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®.)


Code of Ethics Case Interpretation – Article 6: Advertising R​eal Estate-Related Products and Services

Realtor® X, a principal broker in the firm XY&Z, developed a robust, interactive website that he used both to publicize his and to serve the firm’s clients and customers electronically. REALTOR® X maintained positive business relationships with providers of real estate-related products and services including financial institutions, title insurance companies, home inspectors, mortgage brokers, insurance agencies, appraisers, exterminators, decorators, landscapers, moving companies, and others. Given the volume of business REALTOR® X’s firm handled, several of these companies purchased banner advertisements on the XY&Z website and some, including the Third National Bank, included links in their banner ads to their own websites.

Buyer B, who had earlier entered into an exclusive buyer representation agreement with XY&Z, received frequent e-mail reports from REALTOR® X about new properties coming onto the market. Hoping to purchase a home in the near future, he explored Realtor® X’s website to learn more about the home buying process and familiarize himself with the real estate-related products and services advertised there. Understanding that pre-qualifying for a mortgage would ensure he presented the strongest offer, Buyer B went to REALTOR® X’s website and clicked on the Third National Bank’s link. Once at the bank’s website, he found a mortgage to his liking, completed the on-line application process, and learned in a matter of days that he was qualified for a mortgage loan.

In the meantime, Buyer B’s property search proved fruitful. REALTOR® X and Buyer B visited a new listing on Hickory Street several times. Buyer B decided it met his needs and made an offer which was accepted by the seller.

A few weeks after the closing, Buyer B hosted a housewarming attended by his friend D, a website designer who had, coincidentally, been instrumental in developing REALTOR® X’s website. Buyer B told D how helpful the information from REALTOR® X’s website had been. “You know, don’t you, that each time a visitor to REALTOR® X’s website clicks on some of those links, REALTOR® X is paid a fee?”, asked D. “I didn’t know that,” said Buyer B, “I thought the links were to products and services REALTOR® X was recommending.”

Buyer B filed an ethics complaint against REALTOR® X alleging a violation of Article 6 for having recommended real estate products and services without disclosing the financial benefit or fee that REALTOR® X would receive for making the recommendation. At the hearing, REALTOR® X defended himself and his website, indicating that the advertisements for real estate-related products and services on his website were simply that, advertisements, and not recommendations or endorsements. He acknowledged that he collected a fee each time a visitor to his website clicked on certain links, regardless of whether the visitor chose to do business with the “linked to” entity or not. “In some instances I do recommend products and services to clients and to customers. In some instances I receive a financial benefit; in others I don’t. But in any instance where I recommend a real estate-related product or service, I go out of my way to make it absolutely clear I am making a recommendation, and I spell out the basis for my recommendation. I also disclose, as required by the Code, the financial benefit or fee that I might receive. Those banner advertisements on my website are simply that, advertisements.”

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

The hearing panel agreed with REALTOR® X’s rationale, concluding that the mere presence of real estate-related advertisements on REALTOR® X’s website did not constitute a “recommendation” or “endorsement” of those products or services, and that the “click through” fee that REALTOR® X earned when visitors to his website linked to certain advertisers’ sites was not the type of financial benefit or fee that must be disclosed under Article 6.

See more case interpretations here

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®.)


Code of Ethics Case Interpretation – Article 3: REALTOR®’s Obligation to Disclose Dual Commission Arrangements

REALTORS® A and B were members of the same Association and Participants in the MLS. REALTOR® A, cooperating with REALTOR® B on REALTOR® B’s listing, submitted an offer to purchase signed by buyers offering the listed price, and a check for earnest money. The only contingency was a financing contingency, and REALTOR® A shared with REALTOR® B the buyers’ loan prequalification letter. The following day, REALTOR® B emailed the offer back to REALTOR® A with “REJECTED” written on it and initialed by the seller, and explained that the seller had accepted another offer secured by one of REALTOR® B’s sales associates. REALTOR® A inquired about the seller’s reason for rejecting the full price offer with only a mortgage contingency, and what had caused the seller to accept the other offer. REALTOR® B responded that he did not know, but with equal offers, he supposed the seller would favor the offer secured by the listing broker.

Later, REALTOR® A saw the seller at a dinner party. The seller thanked him for his efforts in connection with the recent sale of the seller’s home. The seller hoped REALTOR® A understood there was nothing personal in his decision, adding that the money he saved through his “special agreement” with REALTOR® B had been the deciding factor. When REALTOR® A asked about the “special agreement,” the seller explained he had signed a listing agreement for the sale of his property which authorized the submission of the listing to the Multiple Listing Service and specified a certain amount of compensation. However, the seller stated that he had also signed an addendum to the listing agreement specifying that if REALTOR® B sold the listing through his own office, a percentage of the agreed compensation would be discounted to the seller’s credit, resulting in a lower commission payable by the seller.

REALTOR® A filed a complaint with the Association of REALTORS® against REALTOR® B, alleging a violation of Article 3. After its review of the complaint, the Grievance Committee requested that an ethics hearing be arranged.

REALTOR® A, in restating his complaint to the Hearing Panel, said that REALTOR® B’s failure to disclose the actual terms and conditions of the compensation offered through the MLS resulted in concealment and misrepresentation of pertinent facts to REALTOR® A and to the prospective buyers served by REALTOR® A who had, in good faith, offered to purchase the property at the listed price with only a mortgage contingency. REALTOR® A told the Hearing Panel that if he had known the facts which were not disclosed by REALTOR® B, he could have fully and accurately informed the buyers who could have taken those facts into consideration when making their offer. As it was, said REALTOR® A, the buyers acting in good faith were deceived by facts unknown to them because they were unknown to REALTOR® A. Further, REALTOR® A said that REALTOR® B’s failure to fully disclose the true terms and conditions relating to compensation made it impossible to have a responsible relationship with REALTOR® B and make proper value judgments as to accepting the offer of compensation.

