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Yes, ethics matter
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 • Posted May 5, 2009 10:00 PM

Most homebuyers and sellers typically rely heavily on their real estate agents to give them advice and protect their best interests. Real estate is a complicated business, and hiring an expert is the key to a successful transaction. Right?

But what if you think your real estate agent is deliberately misleading or deceiving you? Maybe that agent is not breaking a licensing law, but instead is conducting business in an unethical way. Is there anything you could do about it? Unless that agent is a Texas Realtor, the answer is no.

What’s the difference?

Not all licensed real estate agents are Realtors. Only membership in the National Association of Realtors (NAR) permits real estate agents to use the registered trademarked term Realtor. All Texas Realtors are members of NAR, the Texas Association of Realtors, and the vast majority are members of a local association of Realtors. One of the biggest differences between a licensed real estate professional who is a Realtor and one who is not is that those agents who choose to become Realtors are additionally bound by a strict code of ethics and must maintain a level of integrity and professionalism as required by their association membership.

Adopted in 1913, the Realtor Code of Ethics imposes client obligations that go above the call of the law. The Code of Ethics requires Texas Realtors to put their client interests above their own, and contains duties to clients, the public and other Realtors. The code contains 17 articles that clarify these ethical obligations to stakeholders, including treating all parties fairly, submitting all offers and truth in advertising.

According to its preamble, the term Realtor has come to “connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations.” The code is amended over time to reflect changes to the industry and the needs of consumers. For example, the code was recently amended to address activities relating to electronic communications with clients. Real estate agents who are not Realtors are not held to the same standards.

Ethics violations

So if a Realtor is expected to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, what can you do about an agent you think is acting unethically? If you, or even another Realtor, believes a Texas Realtor has violated the code, there are avenues for you to address your concerns. I recommend that you first talk to that agent or the agent’s sponsoring broker. Sometimes opening up the lines of communication can help you solve the problem quickly. If that does not work to resolve the situation, find out if an ombudsman program is available in your area. An ombudsman is a Realtor who helps identify and clear up any miscommunication between the parties and discusses the options available to you. You also have the option of mediation – although you must first file an ethical complaint before considering this option.

To file an ethical complaint, you must first determine if your agent is in fact a Texas Realtor. Once you have established that he or she is, there is a simple process for filing a complaint. It’s important that you review the Code of Ethics and confirm that your grievance violates one of the articles. The process ends with a hearing panel that determines if the Realtor has violated the code. REALTORS® found to have violated the Code of Ethics may be disciplined in the following ways:

• Required to attend courses designed to increase understanding of ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals

• Reprimanded

• Fined

• Have their membership suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations

It’s not often that complaints are filed, but it does happen. Working with a Texas Realtor should give you peace of mind. You can rest assured that your interests are being protected, and in the rare case that you feel they’re not, you have a means for recourse. You can learn more about the Code of Ethics and complaint process by visiting TexasRealEstate.com.

For your Real Estate needs, please contact RE/MAX Genesis at 830-833-2000.

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