The Case Interpretations offer examples of the practical application of the Code in professional standards enforcement and help REALTORS® understand the ethical obligations created by the Code of Ethics. View the Preface to Case Interpretations to learn more about their history/background.
Case #15-1: Knowing or Reckless False Statements About Competitors
(Adopted Case #23-1 November, 1992. Transferred to Article 15 November, 1994. Revised May, 2017.)
REALTOR® A operated a residential brokerage firm in a highly competitive market area. He frequently used information from the MLS as the basis for comparative ads and to keep close track of his listing and sales activity as well as his competition.
One day, while reviewing MLS data and comparing it to a competitor’s ad, REALTOR® A noticed that REALTOR® Z had used a diagram to demonstrate his market share, contrasting it with those of several other firms. The ad showed that REALTOR® A had listed 10% of the properties in the MLS over the past three months.
REALTOR® A thought this was low. His analysis of MLS data showed his market share was 11%. REALTOR® A filed an ethics complaint against REALTOR® Z citing Article 15 of the Code of Ethics in that REALTOR® Z’s “obviously understated market share claim” was a “misleading statement about other real estate professionals.” REALTOR® A’s complaint was considered by the Grievance Committee which determined that an ethics hearing should be held.
At the hearing, REALTOR® Z testified he had always been truthful in his advertising and that all claims were based in fact. He produced an affidavit from the MLS administrator which indicated that a programming error had resulted in miscalculations and, after careful recomputation, REALTOR® A’s market share over the past three months had been 10.9%. The administrator’s statement noted that this was the first time that information related to REALTOR® A’s listings or sales had been misstated on the system. “I relied on information from the MLS. It’s always been accurate and I had no reason to even suspect it was wrong last month,” said REALTOR® Z in his defense.
The Hearing Panel agreed with REALTOR® Z’s logic, noting that a REALTOR® should be able to rely on generally accurate information from reliable sources. They reasoned that if, on the other hand, the MLS had shown REALTOR® A having, for example, 1% of the market, then REALTOR® Z’s reliance on the information would have been “reckless” because REALTOR® A had generally had a 10 –15% market share and a reasonable conclusion would have been that the information from the MLS was seriously flawed.
The Hearing Panel concluded that REALTOR® Z’s comparison with other real estate professionals, while slightly inaccurate, was based on usually accurate and reliable information and had been made in good faith and while technically “misleading,” had not been “knowing” or “reckless”. REALTOR® Z was found not to have violated Article 15.
Case #15-2: Intentional Misrepresentation of a Competitor’s Business Practices
(Adopted Case #23-2 November, 1992. Transferred to Article 15 November, 1994. Revised November, 2001 and May, 2018.)
Following a round of golf early one morning, Homeowner A approached REALTOR® X. “We’ve outgrown our home and I want to list it with you,” said Homeowner A. “I’m sorry,” said REALTOR® X, “but I represent buyers exclusively.” “Then how about REALTOR® Z?,” asked Homeowner A, “I’ve heard good things about him.” “I don’t know if I would do that,” said REALTOR® X, “while he does represent sellers, he doesn’t cooperate with other brokers and, as a result, sellers don’t get strong offers for their properties.”
Later that day, Homeowner A repeated REALTOR® X’s remarks to his wife who happened to be a close friend of REALTOR® Z’s wife. Within hours, REALTOR® Z had been made aware of REALTOR® X’s remarks to Homeowner A earlier in the day. REALTOR® Z filed a complaint against REALTOR® X charging him with making false and misleading statements. REALTOR® Z’s complaint was considered by the Grievance Committee which determined that an ethics hearing should be held.
At the hearing REALTOR® Z stated, “I have no idea what REALTOR® X was thinking about when he made his comments to Homeowner A. I always cooperate with other REALTORS®.” REALTOR® X replied, “That’s not so. Last year you had a listing in the MLS and I spent months working with the buyers that submitted a purchase offer. You didn’t pay me the offer of compensation, though; you paid another broker who stole my clients from me at the last minute, and all he did was submit the purchase offer.”
REALTOR® Z countered REALTOR® X’s statements, indicating he had made a blanket offer of compensation in the MLS, and that his refusal to pay REALTOR® X had nothing to do with him not cooperating with other brokers, but the fact that there was a procuring cause dispute at the end of the transaction. Upon questioning by panel members, REALTOR® X admitted he had no personal knowledge of any instance in which REALTOR® Z had refused to cooperate with any other broker, but assumed that his failure to pay the compensation REALTOR® X felt he had earned was likely how REALTOR® Z treated other brokers.
The Hearing Panel, in its deliberations, noted that cooperation and compensation are not synonymous. In fact, Standard of Practice 3-10 provided that the duty to cooperate established in Article 3 relates to the obligation to share information on listed property, and to make property available to other brokers for showing to prospective purchasers/tenants when it is in the best interests of sellers/landlords. In that respect, the Hearing Panel felt REALTOR® Z had, in fact, cooperated with REALTOR® X. However, to characterize REALTOR® Z’s refusal to pay requested compensation because of a genuine commission dispute as a “refusal to cooperate”, and to make the assumption and subsequent statement that REALTOR® Z “did not cooperate with other brokers”, was false, misleading, and not based on factual information. Consequently, REALTOR® X was found in violation of Article 15.