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Legally speaking: Could your post-showing feedback cross the line?

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, our “Legally Speaking” series spotlights some of the timely questions that are being asked by REALTORS. This one involves whether leaving a business card or offering comments after a showing could cross the line and result in an ethical violation for interfering in the listing broker’s exclusive agency relationship with the seller…

Q:  When other REALTORS show my listings they sometimes leave their business card at the property, and that card obviously includes that REALTOR’S contact information. My brokerage also uses a showing service whereby my seller and I receive email feedback from the buyer’s agent, sharing the buyer’s remarks about the property. Occasionally the agent will include their own comments about the showing (“Your home shows beautifully…”) and will include their name and contact information on that email as well. Is this legal or ethical? Are these agents inappropriately trying to solicit my sellers by leaving their contact information and making these kind of comments?

A: This is a question that may possibly involve the NAR Code of Ethics, but not the license law or the Canons of Ethics that are enforced by the Ohio Division of Real Estate.

Article 16 of the NAR Code of Ethics provides that REALTORS shall not engage in any practice or take any action inconsistent with the exclusive representation that other REALTORS have with their clients. Standard of Practice 16-4 further clarifies that REALTORS shall not solicit a listing which is currently listed exclusively with another broker.

Therefore the issue is whether leaving a business card or sending email feedback that includes the buyer agent’s contact information (phone number, email address) constitutes a solicitation of the listing. Many will argue that by leaving a business card or including such information in an email feedback that the buyer’s agent is acting  professionally, letting the seller know they showed their home. Others may argue that  the buyer’s agent is subtly suggesting that the seller contact them, especially if their comments about the property are overly complimentary.

While NAR does provide some official Case Interpretations on the provisions of the Code of Ethics, there is no such Case Interpretation on this specific situation. Thus whether such conduct violates Article 16 and SOP 16-10 would have to be determined by a Professional Standards Panel  at your Local Board of REALTORS following a hearing on a complaint alleging such a violation. How a panel would rule would be based on the unique facts of each case and that panel’s interpretation of the above sections of the Code of Ethics. For example a panel may find that an agent crossed the line by leaving a business card after a showing on which they wrote “Please contact me regarding your real estate needs” versus a card with no such language.

The bottom line is that REALTORS should always be respectful of the exclusive agency relationship between other REALTORS and their clients and be careful not to engage in actions that could be construed as interfering with that relationship or as a solicitation of another REALTOR’s client.

Tags: legal, Legally Speaking