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.