agent(s) is incompetent but turn a blind eye?

    I would argue that NAR could increase the standing of this industry by encouraging states to raise the bar, by encouraging a "classification" system that ranks agents by volume/experience, by doing away with check book designations, by being HONEST with the public about how to qualify an agent and by acknowledging that being a NAR member does not a professional make.

    So please, slow down with NAR being the shining light. NAR and their spin machine remains hard at work with nonsense market reports, economic reports, etc...remember, it's ALWAYS a good time to buy and sell real estate, right?

    NAR could be doing so much more to enhance the public perception of this industry....

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