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

By Hank Lerner | July 31, 2020 | 5 min. read

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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