Friday, August 31, 2007

E is for Ethics

As if it is an oddity, I'm going to step out on a limb, and make a couple of strong statements... then we'll see if I can back then up. The first statement is:

At the core, ethics are a fixed behavior.

I do believe that ethics are learned, but I think that they are learned young. We could have a whole Nature vs. Nurture argument here, but the main point isn't much different. By the time someone is old enough to get their real estate license, their ethics are fairly fixed. Of course, I do think that people can change, but... they aren't going to go to a 4 hours NAR ethics class and "see the light" and leave as an ethical REALTOR(R), unless they were an ethical person when they walked in the door. If they were likely to lie or cheat before the class, they are likely to lie or cheat after the class. If they were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout and adhered to their Oath before the class, they will still do that after the class.

Stupidity, Laziness and Ethics aren't mutually exclusive.

A very ethical REALTOR(R) can be a terrible agent to hire. Not because of the NAR Code of Ethics, but just because they aren't very bright. They might also be lazy. Personally, when I am looking for a person to represent me, I want someone that is honest, smart, and hard working. And, I mean all three. Think about it for a moment... ok, do you want someone that is unethical, but smart and hardworking? They will find creative ways to take your money. Do you want someone that is ethical, stupid, and hardworking? All burnout, and no launch (drag racing metaphor, they can spin the tires, but never get anywhere). What about someone that is honest, smart and lazy? This one might be able to do the trick, but only if they have a great system, and people in place to fix their weaknesses... but probably not. Intelligence, ethics and ability to get the work done are the three legs of the stool.

Ethics, Honesty and Political Correctness sometimes clash.

OK, here is where I will try not to get myself in trouble. Raise your hand if you know what steering is. The problem is that it is unethical, according to the NAR as well as the state real estate commission to steer, but one can be guilty of steering if one shows properties to a client that they ask for. Let's say you are working with a client that has a couple of small children. This client asks to see properties that are in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are also families with children. As a REALTOR(R), you know of a couple of subdivisions that are just loaded with kids... and there are four homes for sale that fit their needs. You take your buyers there, and they buy a house. By a strict interpretation of ethics guidelines, you have committed the sin of steering. The properties you were showing were picked based on familial status. In order to avoid steering, you'd have to show homes ONLY based on features of the home, so you'd have to offer a selection of properties that might fall outside of the "family friendly" guideline set about by your client. The reason I picked the familial status is that it is the one we don't ever think about. We have race and nationality and religion at the forefront of our minds, but that familial status can creep in and catch us unaware. Especially when we are looking at it from the family friendly side of the equation. Whats worse is that we really aren't supposed to answer any questions about those subjects unless we are referencing statistical data... and even then we are on shaky ground. That means that if I answer a direct question from my buyer, I might be considered unethical... not to mention politically incorrect (and I don't mean in the Bill Mahr, totally PC politically incorrect way).

So, you might find that your ethical, honest and hardworking real estate agent is dodging questions...

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