Realtor badge of honor?

I’m really excited this morning. 

As a little background, I am a proud member of the National Association of Realtors – and the California Association of Realtors and the San Diego Association of Realtors. Forget that I have to be a member if I want access to the MLS. That’s just minutia, and that is certainly not why I choose to pay my dues to each every year. Oh, no.

The point is that my membership is a testament to my agent awesomeness and my commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards. That! Oh, and the fact that I find it helpful to have access to show instructions or to be able to upload a listing when need be.

But it’s mostly about what my membership means. Because, as we all know, only ethical agents can write checks. Only ethical agents can call themselves Realtors (little “r”).

And as if I wasn’t getting my money’s worth before, things have just gotten better. Today I heeded the call to action in my inbox:

California REALTORS® have another way to differentiate themselves and show consumers they maintain a high level of knowledge of the home-buying and selling process and are bound by a strict code of ethics by using the REALTOR® Badge, a free C.A.R. member benefit recently introduced by Real Estate Business Services® Inc. (REBS®).

That’s right. I didn’t have to pay a thing for that badge; it’s free! And those folks at REBS are really something. Not only were they commissioned to create a badge – with embed code and everything – but they delivered!

Why do I need a badge, you might ask? Well, duh. You weren’t paying attention. I need to differentiate myself. I have integrity, dang it. Just look at my badge!

CAR says that “the REALTOR® Badge is an easy way to add value to your reputation and online presence.” And on the badge website (yes, they have their own website), consumers can learn the power of this little guy – as if it isn’t immediately obvious.

You want someone that you can trust. Did you know that a REALTOR® cannot mislead a seller as to the value of the property just to get the listing? REALTORS® cannot accept a rebate or commission without the client's knowledge and consent. And your REALTOR® will submit all offers and counter-offers as quickly and objectively as possible as mandated by the "Code of Ethics."

Wow. That’s powerful. Yet I must ask, can a designation portrayed as a widget really assure all that?

If you are an agent, an exalted Realtor (little “R”), I don’t know about you, but I don’t stay up nights worrying about undesignated licensees perpetrating crimes of negligence and dishonesty against the public. What does bother me is when any licensee is incompetent, negligent, or unethical.  I run into them frequently, and they are always members of NAR; I know this because I see their lockbox keys.

If not for a prominently displayed digital impression, how is the consumer to know that their agent is living up to their obligations? Alas, it is often difficult, if not impossible.

These are just a few of the usual suspects:

  • The agent who knowingly took a listing priced obscenely over market value. The seller trusts you to honestly advise. They are looking to you for counsel. The adage about things that are too good to be true is lost on someone who is short on equity or long on hope and far too emotionally connected to be objective. Yes, this agent may ultimately spend time and money on a listing that won’t sell, but just as often we see them ride the tide of price reduction until their “buy a listing” strategy is rewarded with a paycheck.
  • The agent who talks smack about other agents to anyone who will listen. Other agents know you are breaching ethics when you do this, but the client will never know. Because ethical agents will never tell the customer that you are a weasel. Ethical agents know that bad mouthing other agents is not only poor form but a violation of both common decency and the Code to which they chose to actually subscribe.
  • The agent who makes false claims about experience, abilities and past production. Did your parents not teach you anything? Don’t say you sell more homes in a given area than anyone else when you don’t. Don’t say you have the best marketing plan in the tri-state area and then rush out the door, your first-ever listing contract in hand, to buy a camera and take a Photoshop class. And don’t have your cousin write fictional testimonial letters. These are all real examples, and they all constitute lying. Be honest, and sell your enthusiasm if that’s all you have. We all started somewhere, and your clients just might respect you for it.

The common thread is that these agents are primarily concerned with competing against other agents to get the business, when what they should really be focused on is doing the business.  Once an agent is in your employ, they have a fiduciary duty to place your interests above their own. But even before that, they have a moral obligation to act with honesty and integrity.

The Realtor Code of Ethics Preamble says:

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. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.

OK, that sounds a little silly given the generally reputation of our industry. But if you are going to toss around commemorative virtual plaques, shouldn’t this whole higher ground stuff be at least sort-of true?  I understand that CAR is trying to further the reputation of our ranks (and, perhaps, the reputation of the associations), but just saying so won’t make it so.

Departures can “never be justified,” yet departures we see. And, sadly the customer may never have knowledge because of their own expectations that dealings are honest – because of their expectations that their own best interests are at the center of the real world discussion.

So I guess a little self-policing is in order. To all of the agents who can’t or won’t do the right thing, I hereby call on you to turn in your badges. I’m keeping mine because, every day, I at least try to earn it.

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