Some years ago, I participated in a meeting of NAR (National Association of REALTORS®) directors from our state. To put it mildly, we — a sizeable group — were being admonished with respect to what had become a common problem. That is, too many directors were guilty of leaving meetings early, having made travel arrangements that were (a) convenient and (b) predictably incompatible with the likely time for adjournment. One of the directors there scolded the guilty ones because they, as REALTORS®, were supposedly committed to a Code of Ethics and, surely, failing to fulfill an obligation of their position constituted a violation of that ethical code. She was mistaken.
In previous writings we have tried to show that the Realtor® Code of Ethics is not simply an arbitrary set of rules, disconnected from everyday morals and ethics, meant to govern the behavior of REALTORS® as they pursue their profession. Rather, the Code, so to speak, grows out of our everyday ethical codes. It gives application of general ethical imperatives to the out-of-the-ordinary and specific situations found in the transaction of real estate business.
In that respect, the Realtor® Code is similar to other professional codes that are designed to give guidance to those who find themselves in ethically-charged situations not experienced in everyday life.
The Realtor® Code, like other professional codes, is intended to supplement general ethical principles, not to supplant them. It is not the Boy Scout Oath. It does not, like that oath, require that its adherents be “morally straight.” Confounding as it may be, it’s conceivable that a person could be a Code-compliant, professionally-ethical Realtor®, while all the while being a bit of a scoundrel during the off hours.
Some years ago, a California Realtor® was found by a Hearing Panel to have violated Article 1 of the Code of Ethics. A buyer’s agent, he stole a bottle of wine from a listing. The act was recorded by a security camera. When contacted, the agent acknowledged his guilt and returned the bottle of wine. An Ethics Hearing found that the agent’s act violated the Article 1 duty to treat all parties to the transaction honestly.
My reaction to this true story is that, to be sure, he did something both morally and legally wrong, but doing something wrong is not in and of itself a violation of the Code of Ethics. Moreover, I did not think that the act of stealing from someone is not, by itself, an act of dishonesty. (Certainly, dishonesty may be involved in some thefts.) Hence, I think that this is an example of trying to make the Code do too much. And I think we should avoid that.
My dear friend and colleague, Duane Gomer, disagrees with me. He thinks it was a case of dishonesty, and that the Hearing Panel got it right. Now, Duane is a real estate educator and something of a guru. I always pay attention to what he says; but I can’t agree with him on this one. What say you?