- Articles 1, 12 and 15 in NAR's Code of Ethics are the most commonly infringed by agents on social media.
Most will agree that real estate is a warm, inclusive industry, with any number of discussion forums and Facebook groups for agents to go to for advice and war stories.
These online groups might also seem like an inviting place where you can vent at the end of a bad day — but agents would do well to mind that they are not crossing the line when it comes to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR’s) Code of Ethics.
According to Bill Lublin — CEO of Century 21 Advantage Gold in Philadelphia, former chair of NAR’s professional standards committee and lead author of the 2010 and 2015 re-writes of the ePro Course — articles 1, 12 and 15 in NAR’s Code of Ethics are the most commonly infringed by agents on social media.
In other words, agents complaining about their clients, badmouthing other agents or not including links to identify their brokerages.
Some may mention their team, and that is not enough. In the state of Pennsylvania, for instance, teams are not recognized, said Lublin.
A rap over the knuckles from your local association can include a fine, some extra education or, ultimately, expulsion. In mid-2014, the California Association of Realtors “outed” violators of the Code of Ethics to its members.
“If guilty of breaching Code of Ethics, you can be reprimanded or you can be required to take additional education, which is my favorite fix,” said Lublin.
“It’s just started getting very sloppy. [Realtors] are so busy talking about marketing that they neglect to present the true picture required by Article 12 of the Code of Ethics,” he added.
Teams need to identify their owners
Sad as it is to say, sometimes, Lublin noted, Realtors “let their egos get in front of their regulatory and ethical obligations.”
For instance, an agent might identify herself as a member of the John Smith Team — but a team is a business unit, not a company. According to the Code of Ethics, brokers are obligated to make their identities and affiliations easy to find.
Tweets and texts can be a challenge, Lublin acknowledged, but he said agents can at least provide link information.
Meanwhile, on the “About” section on Facebook, your work information should be completely filled in.
“Agents are really remiss about that. People shouldn’t have to ask,” said the professional standards expert.
Just don’t talk about it
There are, of course, some topics should just not be touched.
“Sometimes [agents] will discuss commissions or commission splits,” Lublin noted. “It’s not appropriate at all. My business is my business — your business is your business. We should keep it that way.”
Ill-advised conversations can be made worse when the leader of the discussion then engages others, he added. “It’s like poisoning the well.”
A more competitive market can lead to ill-advised activity
Is the situation getting worse?
“I think that when markets become busier or more competitive, there are more people available to do foolish things,” said Lublin.
The CEO is a fan of translucency over transparency and stresses that authenticity for an agent is the most important.
“In their attempt to be authentic, people are being too transparent about stuff that we don’t want to know about,” he said.
“I think that the ease of electronic communication has led to people sometimes speaking out when discretion is the better part of valor. Not every opinion needs to be voiced.”
Many agents, however, seem to see social media as a natural place to let it all out.
Your private Facebook group post can be transferred to another, more public forum
Real estate agents and brokers “feel supported in these different groups,” said Laura Monroe, marketing director at RealSatisfied and a social media commentator.
They need to restrain themselves before a conversation gets out of hand, she said.
“Anybody can have a bad day and take it the wrong way,” she warned.
“It just has to be the over-arching common sense principle to keep emotions, names and places out of it,” she said.
Monroe sees most ill-advised behavior taking place in some Facebook groups, which are there to help agents, brokers and their memberships.
Agents “don’t realize the public setting of these groups,” Monroe said.
There is confusion about exactly how “private” any private Facebook group really is, she added.
Sometimes, an agent’s friends can read that particular agent’s private Facebook group posts, for example — these are areas where agents could open themselves up to possible liability, she said.
Another area of concern is screenshots, which could be taken from a conversation in a group and then dropped into a conversation in another (public) group.
“This is another area where these privacy settings can be over-run,” said Monroe.
Think about writing a post as if writing a formal letter
June Barlow, the California Association of Realtors’ vice president and general counsel, said the best approach for agents is to take as much as care with a post or a even a text as if they are writing a formal letter.
“It seems casual and anonymous, but it’s not either one of these,” she said. “And unlike a piece of paper, a post exists forever, so be very careful.”
Barlow becomes particularly concerned when she sees a Realtor complaining about a client.
“People get very emotional about real estate,” she said, and sometimes agents bear the brunt of that emotion. But an agent should never bad-mouth a client in front of others.
“To behave that way is very public. It can make a very difficult situation much worse,” she said.
Agents are not exempt from the rules just because there are new ways of communicating, she added.
If you would hesitate saying something in front of an ethics committee, then don’t write it, she advises.
“It’s just one more bit of evidence in a hearing or a lawsuit — it lives forever, it’s not like a casual conversation. It’s very retrievable,” she said.
Agents against online venting
It’s not just the powers-that-be who are doing the finger-wagging. Agents are talking about this issue among themselves, too.
Debby Laity, a real estate agent with Cedaredge Land Company, wrote a post on Active Rain advising agents against venting online.
“You do see it out there and I don’t like it,” she said.
A number of agents responded well to her blog post — several suggesting to agents wanting to let out some anger that they write an email or a post to the offending party, read it out loud and then firmly delete it.