Rules of Etiquette

Where Code leaves off, courtesy becomes the ‘rule.’

November 1, 2003

Q.One evening, a buyer’s agent faxed an offer on a property to the seller’s agent and left a message on the seller agent’s voice mail that the offer had been faxed. By the next day, the buyer’s agent hadn’t received a call from the seller’s agent confirming receipt of the offer. So the buyer’s agent left another voice message. After receiving no return call, the buyer that evening decided to withdraw the offer. The buyer’s agent faxed the withdrawal notice to the seller’s agent and left a third voice message.

Almost immediately after faxing the withdrawal—but more than 24 hours after the offer had been submitted—the buyer’s agent heard from the seller agent’s assistant, confirming receipt of the offer. The buyer’s agent informed the assistant that the offer had been withdrawn. The seller’s agent was upset. Are salespeople obligated to confirm receipt of an offer?

A.Both the Code of Ethics and license laws across the country have provisions about submitting and presenting offers to clients. In the Code, Standard of Practice 1–6 requires that REALTORS® “submit offers and counteroffers objectively and as quickly as possible.” Standard of Practice 1–7 obligates seller’s agents to submit all offers and counteroffers to sellers until closing. Standard of Practice 1–8 provides a similar obligation for buyer’s representatives. However, the Code doesn’t establish an ethical obligation to “confirm receipt” of an offer.

Confirming receipt falls into what I call the etiquette of real estate practice. Good practice and common courtesy call for listing agents and buyer’s reps to maintain consistent and timely communication about the status of offers and counteroffers during negotiations. Not only should the listing agent be in touch with the buyer’s rep about whether the offer was received and when it might be presented to the seller, the buyer’s rep should follow up if the listing agent hasn’t responded.

Your situation highlights the importance of following the Golden Rule, quoted in the Preamble to the Code: “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

Q..I recently attended another company’s open house to preview the home for a client. The open house was being held for the listing agent by another salesperson in the company. While previewing the home, I met an old friend. He was with his daughter and son-in-law, who were looking for a house. When I asked, I was told they didn’t have a working relationship with a real estate salesperson. I realized they could do better than this house and showed them another.

Was this unethical to the salesperson holding the open house or just a lucky meeting and a re-establishment of an old non–real estate relationship?

A.Serendipity would be my word. I don’t see any violation of the Code in the situation you’ve described. The key fact is that the prospect didn’t have a relationship with another salesperson. If the prospect had an exclusive relationship, Standard of Practice 16–13 would apply. The first paragraph of the Standard requires that you not deal with a client who is exclusively represented by another practitioner without the consent of the other agent or broker or unless the client initiated the dealings.

The second paragraph of Standard of Practice 16–13 is new this year. Under this provision, before providing a substantive service, such as writing an offer or presenting a CMA, you must ask prospects whether they have an exclusive representation agreement with another salesperson. If they do, you may not provide the substantive service unless the prospects’ exclusive representative gives permission or unless directed by the prospects.

In your situation, an open house is just that—open to the public. A practitioner holding an open house has no automatic claim to every person who happens to walk in the door.

Bruce Aydt

Attorney Bruce Aydt, ABR, CRB, SRS, is a national real estate educator, a Missouri real estate broker, and past chair of the National Association of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee.

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