'Just Sold' Flyer Paints Deceptive Picture

If you didn't have a role in the transaction, don't make it appear that you did.

September 1, 2009

Q: I recently acted as the listing agent for a neighbor who was selling her home. The buyer was represented by a salesperson from a different company. After the transaction closed, a third real estate practitioner who had no part in the deal mailed a "Just Sold" flyer to households in the neighborhood. The flyer contained information about the house and the public synopsis from the MLS, along with that real estate practitioner's contact information and an advertisement for his business. A letter accompanying the flyer also made it appear that he was the broker responsible for the sale, although he didn't say that explicitly. Is this a Code of Ethics violation?

A: The key concept is whether or not the advertising presents a "true picture." Article 12 of the Code says "REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations." Standard of Practice 12-7 amplifies the "true picture" test. "Only REALTORS® who participated in the transaction as the listing broker or cooperating broker (selling broker) may claim to have 'sold' the property."

If the flyer and letter would lead a reasonable consumer to believe the REALTOR® who sent the flyer actually "sold" the property, then likely it's a violation of the Code. Although sold properties and (usually) their sale price are public record, that doesn't allow REALTORS® to claim to have "sold" the property if they weren't the listing or cooperating broker.

This standard also applies to newsletters. Case Interpretations 12-12 and 12-13 allow REALTORS® to publish a list of sold properties in a "neighborhood newsletter" as long as that publication is consistent with local MLS rules and it's clear to reasonable readers that REALTORS® aren't claiming to have sold any property where they weren't either the listing or selling broker. Remember, the essence of Article 12 is "truth in advertising!"

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.