Allegations of sabotage, fraud, and collusion. A yearning for power and money. And let’s not forget about the sex, lies, and video tape. No, I’m not referring to this year’s presidential election – I’m talking about Realtor ethics (although the similarities are intriguing). I’ve reported in the past about real estate agents who’ve engaged in fraud, sabotage and collusion while taking part in scams. There have also been the recent reports of alleged money laundering and extortion. And let’s not forget the agents caught on video in homes for sale engaging in sexual acts, rummaging through underwear drawers, and stealing.
The National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) is proud of their Code of Ethics, which was first introduced in 1913. And for years, the NAR has promoted the Code of Ethics as one of the feature advantages of hiring a Realtor®. And notwithstanding the focus on high ethical standards, some agents still act repugnantly. And as a result, it’s not a surprise that real estate agents typically fall in the lower to middle range of Gallup’s Honesty/Ethics in Professions poll (gallup.com). The December 2-5th 2015 poll indicated real estate agents ranked below journalists, bankers, and lawyers in honesty and ethical standards (lobbyists and members of congress are at the bottom of the ranking).
So, why are agents often viewed as unscrupulous and dishonest? The answer begins with the purpose of the NAR Code of Ethics. Jeremiah Conway and John Houlihan’s 1982 study (The Real Estate Code of Ethics: Viable or Vaporous?; Journal of Business Ethics. 1;201-210) determined to find out if the NAR Code of Ethics was just a “clever” marketing scheme or a viable tool for “promoting and enforcing” ethical behavior. Their critique of the 1982 version of the NAR Code of Ethics exposed “numerous ethical flaws.” They revealed loopholes for enforcement as well as statements that promoted the interests of Realtors®, contrary to the “service of the public.”
And although required to adhere to the NAR Code of Ethics, there are still some agents who breach their duties to the public and their clients for their own benefit. George Izzo’s 2000 study of moral reasoning and ethical decisions in real estate (Cognitive Moral Development and Real Estate Practitioners. Journal of Real Estate Research., 20;1;179-188) revealed that cognitive moral development and ethics are mutually exclusive. While some are more “mature” in their moral reasoning and motivations, the study determined there is no difference among stages of moral development when making ethical decisions.
Sometimes a person’s moral reasoning is just irrational, illogical, or unfounded – regardless of how high the purpose.
It has been thirty-four years since Conway and Houlihan’s assessment of the NAR Code of Ethics. Of course, the NAR Code of Ethics is updated each year to reflect changes in technology and business; however, the basic purpose remains unchanged – promote your client’s best interest, cooperate with other agents, treat all parties honestly, a commitment to the truth and refrain from misrepresentation (among other things). Since then, the changes to the Code have been overwhelmingly positive such that the NAR Code of Ethics framework has been adopted into real estate licensing laws across the country.
Nevertheless, after decades of promoting Realtor ethics as a basis for hiring one, it became clear that consumers did not choose their agents based on ethical behavior. As a result, in 2014 the NAR began to promote Realtor added value.
Copyright © Dan Krell
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