REALTOR® B stated that it was his business what he charged and the Association or MLS could not regulate his charges for his services. If he wished to establish a dual commission charge by agreement with his client, that was his right, and there was no need or right of the Association or MLS to interfere.

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

The Hearing Panel agreed that it was REALTOR® B’s right to establish his fees and charges as he saw fit, and that the Association or MLS could not and would not interfere. However, the Hearing Panel noted that his complete freedom to establish charges for his services did not relieve him of his obligation to fully disclose the real terms and conditions of the compensation offered to the other Participants of the Multiple Listing Service, and did not justify his failure to disclose the dual commission arrangement. In the case of a dual commission arrangement, the listing broker must disclose not only the existence of the “special arrangement” but also must disclose, in response to an inquiry from a potential cooperating broker, the differential that would result in the total commission in a cooperative transaction. The Hearing Panel concluded that by submitting a listing to the MLS indicating that he was offering a certain amount of compensation to cooperating brokers while other relevant terms and conditions were not disclosed to the other MLS Participants, he had concealed and misrepresented real facts and was in violation of Article 3 of the Code of Ethics.

See more case interpretations here

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®.)


Code of Ethics Case Interpretation – Article 4: Responsibility for Subordinates

REALTOR® B, a sales associate in REALTOR® A’s office, exclusively listed a suburban house and subsequently convinced the seller to accept $60,000 less than the listed price. Several weeks after the transfer of title, the seller filed a written complaint with the Association, charging REALTOR® B with a violation of Article 4 in that REALTOR® B had sold the property to his mother without disclosing this relationship to his client, the seller, and that REALTOR® B got the price reduced for his mother’s benefit.

The complaint was reviewed by the Grievance Committee which, with the complainant’s concurrence, named REALTOR® A as an additional respondent.

At the hearing, REALTOR® B stated that he saw nothing wrong in selling the property to his mother and that the seller would have accepted the contract at the reduced price, even if the buyer had not been REALTOR® B’s mother. REALTOR® A stated that REALTOR® B was an independent contractor licensed with him. REALTOR® A acknowledged that he was accountable under the Code for the actions of other REALTORS® and REALTOR® associated with him but shared with the panel information on his firm’s orientation program. He noted that he required each licensee joining his firm to complete association-sponsored Code training. In addition, he required everyone in his firm to read Professionalism in Real Estate Practice, and produced a form signed by REALTOR® B stating that he had carefully read and understood his personal obligation under the Code of Ethics.

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

The panel found that REALTOR® B should have made his relationship to the buyer, his mother, unmistakably clear to the seller. He should have disclosed in writing that the buyer was his mother so there would have been no misunderstanding.

The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® B in violation of Article 4.

The Hearing Panel noted that REALTORS® are not presumed to be in violation of the Code of Ethics in cases where REALTORS® associated with them are found in violation. Rather, their culpability, if any, must be determined from the facts and circumstances of the case in question. It was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that REALTOR® A had made reasonable efforts to ensure that REALTOR® B was familiar with the Code and its obligations, and that it would have been unreasonable to expect REALTOR® A to have known the purchaser was REALTOR® B’s mother. Consequently, REALTOR® A was found not to have violated Article 4.

See more case interpretations here

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®.)


Code of Ethics Case Interpretation – Article 4: Indirect Interest in Buyer

REALTOR® A had taken two offers to buy a commercial property listed with him to the owner, Client B. Both offers had been considerably below the listed price, and on REALTOR® A’s advice, Client B had rejected both. REALTOR® C submitted a contract to REALTOR® A seeking a cooperative arrangement on REALTOR® A’s listing, which was agreeable to REALTOR® A. REALTOR® C brought a contract to REALTOR® A from a prospective buyer, a bank, offering more than the previous proposals, but still 10 percent less than the listed price. REALTOR® A took the offer to Client B and again advised him not to accept an offer at less than the full listed price. Again, the client acted on REALTOR® A’s advice. The bank revised its offer, proposing to pay the listed price. This offer was accepted by Client B, the owner.

About a month after the closing, the Association of REALTOR® S received a complaint from a director of the bank that had purchased Client B’s property, charging REALTOR®A and REALTOR® C with unethical conduct and duplicity which had resulted in the bank’s paying an excessive price for the property. The complaint stated that REALTOR® C was a stockholder in a corporation, one of whose officers was a director of the bank; that REALTOR® C, in a transaction that was handled through REALTOR® A, had evidently used his connection with the bank to induce the bank to buy at a price higher than the market; and that neither of the two REALTORS® had disclosed to the other officers of the bank the connection that existed between them and one officer of the bank.

At the hearing, REALTOR®A defended his actions by stating that he knew nothing of any business relationship between REALTOR® C, the cooperating broker and the buyer; that he had acted wholly in accordance with the best interests of his client, the seller. REALTOR® C demonstrated that he had negotiated solely with the president of the bank; that the director of the bank who happened to be an officer of a corporation in which he, REALTOR® C, held stock was at no time contacted during the negotiations; that the matter had never been discussed with that individual.

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

It was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that the indirect relationship between REALTOR® C and the buyer was not of a nature to require a formal disclosure; that REALTOR® C could not be held to be in violation of Article 4. The panel pointed out, however, that in a borderline case where it could be reasonably inferred that a relationship did exist, the spirit of Article 4 would be better served if disclosure were made to avoid any possibility of unfortunate or unfounded suspicions.

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.