REALTORS and Association staff from around the country share ideas and best practices for alternative dispute resolution
The REALTOR Code of Ethics sets the National Association of REALTORS apart from nearly any other industry trade group. REALTORS do not merely have a Code of Ethics that stays locked in a closet and gets trotted out only for special occasions. Quite the contrary, the national, state, and local levels of the REALTOR organization have a sophisticated and robust mechanism for enforcement of the Code. Professional standards REALTOR volunteers serve on grievance panels to vet alleged violations (akin to the grand jury phase of a criminal court case) and on Professional Standards hearing panels that adjudicate complaints of alleged Code violations brought by consumers or REALTORS against REALTOR respondents. Professional Standards hearing panels also adjudicate money disputes through arbitration hearings.
Having participated in many hearings, I have seen that a great many disputes could have–and should have–been resolved long before going to a hearing that consumes tremendous time, energy and (especially if parties are lawyered up) money. Alternative dispute resolution vehicles seek to bring about mutually beneficial resolutions more quickly, more informally, without having to drag consumers into a hearing to testify, and with much less loss of goodwill between the parties to the dispute.
The REALTOR Ombudsman Program is the newest and most informal of these alternative dispute resolution vehicles. REALTOR volunteers who are experienced in Professional Standards are assigned to would-be complainants and attempt to resolve disputes by filling in communication gaps between the parties. They do not provide advice, legal or otherwise, but with the benefit of their experience, the Ombudsmen can often help the parties identify and diffuse the cause of the dispute.
Not only does this save hearings, but it provides resolutions to the great many cases where prospective complainants think they were wronged by a REALTOR, but where they would have never gone through all the steps necessary to take the complaint to a hearing. For consumers, this is especially important, since this can greatly improve consumers’ impressions of the industry when their complaints are resolved to their satisfaction without ever having to file a formal complaint. This is a far better alternative than having consumers who decide it is not worth the trouble to file a complaint, but who would otherwise live the rest of their lives thinking a REALTOR had done them wrong. In many cases, resolution of the dispute means confirming to the prospective complainant’s satisfaction that the REALTOR against whom the consumer had the issue did not do anything wrong, and there was a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication.
#NARLegislative Meetings provide valuable opportunities for the volunteers and staff in these alternative dispute resolution processes to share ideas and best practices in their continuing efforts to improve the process and promote the highest possible ethical standards among REALTOR members.