Over-aggressive agent harassment

over-aggressive agent
When Over Aggressive Agents Abuse Technology (inforgraphic from nar.realtor)

Something has happened in the last few years where unsolicited phone calls and text messages have hit critical mass. It’s bad enough that unscrupulous individuals take advantage of technologies, such as phone number spoofing, to scam consumers. But it’s not a good sign for an industry when “professionals” abuse technology without regard to the law. You’re not alone if you’re feeling harassed by over-aggressive real estate agents who place multiple unsolicited calls and texts daily. There is a way to stop the over-aggressive agent calling and texting harassment.

When over-aggressive real estate agents abuse technology

Like other industries, technology has been integral in evolving the business of real estate in the last twenty years.  As a result of proper application, consumers are empowered.  However, some technologies are abused by real estate agents.  The combination of aggressive sales tactics and technology can sometimes go over the line and become harassment.  Recent lawsuits highlight alleged abuse of technology by real estate agents.

A recent class action lawsuit filed in California is taking on real estate agents who “cold call.”  Realtor Magazine (Cold Calling in Real Estate Under Fire in New Lawsuit; magazine.realtor; April 8, 2019) reported that the suit originated from a request for the defendant brokerage to stop directing their agents to make unsolicited calls.  The suit alleges that calling without consent violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and unsolicited auto-dialer calls violate the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry.

The plaintiff alleges that he received unsolicited calls from multiple agents affiliated with the same brokerage to his cell phone, which is listed with the National Do Not Call Registry.  The calls solicited to re-list his home after it did not sell.  Although it’s sometimes easy to find a phone number (typically a land line) associated with a property, the plaintiff said his cell phone was not associated with the property listing in any way. 

Two other lawsuits filed earlier this month in Florida focus on unsolicited texting.  In one, the plaintiff alleges they received thousands of unsolicited text messages, violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, advertising homes for sale.  The other alleges the use unsolicited texting to find potential home sellers.

Haru Coryne, for the Real Deal, reported that the suits are really about the abuse of auto-dialer technology that transmits “thousands” of text messages from a spoofed local number (Unsubscribe! Resi brokerages sued over text message spam; therealdeal.com; April 4, 2019).  The founder of a popular real estate technology platform acknowledged to Coryne that real estate agents who use these technologies without knowing the law can get into trouble.  He further stated, “A typical real estate agent will have five, six, seven programs, probably never took the time to see what the law is. [But] Just because they offer it doesn’t mean you can abuse it.  It’s like eating candy and wondering why you’re getting fat. You can’t take technology and abuse it and wonder why you’re getting sued.”

There are many platforms selling these services to real estate agents.  New technologies mine data (including emails and phone numbers) and “communicate” with consumers (including internet auto-dialers).  There are several popular services that sell contact information (including cell phone and email) for expired listings and Sale by Owner.  The data can be used in conjunction with text/email broadcasting, phone number spoofing, and auto-dialers.  Many consumers feel harassed by the over-aggressive agent because they are bombarded with auto-dialers, texts, and emails, after opting-out or asking the agent to stop.

Stopping the over-aggressive agent

If you want to stop unsolicited calls and texts from the over-aggressive agent, simply opt-out. If they continue, contact the agent. Contacting the agent should put an end to the unsolicited communication. However, you may have to call the agent’s broker. If, in the slight chance, you continue to be bombarded with unsolicited communication after opting out and contacting the agent’s broker, you may have to consult an attorney.

This can be a watershed moment for the industry to educate consumers about professional Realtors and reign in the “bad actors.”  The National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) and local Realtor associations advocate for the responsible use of technologies and cold calling.  With regard to telemarketing, the NAR states, “There’s no fine line or gray area: There are laws you must not break. But you still have a lot of flexibility on the right side of the law.” 

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2019.

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/04/15/over-aggressive-agent-harassment/

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Confidential information

confidential information
Keeping your information confidential (infographic from larealtors.org)

A real estate agent, who allegedly represented Paul Manafort’s family, recently asserted his fiduciary privilege to avoid appearing in front of a grand jury.  However, as Politico reported, his efforts were thwarted by a judicial opinion, and subsequently reported to the grand jury.  But can confidential information be disclosed?

A fiduciary is generally described as someone who acts as a custodian of their client’s rights and/or assets.  The fiduciary has a responsibility to act with honesty and integrity, as well as act in their client’s best interest and not exert influence or pressure on their client for their own or others interests.

Both the National Association of Realtors and the Annotated Code of Maryland (COMAR) reference directly and indirectly a real estate agent’s fiduciary obligation and handling confidential information.  The NAR Code of Ethics Standard of Practice 11-2 states that a Realtor (when acting as an agent or subagent) has “the obligations of a fiduciary.”  COMAR states about the brokerage relationship (MD BUSINESS OCCUPATIONS AND PROFESSIONS Code Ann. § 17-534):

Except as otherwise provided by this title or another law, keep confidential all personal and financial information received from the client during the course of the brokerage relationship and any other information that the client requests during the brokerage relationship to be kept confidential, unless (i) the client consents in writing to the disclosure of the information; or (ii) ) the information becomes public from a source other than the licensee.

