BOSTON — On Monday, the board of directors of the National Association of Realtors approved a handful of policies to tackle a couple of ethical quandaries in real estate: one having to do with listing broker transparency and another with Realtors who are accused of a crime.
All five policies passed without any discussion or debate and with an overwhelming majority of the vote of the nearly 800 directors present at NAR’s annual Realtor Conference & Expo meeting, held this year in Boston.
NAR prides itself on its ethical standards, which the trade group says set its nearly 1.4 million members apart from non-Realtor agents and brokers.
Here are the ethical issues the new policies are meant to address:
New disciplinary tools for ‘egregiously unethical behavior’
NAR’s Professional Standards Committee proposed three amendments to the trade group’s Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual, which sets out how Realtor associations should ensure due process when conducting hearings to enforce NAR’s Code of Ethics or arbitrations regarding real estate business disputes. Associations must follow the manual’s policies in order to continue to be covered under NAR’s professional liability insurance.
The amendments strike out language that previously prohibited an association’s professional standards committee from holding a hearing to evaluate an ethical complaint if the accused Realtor was involved in any criminal litigation related to the same transaction or event.
The changes treat civil and criminal litigation similarly, allowing a professional standards committee to hold a hearing on the complaint at the discretion of an association’s grievance committee or board of directors. They also require associations to consult legal counsel before deciding to hold such a hearing or not.
“There may be circumstances in which irreparable harm may be done to the public and to the Realtor brand if no action is taken by the association to discipline an individual who may have engaged in egregiously unethical behavior merely because there is criminal litigation pending with respect to the same transaction or event,” NAR’s Professional Standards Committee said in its stated rationale for the amendments.
“These revisions … give associations discretion to hold ethics cases in abeyance where there is criminal or civil litigation pending, upon consultation with legal counsel, rather than making it mandatory that cases be held in abeyance where criminal litigation is pending.”
Listing broker transparency required — or else
In May, NAR’s board of directors approved an addition to the trade group’s standards of practice regarding the submission of offers: “Upon the written request of a cooperating broker who submits an offer to the listing broker, the listing broker shall provide a written affirmation to the cooperating broker stating that the offer has been submitted to the seller/landlord, or a written notification that the seller/landlord has waived the obligation to have the offer presented.”
At the time, NAR leaders said the change would benefit both brokers and consumers by assuring them that their offers were presented.
On Monday, NAR’s board of directors reinforced this new policy by making it a “citable offense” under NAR’s Model Citation Policy and Schedule of Fines for a listing broker to fail to provide the requested affirmation or notification.
“NAR’s Model Citation Policy and Schedule of Fines, if adopted by an association, offer an expedited process for consideration of ethics complaints involving alleged violations that may be objectively determined to be a violation based on information in the complaint,”NAR’s Professional Standards Committee said in its stated rationale for the policy change.
“Discipline for citable offenses may only include fines and education, and the process is designed to quickly and easily impose discipline for violations of the Code that are not egregious.”
NAR’s board of directors also approved a related policy change submitted by the trade group’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, an addition to NAR MLS Policy Statement 7.73, Rights of Cooperating Brokers in the Presentation of Offers.
The addition reads:
Where the cooperating broker is not present during the presentation of the offer, the cooperating broker can request in writing, and the listing broker must provide, written affirmation stating that the offer has been submitted to the seller, or written notification that the seller has waived the obligation to have the offer presented.
The addition “[c]reates the ability for additional disciplinary action against a listing broker that fails to provide written affirmation that an offer [h]as been presented, or that the seller waived the obligation to have offers presented, upon requests of the cooperating broker,” the MLS policy committee said in its stated rationale for the policy change.
The addition also extends the requirement to not just Realtor members of a multiple listing service, but rather to all MLS subscribers, according to the committee.