Remember, Fair Housing & the Code of Ethics Still Apply Online
AAR Talks with Evan Fuchs & Paula Monthofer about How to Avoid Risks While Getting Social
Paula Monthofer, ABR, GRI
Real Estate Instructor & Agent with Realty Executives, Flagstaff
Evan Fuchs, ABR, CRS, GRI, e-PRO®
Real Estate Instructor & Designated Broker at Bullhead Laughlin Realty, Bullhead City
Do you think about Fair Housing and the Code of Ethics when you interact online? Questionable behavior is popping up on Facebook and other social sites—from linking to a map with inappropriate labels handwritten over areas of town to retweeting an off-color joke to disparaging another agent. AAR spoke with REALTORS® and real estate instructors Paula Monthofer, ABR, GRI, an agent with Realty Executives in Flagstaff, and Evan Fuchs, ABR, CRS, GRI, e-PRO®, the designated broker at Bullhead Laughlin Realty in Bullhead City, to find out what’s going on—and what you can do to protect yourself from an ethics complaint or a hefty Fair Housing fine.
REALTORS® get an awful lot of education on Fair Housing. Yet problems persist. Why do you think we are seeing these types of violations on social media sites?
Evan Fuchs (EF): While they’re engaged in social media, people may get a little bit too comfortable with the social side and maybe forget that they are still a REALTOR®. They might also lose sight of the fact that this is on their permanent record. It’s out there forever. It’s great to engage and be casual and have those relationships, but you have to be professional at the same time.
Paula Monthofer (PM): Agents just get too comfortable. Plus, there is a false sense of anonymity online. They feel freer than they really should.
Is social media advertising? What if an agent uses Facebook to connect with friends, not clients?
PM: I think that’s a really easily crossed, thin line. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a chat box, a comment on someone else’s post or a status update that mentions you were doing an open house. If you’re talking about yourself being a REALTOR®, you need to include your brokerage name on your profile and you need to pay attention to Fair Housing law when you’re online.
EF: I’m one person. I can’t separate myself. Imagine that someone is searching for you on Google. One result that comes up is a personal page that has nothing to do with real estate. The second is your LinkedIn profile. It’s not hard to connect those dots: “This person talking about hot rods is an agent with Such-and-Such Realty.”
PM: You can’t take your REALTOR® hat off. The Code of Ethics, Fair Housing—everything still applies.
How do you respond to agents who say it is the obligation of a REALTOR® to let people know the truth about an area? Or who say they should be able to choose who they do and do not want to work with?
EF: As a designated broker, I rely on the law when I have this conversation. I tell my agents that it’s not really a matter of opinion. There are federal laws that carry stiff penalties. This is not a decision that I get to make, and you don’t either.
PM: The bottom line is that we simply cannot discriminate in our services. Everybody’s money is green. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to a claim.
Talk to us about the change to the Code of Ethics that affects social media.
PM: The Code of Ethics Standard of Practice 15-3 (see box below) states that you are responsible for other people’s comments on your Facebook profile or page, website, blog or other platform over which you have a measure of control. So you do have to monitor these profiles and review comments from your friends. Even if the real estate professional’s name isn’t used, if it’s easy to figure out who the other person is, that’s a violation.
|REALTOR® Code of Ethics Standard of Practice 15-3
The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, and their business practices includes the duty to publish a clarification about or to remove statements made by others on electronic media the REALTOR®controls once the REALTOR® knows the statement is false or misleading. (Amended 1/12)
What are some danger areas that even well-intentioned agents might stumble into?
EF: Often it is content that the REALTORS® are not producing themselves, but they comment on the off-color joke, “like” it or retweet it. I’m seeing more issues with retransmission than production.
Also, if you administer a Facebook group or community page, you need to be concerned with this stuff. If people engage in comments that are Fair Housing violations, take it off the page immediately and talk to them. You should also address these topics in a “Group Guidelines” document. That way if you have people who cross the line, you can refer them to the guidelines.
What should brokers be aware of when it comes to their agents interacting online?
EF: The first step is making brokers aware of the issues. If you’re a broker who isn’t into social media, you need to know that some of your agents are and the consumers certainly are.
PM: I am concerned for brokers when it comes to social media, to be honest. They definitely need to have a social media policy in place. I would require agents to take classes on avoiding risk in these areas. And I think they should be monitoring as much as possible.
EF: A broker needs to have a monitoring component, for sure, but you can’t watch every move agents make—in the same way that I can’t be present for every deal my agents negotiate. As a broker, you establish clear policies, make education a part of your culture and trust that those values are instilled in your agents.
Any closing thoughts?
EF: Assume that everything you post is permanent—even if you quickly delete it. When you step in it, if people saw it, they can take a screenshot and go shoot it out there.
PM: You can delete something from your Twitter profile page, for example, but it can’t be deleted from the stream. It’s a good reason to never engage in any of these activities while upset or inebriated.
Code of Ethics, Facebook, fair housing, social media, Twitter