Of course, all jurisdictions are different, having their own laws and customs that govern the actions of real estate agents.  Manafort’s alleged real estate agent claimed a fiduciary privilege under the DC and VA real estate statutes, which is similar to Maryland’s.  However, in a recently unsealed Memorandum Opinion (www.dcd.uscourts.gov/unsealed-opinions-sealed-cases), Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the US District Court for DC believes that real estate agents don’t have an “absolute duty of confidentiality.”  She opined that a real estate agent is not excused from complying with an obligation to respond to a grand jury.  But what about confidential information?

Judge Howell wrote:

The respondents take the position that a court order compelling compliance with federal grand jury subpoena is required to overcome the confidentiality protection afforded to real estate brokerage records under District of Columbia and Virginia law. They rely on identical provisions of District of Columbia and Virginia statutes that require a real estate licensee engaged by a buyer, such as the Clients, to ‘[m]aintain confidentiality of all personal and financial information received from the client during the brokerage relationship and any other information that the client requests during the brokerage relationship be maintained confidential unless otherwise provided by law or the buyer consents in writing to the release of such information.’ D.C. Code § 42-1703(b)(1)(C); Va. Code § 54.1-2132(A)(3) (emphasis added). The government does not dispute that these statutes extend confidential treatment to the subpoenaed information, but argues that ‘the laws do not impose an absolute duty of confidentiality on real estate agents’ or excuse compliance with ‘a legal obligation—enforceable by a federal court—to respond to the grand jury’s request for documents, testimony, or both.’”

A real estate agent’s fiduciary obligation and handling confidential information is not taken lightly.  Thankfully, most real estate agents don’t face a grand jury subpoena.  However, during the course of daily business, a real estate agent does have an obligation (whether by NAR Code of Ethics, their local statute, or both) of keeping their client’s personal and financial information confidential.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/11/04/revealing-confidential-information/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real estate fakery

“Fake news” is the cause du-jour that has energized many into a movement to stop the spreading of falsehoods.  Ironically, the crusaders who point their finger at alleged sources of fake news may also be guilty of promoting it; Fake news accusations are sometimes used to promote misinformation and half-truths.  Unfortunately, fake news has become a meme that is becoming trite and meaningless.  The promotion of fake news may be found throughout history, but real estate fakery is well established in the industry.

Fake real estate news isn’t always a manufactured story.  It is more often a story that is misleading.  When reporting real estate, the media typically sensationalizes a headline without reporting all the facts, which can make you draw inaccurate conclusions.  An example of this is when the local media report on rising national average home prices, giving the false impression that the local market is expanding at the same pace.  This is a mischaracterization of the local market because the regional data is often much different from the national trends.

The National Association of Realtors® is sometimes guilty of real estate fakery too by stating conjecture as fact when explaining market deviations.  An example of this is when existing home sales declined about seven percent during February 2014 (March 20, 2014; nar.realtor).  It was explained away because of the poor weather and snow that occurred that month.  However, if snow is causal to poor winter home sales; then why was there a five percent increase in Montgomery County Home Sales during February of 2010 – when Snowmageddon and Snowzilla occurred? From “Real Estate, Climate Change, and Data-Porn” :

The National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) March 20th news release reported that February home sales remained subdued because of rising home prices and severe winter weather.  The decline in existing home sales was just 0.4% from January, but was 7.1% lower than last February’s figures.  NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun stated that home sales declines were due to “weather disruptions, limited inventory, increasingly restrictive mortgage underwriting, and decreasing housing affordability.”  And although it may sound bad, Yun actually has a rosy outlook saying, “…Some transactions are simply being delayed, so there should be some improvement in the months ahead. With an expected pickup in job creation, home sales should trend up modestly over the course of the year.”

So, if a snow filled and cold February is to blame for poor home sales, was Snowmagedden and Snowzilla the reason for increased home sales during February 2010?  Of course not.   And although home sales increased 5.1% year-over-year here in Montgomery County MD during February 2010, it was mostly due to increased home buyer demand that some speculate was due in part to the availability of first time home buyer tax credits.

Housing data cause and effect is only conjecture unless it is directly observed.  To make sense of the “data-porn” that is excessively presented in the media, often without proper or erroneous explanation; economic writer Ben Casselman offers three rules to figure out what the media is saying (Three Rules to Make Sure Economic Data Aren’t Bunk; fivethirtyeight.com): Question the data; Know what is measured; and Look outside the data.  Casselman states, “The first two rules have to do with questioning the numbers — what they’re measuring, how they’re measuring it, and how reliable those measurements are. But when a claim passes both those tests, it’s worth looking beyond the data for confirmation.”

