Truth in Agent Advertising – A little continuing education for those who need it.

Condos to Castles… “It’s Your Move!”

WhiteHouse

It’s the bane of all real estate agents. Sure we have happy past clients and that thing we, in the industry, call a “sphere of influence.” It’s that old business from whence much of our future employment will come. But, every day, we wake up unemployed and must focus at least some of our attention on developing new business.

Marketing ourselves and our services is a necessary ingredient of our business, and it is oh-so-hard some days to come up with fresh, eye-catching concepts which might speak to the consumer — scream, actually — serving as that all-important call to action. So, I was thinking I might run the visual above on a snappy little postcard and hire some guys to litter the front porches of a few hundred or thousand homes with my message. That should get some attention.

The only problem is that, while the words do represent our tag line (Note to agents: It’s our very copyrighted tag line),  I didn’t really sell the White House. On second thought, why should that stop me? Who’s to know?

This is a cropped excerpt of a flyer that appeared, as if by magic, on my own front porch yesterday. Notice I say cropped because, while the National Association of Realtors (little “r”) Code of Ethics does not prohibit me from making truthful, verifiable statements about other Realtors (only false and misleading statements), I just didn’t feel like going there.

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This is innocent enough, if we set aside my paranoia that the whole “neighborhood on the move” thing is a weak knock-off. It’s innocent enough except for the fact that the piece represents about four violations. With that, let’s commence with our real estate advertising primer.

  1. From the Sandicor MLS Rules and Regulations (Section 12.7): “Only real estate brokers or r.e. salespersons who participated in the transaction as the listing broker or cooperating broker (selling broker) may claim to have ‘sold’ the property.” If you are a civilian, you have undoubtedly seen many advertising pieces with secret little words at the bottom along the lines of “This represents the activity of various brokers.” Absent those words, the advertisement might lead you to believe that the author was responsible for all of the sales, which violates the concept of presenting a “true picture” as defined in the NAR Code of Ethics. In this case, the agent team who crafted this flyer never came within a hundred miles of any of these homes. (Dudes – One was our own listing, and we represented the buyer on another!) “But, it’s the Broker who actually owns the listings!” you say. Well, their Broker had nothing to do with three of the six homes.
  2. From the Sandicor MLS Rules and Regulations (Section 12.10, True Picture Standard of Conduct): Participants and subscribers may not engage in false or misleading advertising, including, but not limited to, advertisements or representations regarding… about any property listed with the service.” Just in case you didn’t read Section 12.7.
  3. From the California Business and Professions Code, Section 10140.6: “A real estate licensee shall disclose his or her license identification number… on all solicitation materials intended to be the first point of contact with consumers.” The idea here is that a license number allows the consumer to check up on the agent, on their licensing status and on whether any past or pending violations exist. In this case, not only was there not a license number given, but the name or names of the agents associated with this “team” doing the advertising remain a mystery. In their defense, the name of their large, national brokerage did make the cut.
  4. There is a little matter of copyright infringement here. Now, I am no attorney, but using the photos for which I and other listing agents paid, for the purposes of advertising our clients’ homes, without our permission and for your own purposes of marketing yourself is a no-no.

I know that it has been a difficult market for many agents who are trying to establish or reestablish themselves and for a lot of agents just trying to stay in business. I am also a big fan of creative advertising. But, creating half-truths or flat-out fabricated messages in an attempt to be recognized as the Neighborhood Specialist is disingenuous, ethically misguided and a violation of the many rules and regulations we have in place to protect the consumer.

This makes me sad because it is the consumer that loses. Unless you are reading this, if you are one of the many who received this solicitation, you are none the wiser. Unless you are reading this, you might find yourself selecting representation based on misrepresentation and false claims. You might find yourself doing business with people who conduct their own business in this manner.

The California Association of Realtors has a page on their website allowing you to “Print a stylish color poster of the NAR Code of Ethics suitable for framing and hanging in your office.” I suggest we all do so.

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