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Are You There, Facebook? It’s Me, Realtor®

By: Hank Lerner, Esq. on in

PAR handled over 8,000 tickets in our first year of answering hotline calls in-house – and plenty more in casual conversations or presentations made to local associations. But Realtors® have plenty of questions that get asked in other arenas and never make it to the hotline. How do I know? Because we see lots of Realtors® posting questions or scenarios on social media – even when they shouldn’t.

Here are some helpful tips on deciding what sorts of questions you should and shouldn’t post on social media, and how the hotline can help:

Don’t post confidential client information.

Good: “How would you counsel your client if they are getting low ball offers?”

Bad: “What do you say to a client when their $300,000 listing only gets one offer for $210,000?” With this question, anyone in your market now has a shot at figuring out exactly which of your listings is distressed, and how much room their buyer has to make their own offer.

Even if you’re not quite this detailed, it’s a good idea to avoid posting anything specific to a particular ongoing transaction. Even the “simple” questions are often not simple, so they’ll either generate bad responses because they lack enough detail for a good one, or you’ll start answering follow-up questions and cross that line into saying more than you probably should. Though the hotline can’t give you full-on legal advice, we can certainly walk you through the information necessary to provide a more complete response.

Which leads to…

The answers can be worse than the questions. There’s no polite way to say this, but a fair number of social media responses are just… wrong. Sometimes the responder gets close, but makes assumptions without knowing all the details about the transaction or certain important variables. But sometimes they’re just wrong because they are objectively incorrect, as in “if you do the thing this person suggests you substantially increase the risks to you and/or your client.”

By way of example, we’ve seen comments suggesting an agent tell clients to ignore their attorney’s suggested contract changes because legal advice wasn’t necessary and the agent could just handle everything. What? No! There are plenty of ways to address attorneys who may not be as helpful as they think they are, but never ever advise a client to avoid or ignore counsel – especially since several PAR contracts specifically refer sellers to counsel if they have legal questions.

And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen responses that incorrectly interpret law/regulations, the Code of Ethics and/or PAR Standard Forms content. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of correct answers out there – including those that just suggest posters call the hotline or talk to their brokers – but on the internet, nobody knows if you’re competent, so there’s often not a good way to tell the good responses from the bad.

Thoughts or opinions on subjective questions can be a good use of social media, but transactional advice on legal/forms/rules is probably best left to a substantive hotline discussion. And remember that you’re taking on risk if you give an answer that turns out to be wrong.

Stop talking about fees. Seriously, people. Generic questions about fee negotiation strategies are probably fine, but it is not OK to post exactly what you’ve asked for and/or what the client or cooperating broker is offering in a particular deal or in general. Remember, what you’ve learned about avoiding antitrust issues? Social media discussions involve groups of competitors – sometimes in the same market – and group discussions about fees are not cool.

Enough with the smack talk. It’s a stressful time, and in stressful times it can be helpful to vent. I get it. (As do my wife and daughters, who give a specific eye roll every time I start talking about work these days.) But talking smack about clients, consumers, brokers, agents, inspectors, attorneys, etc. is a bad idea. Very bad.

Among other things, Article 15 of the Code of Ethics says a Realtor® cannot “knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses or their business practices.” Over the past few months, there have been various comments suggesting that certain agents “don’t care about following the rules” or “put their own finances above client safety.” And you don’t have to look hard to find examples of Realtors® calling out “incompetent appraisers” or “attorneys just looking out for their billable hours.” These could all be potentially actionable through an ethics complaint… and I can tell you that complaints like this have definitely been filed in Pennsylvania.

Think before you type. Really, it all comes down to this.

  • Am I giving away something about the transaction that might harm the client?
  • How can I be sure responders know what they’re talking about?
  • Why am I not talking to my broker or using the PAR Legal Hotline (a free member benefit)?

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Comments (13)

Comments

  • Neal Baldwin   July 31, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Sage advice Hank. Thanks for all you and the PAR Staff do for us.

    Reply to Neal Baldwin
  • Lisa Frey   July 31, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Thanks Hank!

    Reply to Lisa Frey
  • Nancy Wright   July 31, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Good read Hank – thanks

    Reply to Nancy Wright
  • Fern Reiker   July 31, 2020 at 9:37 am

    very good article. Everyone needs to be reminded regularly.

    Reply to Fern Reiker
  • Jodi Diego   July 31, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Thank you Hank…a reminder for us all!

    Reply to Jodi Diego
  • Leslie A Margolies Esq   July 31, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Agreed.

    Reply to Leslie A Margolies Esq
  • Carol Hoke   July 31, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Agreed. I see this all the time. People need to think before they post.

    Reply to Carol Hoke
  • Ryan Thomas   July 31, 2020 at 11:11 am

    This was a good idea for an article! I think it’s easy to get comfortable on social media and just speak our minds, but we have certain legal and ethical considerations as licensees. If we do give bad or even unethical advice, we even are putting out there in writing, yikes! We live in a litigious society and we all need to be careful. I know of an agent that would just blast realtors almost daily during recent events. It was during the shut down. She was throwing out broad accusations about any realtor who felt our industry was essential. Some posts even asserted that “many” or “most” realtors are self-serving in one way or another. I even questioned if I should file a complaint because the comments were painting our whole industry with a broad and bad brush. But, I really don’t want to be the person that does that and I figure she was really just making herself look bad with such talk to most readers.

    Reply to Ryan Thomas
  • Charles , Lillicrapp, Jr.   July 31, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Hey folks ! All things said and done. Be it social media and/or emails keep it cryptic. Like I will call you. Or give me a call.

    Reply to Charles , Lillicrapp, Jr.
  • Andrew Wetzel   July 31, 2020 at 11:40 am

    Excellent article. I would add two points. First, if you do have a relevant question, unless it pertains to the Code of Ethics, please TELL US WHAT STATE YOU WORK IN. If you are going to respond to a post that might be your first question. States operate differently. Second, why does anyone go on social media looking for a quick answer for an urgent question? Where is your Broker or Manager? Why are you willing to trust an unknown person? Fiduciary duties require more than that.

    Reply to Andrew Wetzel
  • Pat Moyer   July 31, 2020 at 11:42 am

    Very timely info! As always, thanks Hank. I’m reminded of what my grandmother said, ” if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

    Reply to Pat Moyer
  • Charles Foht   July 31, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    Many brokers have abdicated oversight. I refer to much of what is happening in the current market place of licencees as “ the wild , Wild West.

    Reply to Charles Foht
  • Patricia Crane   August 3, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks, Hank. As always your comments are serious and slightly witty at the same time. Much appreciate your writing style and how relevant your articles always are.

    Reply to Patricia Crane

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