What Are Today's Biggest Legal Liabilities?

We asked. You answered.

April 1, 2011

Social media.

"It encompasses all aspects of your real estate business; anything you say remains with you. This includes posting off-color jokes—which not only may offend but also can be perceived as discriminatory—and portraying yourself as an expert when you’re not. You’re also subject to risk from the people who respond to something you say in a social media context. An innocent statement or blog can change into something negative when a 'friend' makes an inappropriate statement in a discussion thread. You can be affected by this simply because of your association with the person."
- Jeffrey David Halpern, vice president and branch manager, Coccia Realty, Madison, N.J.

Short sales and Foreclosures.

"The banks seem to be able to make up the rules as they go and change them whenever they want. Even real estate professionals who tout expertise in short sales and foreclosures have no way of knowing what the banks will do on any given deal. Too many of us are forced to try to understand complex legal documents in the heat of a deal. Until we have broadly and strongly worded disclaimers in our agency contracts and disclosures that cover all of the strange situations that can come up in these deals, I’m concerned that practitioners could end up as codefendants in cases where banks go after short sellers for deficiencies. They could also end up in trials concerning many of the so-called flopping practices. We need better ways to define the limit of what we can and can’t do for our clients in this turbulent environment." 
- Norman Werner,  Real Estate One,  Milford, Mich.

Our Own Words.

"We’re responsible for every word that comes out of our mouth and, if we’re not careful, buyers can sue us for what they perceive as a misstatement or as bias. As an extreme example, we might open ourselves up to risk if we describe a house as 'within walking distance of town center,' because under the Fair Housing Act this might be perceived as discrimination against someone who can’t walk. On a question about whether an oil tank is buried on the property or whether a house has asbestos, mold, lead paint, or wildlife, we should say, 'This is beyond my area of expertise,' and refer buyers to the property condition disclosure form or to an expert for the answer."  
- Wendy Bornstein, Hammond Residential Real Estate, Wellesley, Mass.