Small Board: Where Professionalism Becomes Personal

Especially in small associations, where REALTORS® know one another, their families, and their dogs (the one who dug up the neighbor’s flower beds), one’s professional reputation is very important. In tight-knit communities where it’s hard to sweep anything under the rug, professionalism can flourish or it can falter.

Talking it out First

When I receive a call on a possible violation of the Code of Ethics at my association, I ask if the agent has talked with his or her broker about it. If so, then perhaps the broker is able to discuss the situation with the other agent’s broker. Since the brokers want to maintain a good working relationship, they’re inclined to work out any problems quickly. There’s no need for REALTORS® to go to war with one another if there is a better and more effective way to handle the situation.

“I think that our smaller size allows for more broker-to-broker contact,” says Jim Haisler, CEO of the 800-member Heartland REALTOR® Organization in Illinois. “Often when agents call me with a situation and are hesitant to file a formal complaint, I suggest they consider contacting the other agent directly to make the agent aware there is an issue. In my experience, most agents don’t intend to violate the Code of Ethics, but rather, something happened that caused them to or they were unaware that they did violate the Code.”

For most small associations, the official Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice hearings, arbitrations, and mediations are done at the state or regional level. But AEs still do their fair share of informal refereeing between members.

Reaching Informal solutions

“Since I often know the parties well, I can guide them through to an appropriate resolution and correction informally,” says Kevan Lyons, RCE, EVP/COO, of the 151-member REALTORS® of Central Colorado Inc. “It’s funny to me how both parties often come running, phoning, or e-mailing to tell me their side of the story. I never have to go search it out.”

Yet despite the opportunity for discussion and informal remedies at small associations, sometimes serious ethics violations do occur and require solutions in keeping with the standards all members have sworn to uphold. The need to enforce the Code of Ethics is something that is paramount at associations of all sizes. In order for our profession to grow, we need solid case studies that provide details of when things go awry. It’s like the warning on the paint can cautioning against ingesting it—it’s there because someone actually drank the paint. Without warnings and stories to tell to our members, we risk not just the REALTOR® reputation but also permanent damage to the industry as a whole.

Fear of filing formal complaints

Unfortunately, members of small associations are particularly reluctant to file official complaints because, even though ethics proceedings are confidential, not much in a small town is secret. Plus, members fear being blacklisted as a tattletale, even if the ethics violation is true and serious.

“Some of our members are cautious to file a complaint against a top producer knowing that they’ll have to work with him or her again or at least show his or her listings,” says Haisler. And you see other agents at the grocery store.

Although there’s no easy answer to dealing with unprofessional behavior, associations of all sizes must keep to the code and remain impartial, fair, and consistent with whatever remedy works best. 

-- Amy DuBose, RCE, e-PRO, association staff, San Marcos Area Board of REALTORS®, Texas. She can be reached at 512-396-5478 or

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