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Legally speaking: Stay within the ‘rules’ when advertising your real estate services

By Peg Ritenour, OAR Vice President of Legal Services/Administration

The OAR Legal Assistance Hotline receives an array of real estate-related legal questions — including license law issues, disclosure, contract law, ethics and commission problems, among others. In an effort to help you work “within the law,” we’ve launched a new “Legally Speaking” feature exclusively on the OAR Daily Buzz that spotlights some of the timely questions that are being asked by REALTORS. This one involves what is acceptable when advertising your services…

Q: I purchased advertising on a large billboard to promote my services as a real estate agent. One of my competitors told me that this billboard violates the license law because my name is bigger than the name of my brokerage. My brokerage is a franchise and if you include the franchise name and logo along with the brokerage name my name isn’t bigger. Is my billboard ok?

A: Your competitor is referring to what is commonly called the “prominence rule” — a license law provision I see violated almost every day on yard signs, websites, print ads, etc..

This “rule” is found in Ohio Revised Code Section 4735.16(B)(3). It provides that the brokerage name must be displayed in equal prominence with the name of a salesperson in any advertisement. What is considered advertising? Anything you put out to the public that markets either real property (i.e., a listing) or your services as a real estate agent. This could include: newspaper or magazine ads, websites, business cards, yard signs, as well other signs, such as a billboard or signage on a car. It could also include blogs and social media if you are promoting your listings or real estate business on those sites.

When determining if a salesperson’s name in an ad is more prominent than that of the brokerage, the Division compares the font and type size of the agent’s name with that of the brokerage name. In doing so, the Division only looks at the brokerage name as it appears on the brokerage’s license. Because company logos and franchise names or logos are not generally part of a brokerage’s licensed name, they are not be factored in by the Division when comparing an agent’s name to that of the brokerage. Thus, whether your billboard violates the license law depends on whether your name is more prominent than the brokerage name, not taking into consideration the franchise name or logo.

It should be noted that the only exception to the prominence rule applies to websites not owned or controlled by an agent. Under this exception a licensee is not considered to have violated the prominence rule if the terms of use or the format of such a website do not allow the agent to control or direct the size and prominence of the brokerage and salesperson’s names. An example of this would be Facebook. This change became effective on Jan. 1, 2013.

Tags: legal, Legally Speaking