Consumers also perpetuate fake real estate news by exaggerating their (good and bad) experiences, usually offering unsolicited advice or posting to the internet (to real estate forums and websites).  Facts are often distorted or misrepresented about specific real estate situations, such as divorce, short sales, and foreclosure.  Unfortunately, people in similar situations who are looking for answers are at their most vulnerable; and can take the “advice” as gospel, seeking a similar outcome with their transaction.

More real estate fakery on the internet comes in the form of fake reviews.  Fake reviews has been an ongoing issue for a number of years.  And although the online real estate portals have claimed to use artificial intelligence and other means to thwart the trend, fake reviews and those who provide them have adapted and have become more sophisticated such that it is increasingly difficult to spot.  Even back in 2011, Cornell researchers claimed that detection of fake reviews is “well beyond the capability of human judges” (Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pages 309–319).

From “Are internet Realtor® reviews real or fake?“:

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) code of ethics prohibits deceptive practices, which includes posting or encouraging fake reviews. However, Lani Rosales of AGBeat (Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers) argues that there has always been an element posting fake Realtor® reviews and testimonials.

Scammers and fraudsters also use fake real estate news to their advantage.  Fake real estate listings have been an issue since the inception of the internet.  Fraudsters publish pictures and information from a prior sale or rental, or may lift the photos and information from a legitimate listing being marketed by an agent.  The con is to have the consumer send money, often before the home can be seen.  Craigslist warns consumers: “Avoid scams, deal locally! DO NOT wire funds (e.g. Western Union), or buy/rent sight unseen.”

Real estate agents are also culpable for spreading fake news, which may be why agents are often characterized as being fake or phony sales people who will bend the truth to make a sale.  Of course there are some in the industry who fit the stereotype, but many are “straight shooters.”  Unfortunately, it is common for agents to use puffery to make a home seem nicer (until you visit it and realize the “rustic charmer” is a neglected home).  Not as often, agents may create a history for the home that is not real to promote a lifestyle or even hide relevant defects.

When it comes to real estate news, advice, and listings – don’t take anything for granted.  Don’t fall prey to real estate fakery – know the source, and verify the information with a local real estate professional or your real estate agent.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2016

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Realtor ethics and presidential election

realtor ethics
Realtor ethics (infographic from visualistan.com)

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.

By Dan Krell
Copyright© 2016

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2016/10/21/realtor-ethics-presidential-election/

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Bait and switch tactics by real estate agents

houseThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov) states in its Advertising FAQ’s: A Guide for Small Business, “It’s illegal to advertise a product when the company has no intention of selling that item, but instead plans to sell a consumer something else, usually at a higher price…”, when describing “bait and switch” advertising.

The term “bait and switch” is sometimes bandied about by disgruntled consumers, when referring to their encounters with real estate agents. Although the scenarios depicted by the annoyed consumers require legal scrutiny to determine if the situations meet the definition of bait and switch as described by the FTC, it makes you wonder about what some agents are doing and/or saying to get business.

Bait and switch complaints are often about homes that are advertised for rent or sale, but are found to be off market after calling agent. These listings are often the result of listing syndication gone awry; or worse, “scraped” listing information (Internet scraping is when website data is taken and collected, often without authorization) reposted by an unauthorized website to attract traffic away from the website of origin.

Scraped listing information can float around cyberspace for months or years after a home has sold. Although there has always been an element of out of date listing information found on the internet; sham listings and unauthorized postings of listings used to lure consumers, are frequently cited by both consumers and agents because the information is often misleading or incorrect. And although some responsibility may be placed on the workings of the internet; some real estate agents may be to blame for using questionable advertising practices to get their phone ringing to attract home buyers. Such practices include: advertising other agents’ listings as their own, or advertising homes that are off the market.

The MLS syndicates and distributes home listing information across the internet to authorized websites, and updates the listings to maintain accuracy and integrity of the MLS. Although the internet seemed to coalesce for a brief time to present reliable home listings and other real estate information, while deterring scammers and rogue websites; the recent surge in home sales and other economics may be responsible for a return to a “wild west” atmosphere in cyberspace. This year’s reshuffling of MLS data access to major real estate portals, forcing some sites to find missing information elsewhere, is likely to have added some confusion.

Home buyers aren’t the only ones complaining; as some home sellers have similar complaints, saying they’ve been misled. Sometimes the complaint is that their agent “promised” a high sale price, only to be coerced to reduce the price at a later time; or the agent over-promised services that were never delivered.

It must be said that many buyer and seller complaints stem from their dissatisfaction, rather than an actual breach of ethics; and yet many legitimate ethical breaches go unreported. Regardless, it is unfortunate that some real estate agents resort to questionable sales tactics to attract buyers and sellers; and either learn the tactics from real estate trainers, and/or develop them on their own and share with other agents. Even though a Realtors® Code of Ethics exists to guide professional behavior and business practices, some have a “catch me if you can” attitude.

Due diligence, on your part, can make your home buying or selling experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2015/07/23/bait-and-switch-tactics-by-real-estate-agents/

By Dan Krell

Copyright © 2015

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.