If you spend a lot of time trolling the real estate industry—which most consumers don’t—the buzzwords du jour are consumer-centric. “The consumer is king. Case closed. Period. There is no going back,” claimed an article on the Inman News website awhile back. Why this has not been true for the past fifty years is a mystery to anyone. I suppose it is a consequence of the universal unleashing of information in the real estate industry due to the prevalence of the internet. Perhaps it was easier to be agent-centric when they had a stranglehold on all the information. Not so much today.
But for whatever reason, I am glad the industry has finally come around to putting the needs of the buyers and sellers first. They do, after all, pay everyone’s salary. So, I was a little disappointed to read last week that the California Association of Realtors (CAR) is going to out “Code of Ethics” violators to members only. In other words, which agents are in violation of their code of ethics will not be made available to consumers—the ones most harmed by the violations. That is the kind of information, if made available, that would be extremely helpful to buyers and sellers in vetting a real estate agent to represent them. But, it would be an even more powerful deterrent for agents, knowing that consumers can easily discover their dastardly deeds. If you want to eliminate unethical agent behavior, you have to make it costly to engage in it. Just outing them to other agents is an insufficient penalty.
I do not know whether to be grateful that the association is doing something more than nothing with regard to the violators, or disappointed that they did not take the more aggressive step of alerting consumers. But it is certainly not unexpected. They do, ultimately, represent real estate agents and not consumers. The association actually has a financial incentive to never out violators to consumers: they risk losing a dues-paying member.
Perhaps someday the real estate industry will embrace true transparency, put the needs of their customers ahead of their own (like it states in their code of ethics), and believe that buyers and sellers are best served by the quality of member agents and not the quantity of member agents. Now, that would be consumer-centric. Until then, all buyers and sellers will continue to be in the dark about which agents strictly adhere to their code of ethics and which ones just brag about it.