Welcome to Issue #19 of Ethics Thursday brought to you by the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS ® (GMAR).
GMAR created this newsletter, each issue dedicated to a unique issue, because the REALTOR ® Code of Ethics, on which our industry is built, is the foundation of what it means to be a REALTOR ® .
Your proactive support of the Code of Ethics will assure your fellow REALTORS ® , as well as members of the public, that every member of GMAR operates under the highest ethical standards.
Questions, comments or concerns regarding this issue can be directed to
Scott Bush at the GMAR Office (414-778-4929 or scott@gmar.ws).
Mass Media Solicitation Not a Violation of the Code
REALTOR ® A, a residential broker, worked in a market area that included an attractive suburb of a large city. At the time REALTOR ® A launched a new advertising program, there were a number of houses for sale in the neighborhood listed exclusively with other REALTORS ® , each having the respective listing broker’s sign on the front lawn of the property. Working with his advertising agency, REALTOR ® A developed a special e-mail solicitation describing the services of his offices. He employed a commercial e-mail distribution service to purchase the e-mails of every homeowner in REALTOR ® A’s market area.

The e-mail distribution service sent REALTOR ® A’s e-mail solicitation to all the homeowners in his market area, including houses that had other REALTORS ® ’ signs in the front yard. Several of the REALTORS ® whose clients received REALTOR ® A’s e-mails filed complaints with the association against REALTOR ® A. The Grievance Committee considered the complaints and referred them to the Professional Standards Administrator. A hearing to consider all of the complaints was then scheduled by the Hearing Panel of the Professional Standards Committee. The complaints charged REALTOR ® A with unethical conduct in failing to respect the exclusive agency of other REALTORS ® .

At the hearing, REALTOR ® A defended his action by saying that the distribution of his e-mail solicitation was widespread in nature; that it had been carried out by a commercial distribution service; and that it was of the same nature as television or social media advertising that might come to the attention of some clients having exclusive listing contracts with other REALTORS ® .

The Hearing Panel’s decision noted that REALTOR ® A, in designing his advertising campaign, did not direct his e-mail to property owners whose identity had come to REALTOR ® A’s attention through information disclosed by other REALTORS ® consistent with their ethical obligation to cooperate with other brokers under Article 3 of the Code of Ethics; e.g., through a “for sale” sign or through information disseminated through a Multiple Listing Service. Rather, REALTOR ® A’s advertising campaign was directed in an indiscriminate manner to all property owners in a given geographical area. Furthermore, the medium REALTOR ® A chose for his advertising campaign was an e-mail, which property owners could read or delete as they saw fit. The panel determined that this form of communication does not harass a property owner, as would telephone calls or direct personal contacts. The Hearing Panel, therefore, held that REALTOR ® A’s advertising campaign did not violate Article 16 of the Code of Ethics.