This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)


Case #3-10: Disclose Accepted Offers with Unresolved Contingenci​es

REALTOR® A listed Seller S’s house and entered the listing in the MLS. Within a matter of days, REALTOR® X procured a full price offer from Buyer B. The offer specified that Buyer B’s offer was contingent on the sale of Buyer B’s current home. Seller S, anxious to sell, accepted Buyer B’s offer but instructed REALTOR® A to continue marketing the property in hope that an offer that was not contingent on the sale of an existing home would be made.

A week later, REALTOR® Q, another cooperating broker working with an out-of-state transferee on a company-paid visit, contacted REALTOR® A to arrange a showing of Seller S’s house for Buyer T. REALTOR® A contacted Seller S to advise him of the showing and then called REALTOR® Q to confirm that he and Buyer T could visit the property that evening. REALTOR® A said nothing about the previously-accepted purchase offer.

REALTOR® Q showed the property to Buyer T that evening and Buyer T signed a purchase offer for the full listed price. REALTOR® Q sent the purchase to REALTOR® A.

REALTOR® A informed Seller S about this second offer. At Seller S’s instruction, Buyer B was informed of the second offer, and Buyer B waived the contingency in his purchase offer. REALTOR® A then informed REALTOR® Q that Seller S and Buyer B intended to close on their contract and the property was not available for purchase by Buyer T.

REALTOR® Q, believing that REALTOR® A’s failure to disclose the existence of the accepted offer between Seller S and Buyer B at the time REALTOR® Q contacted REALTOR® A was in violation of Article 3 of the Code of Ethics, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 3-6, filed an ethics complaint with the association of REALTORS®.

At the hearing called to consider the complaint, REALTOR® A defended his actions noting that while Buyer B’s offer had been accepted by Seller S, it had been contingent on the sale of Buyer B’s current home. It was possible that Buyer B, if faced with a second offer, could have elected to withdraw from the contract. REALTOR® A argued that continuing to market the property and not making other brokers aware that the property was under contract promoted his client’s best interests by continuing to attract potential buyers.

What do you think the Hearing Panel decided? Click here to find out.

The Hearing Panel disagreed with REALTOR® A’s justification, pointing to the specific wording of Standard of Practice 3-6 which requires disclosure of accepted offers, including those with unresolved contingencies. REALTOR® A was found in violation of Article 3.

This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)


Case #2-6: Misrepresentation

REALTOR® A, a cooperating broker, had shown four houses to Buyer B, and Buyer B’s wife had asked to see one of them a second time. There was a third inspection, and a fourth. They seemed at the point of decision but said they would like to “sleep on it.” When there was no word the next day, REALTOR® A called. Buyer B said he was a bit hesitant on the price; that some transfers of executives in his company had been rumored; that this could affect him within the year; that he hesitated to buy at a price that might mean taking a loss if he should be transferred within a year.

REALTOR® A tried to reassure the prospect by telephone. Then he dictated a letter stating that the house was an exceptional bargain at the asking price and “our office guarantees to get your money out of it for you any time in the next year if you should need to sell.” Buyer B came in and signed the contract.

Six months later, Buyer B came to REALTOR® A as a seller. He was being transferred. He would need to get his equity out of the house to be able to afford a purchase in the new community. REALTOR® A listed the house at the price Buyer B had paid for it. After a month there had been no offers. Buyer B reminded REALTOR® A of his written assurance that his office had guaranteed he would get his money out of the house within the year.

REALTOR® A explained that the market had become much less active and that Buyer B might have to reduce his price by $10,000 to $15,000 to attract a buyer. Whereupon, Buyer B filed a complaint with the Board of REALTORS® charging REALTOR® A with misrepresentation, exaggeration, and failure to make good a commitment. After examination of the complaint, the Grievance Committee referred it to the Professional Standards Committee for a hearing.

In response to questioning by the Hearing Panel, REALTOR® A admitted that he had written the letter to Buyer B in good faith and, at the time the letter was written, he had been certain that his office could obtain a price for the property that would ensure Buyer B was “getting his money out of the house.” However, REALTOR® A explained that although he had held such an opinion in good faith, the market had softened and now the circumstances were different.

What do you think the Hearing Panel decided? Click here to find out.

The Hearing Panel reminded REALTOR® A that the pertinent fact being considered was not his opinion at the time of the previous sale as compared to his opinion now, but rather his written “guarantee” to Buyer B and his current failure to make good his written commitment. It was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that REALTOR® A had engaged in misrepresentation and was in violation of Article 2.

Code of Ethics Case Interpretations

This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)


Case #2-4: Obligation to Ascertain Pertinent Facts

Shortly after REALTOR® A, the listing broker, closed the sale of a home to Buyer B, a complaint was received by the Board charging REALTOR® A with an alleged violation of Article 2 in that he had failed to disclose a substantial fact concerning the property. The charge indicated that the house was not connected to the city sanitary sewage system, but rather had a septic tank.

In a statement to the Board’s Grievance Committee, Buyer B stated that the subject was not discussed during his various conversations with REALTOR® A about the house. However, he pointed out that his own independent inquiries had revealed that the street on which the house was located was “sewered” and he naturally assumed the house was connected. He had since determined that every other house on the street for several blocks in both directions was connected. He stated that REALTOR® A, in not having disclosed this exceptional situation, had failed to disclose a pertinent fact.

