A recent advertising campaign had the slogan “Make sure your agent is a REALTOR”. The campaign was paid for and developed by REALTORS who wanted to differentiate themselves from those real estate agents who are not REALTORS. Still, I don’t think the public gets it fully. “Aren’t all real estate agents REALTORS?” the public may think. This is like saying “aren’t all colas Coke” or “isn’t all tissue Kleenex?
Currently there approximately 35,000 people in Colorado with a license to sell real estate. Of those people approximately 23,500 are REALTOR, meaning they are a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). So what is the difference and why should you care.
To start the explanation we go back to 1913 when The Code of Ethics (The Code) was first adopted by NAR. The Code is a document to which all REALTORS swear to abide by and be held to. The backdrop of the creation of The Code was an era of the fraudulent subdivision, the fake city addition, the multiple “first” mortgage, the “net” listing, and a myriad of other “get rich quick” schemes involving the sale of land.”1 It was a time before state regulations regarding real estate and the time when “buyer beware” really meant something. The Code was written on the premise that REALTORS should serve the public and being a REALTOR meant that you upheld a higher standard of business practices.
Nearly 100 years later The Code of Ethics is still going strong. It is a living document meaning that it is in a constant state of review and revision. Each year new interpretations and or Standards of Practice are added to The Code. It is as relevant now as it was 97 years ago.
The Code works because it includes both the ideals on which we should base our real estate practice and a mechanism for hearings, education and discipline where needed. The Code gives the public and our real estate peers a way to stand up for principle and make a stand for what is right.
The Code of Ethics is a document which includes 17 Articles organized under three main headings; ‘Duties to Clients and Customers’, ‘Duties to the Public’, and ‘Duties to REALTORS’. Each article is further explained by specific Standards of Practice which give clarification to the intent of the articles. The basis of all articles in The Realtor Code of Ethics is the Golden Rule “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them”.
So what happens when in your opinion a REALTOR acts unethically? The public as well as fellow Realtors can file an ethics complaint with the local REALTOR association in which the offending agent is a member. There is then a pre-defined procedure in which the complaint is processed. The complaint is taken very seriously and is handled confidentially by a panel of peers. The first step is the Grievance Committee which determines if a hearing should take place. The Grievance Committee acts as a grand jury. If the complaint is determined to be valid, the next step is a full hearing which replicates a court of law. The outcome is not criminal but an offending REALTOR can be punished.
So, what does it matter if your agent is a REALTOR or not? Both are licensed and can help you buy and sell real estate but only a REALTOR has pledged to serve the public ethically and consistently, and is willing to be upheld to this standard by a panel of their peers. To me it is more than that. REALTORS have made a commitment to serve the public and to conduct business in a way that the public expects.
I am privileged to have been chosen to be the chairman of the Grievance Committe for the Boulder Area REALTOR Association this year. To me how business is conducted does make a difference.
To read The Code online click here.
1 – Article – “The Realtor’s Code of Ethics – A Gift of Vision, 1978 William D. North.