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Making Ethics Important

Written by Posted On Monday, 10 September 2018 13:18
Making Ethics Important

In last week's column we emphasized the distinction between ethics as a body of rules and principles and being ethical as a disposition to conform to those rules and principles. We noted that it is certainly possible to teach someone ethics, but it is a different task to lead someone to be ethical -- to internalize those principles and to be guided by them. (See: Ethics Can Be Taught, But That's Not All There Is To It)

To be sure, there are some who would reject this view that a person could know what is good or right, but not choose it. It is a view that Plato rejected, so they would be in good company. Nonetheless, I think there is plenty of evidence that someone may do what is wrong, even though they know it is wrong. I will go no further than to cite the church-related scandals that have been so depressingly revealed over the past few years.

Be all that as it may, we are still left with the very real question: what would it take to incentivize REALTORS® to behave in a way that would conform to the articles and principles embodied in the Realtor® Code of Ethics? I think the answer is fairly simple, although implementing it could take some work.

REALTORS® are more likely to become conversant with the Code, and to conduct their businesses in accordance with its provisions, when they see and believe that this is important to the firms that they work for and the people they work with.

If agents only hear through general pronouncements that ethics are important to their company, and yet they only see that ethics seems to be the Board's, or Association's, concern, they are not much liable to seek to learn about the Code's provisions, nor to let those provisions affect the way they do business.

It's pretty simple really. If agents are going to conduct their businesses in accordance with the Code, they will need to see that doing so is important to their company. (This, of course, would also entail seeing that the unethical would not be tolerated by their company.)

Easy to say; but what would it take to make it happen that agents could see that ethics was important to their company? First and foremost, I would say, there needs to be on-going ethics training at the office or company level. Some might remember that this was the central tenet of the federal guidelines when it came to matters of corporate behavior. It is a mitigating factor in the case of unethical or unlawful behavior by an employee when it can be shown that the company had a program that tried to teach right behavior.

There's no question but that it would take work for companies to provide ethics training. Certainly, the Associations could help to develop programs and materials. Perhaps they could even provide instructors. But it would have to clearly be the company's enterprise, not "the Board's."

Moreover, the question arises: why would companies want to devote time and resources to this? Well, perhaps the Realtor® Associations, who are very good at promoting certifications -- which are earned through taking courses -- could come up with something that would give public recognition to a company or an agent for pursuing a regime of ethics-related courses.

The possibilities, I believe, are endless.

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Bob Hunt

Bob Hunt is a former director of the National Association of Realtors and is author of Ethics at Work and 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

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