REALTOR® A’s defense in a hearing before a Hearing Panel of the Professional Standards Committee was:

  1. that he did not know this particular house was not connected with the sewer;
  2. that in advertising the house, he had not represented it as being connected;
  3. that at no time, as Buyer B conceded, had he orally stated that the house was connected;
  4. that it was common knowledge that most, if not all, of the houses in the area were connected to the sewer; and
  5. that the seller, in response to REALTOR® A’s questions at the time the listing was entered into, had stated that the house was connected to the sewer.

What do you think the Hearing Panel decided? Click here to find out.

The panel determined that the absence of a sewer connection in an area where other houses were connected was a substantial and pertinent fact in the transaction; but that the fact that the house was not connected to the sewer was not possible to determine in the course of a visual inspection and, further, that REALTOR® A had made appropriate inquiries of the seller and was entitled to rely on the representations of the seller. The panel concluded that REALTOR® A was not in violation of Article 2.

Code of Ethics Case Interpretations

This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)


Case #1-9: Ex​clusive Listing During Term of Open Listing

During a Board of REALTORS® luncheon, REALTOR® A described to those at the table an old house in a commercial area which was open listed with him and invited the others to cooperate with him in selling the property. REALTORS® X and Y said they also had the property open listed but had found very little interest in it. REALTOR® B made no comment, but feeling he could find a buyer for it, went to the owner and discussed the advantages of an exclusive listing. The owner was persuaded and signed an exclusive listing agreement with REALTOR® B, telling him at the time that he had listed the property on an “open” basis for 30 more days with REALTORS® A, X, and Y. REALTOR® B’s comment was, “Just don’t renew those open listings when they expire.”

A few days later, REALTOR® A brought the owner a signed offer to purchase the property at the asking price. The owner told REALTOR® A that he now had the property exclusively listed with REALTOR® B, and asked him to submit the offer through REALTOR® B. Before REALTOR® A could contact REALTOR® B, REALTOR® B had taken another offer to purchase the property at the asking price to the owner. Confronted with two identical offers, the owner found both REALTOR® A and REALTOR® B expected full commissions for performance under their respective existing listing agreements. The owner filed an ethics complaint with the Board of REALTORS® alleging violations of Article 1 of the Code of Ethics because of the difficult position he had been placed in by REALTOR® A and REALTOR® B. The owner alleged neither of them had warned him that he might be liable for payment of more than one commission.

What do you think the Hearing Panel decided? Click here to find out.

In reviewing the actions of REALTOR® A, the Hearing Panel found that he was not at fault; that he had performed as requested under his listing agreement. On the other hand, it was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that REALTOR® B had violated Article 1 by failing to advise the owner of his potential commission obligation to the other listing brokers when the client told him other listing agreements were in force.

The Hearing Panel pointed out that because of REALTOR® B’s omission his client, through no fault of his own, may have incurred legal liability to pay two commissions; that REALTOR® B should have advised the owner of his potential liability for multiple commissions; and that by not doing so REALTOR® B had failed to protect his client’s interests as required by Article 1.

Code of Ethics Case Interpretations

This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)


Case Standard of Practice #1-4: Fidelity to Client

Client A contacted REALTOR® B to list a vacant lot. Client A said he had heard that similar lots in the vicinity had sold for about $50,000 and thought he should be able to get a similar price. REALTOR® B stressed some minor disadvantages in location and grade of the lot, and said that the market for vacant lots was sluggish. He suggested listing at a price of $32,500 and the client agreed.

In two weeks, REALTOR® B came to Client A with an offer at the listed price of $32,500. The client raised some questions about it, pointing out that the offer had come in just two weeks after the property had been placed on the market which could be an indication that the lot was worth closer to $50,000 than $32,500. REALTOR® B strongly urged him to accept the offer, stating that because of the sluggish market, another offer might not develop for months and that the offer in hand simply vindicated REALTOR® B’s own judgment as to pricing the lot. Client A finally agreed and the sale was made to Buyer C.

Two months later, Client A discovered the lot was no longer owned by Buyer C, but had been purchased by Buyer D at $55,000. He investigated and found that Buyer C was a brother-in-law of REALTOR® B, and that Buyer C had acted on behalf of REALTOR® B in buying the property for $32,500.

Client A outlined the facts in a complaint to the Board of REALTORS®, charging REALTOR® B with collusion in betrayal of a client’s confidence and interests, and with failing to disclose that he was buying the property on his own behalf.

At a hearing before a panel of the Board’s Professional Standards Committee, REALTOR® B’s defense was that in his observation of real estate transactions there can be two legitimate prices of property—the price that a seller is willing to take in order to liquidate his investment, and the price that a buyer is willing to pay to acquire a property in which he is particularly interested. His position was that he saw no harm in bringing about a transaction to his own advantage in which the seller received a price that he was willing to take and the buyer paid a price that he was willing to pay.

What do you think the Hearing Panel decided? Click here to find out.

The Hearing Panel concluded that REALTOR® B had deceitfully used the guise of rendering professional service to a client in acting as a speculator; that he had been unfaithful to the most basic principles of agency and allegiance to his client’s interest; and that he had violated Articles 1 and 4 of the Code of Ethics.