From Personal to Professional

NAR President Chris Polychron explains how to avoid ethical dilemmas when working with loved ones who are looking to buy or sell a home.

May 13, 2015

As I meet with REALTORS® across the country to discuss market trends, financing challenges, and our industry's best practices, I get a fascinating mix of questions. One of the more interesting ones recently was about issues that arise when family members and friends become your clients.

I'm sure this subject comes up frequently for many professionals: doctors, attorneys, accountants, among others. You’re at a cookout or a community event, and your cousin or an old high school friend approaches you. You see the lightbulb above his head as he realizes you can help. When you're in the beginning stages of your career and you haven’t got much more in your tool kit than a business card, a laptop, and a phone, these encounters can be a godsend. For those of you in smaller communities, you may literally bump into members of your personal network when you walk down Main Street. But there are complications with these relationships that you should be sensitive to. You can learn how skilled practitioners deal with common dilemmas involving loved ones who are also clients in our feature, "The Friends and Family Conundrum."

Here's an important question to consider. When your relative or pal is a potential buyer or seller, does being a REALTOR® confer any specific obligations or cautions while you are working together? The answer is not explicitly. If you adhere to the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics and you are a true professional, you should already be holding yourself to the highest standards of honesty and fairness.

The only rule I have for working with family is transparency. You need to disclose any relationship to the other parties involved in the transaction. That’s it. A pretty simple answer.

But it got me thinking: Why is it such a simple answer? Because, at the end of the day, we are all in the integrity business. When we talk about professionalism, we are expressing our commitment to excellence in how we treat people and serve their needs.

Isn't that the value of a REALTOR®? Some might argue it's primarily for information, but I disagree. When family members—or anyone else—ask you to be their agent, they are seeking great service and truthful guidance.

So, remember, being a REALTOR® carries 24/7 expectations. How you conduct yourself in everything you do—from volunteering in the community to showing property—is a reflection of your core values and your integrity as a professional. If your loved ones expect "better" access to you, remind them that you're committed to providing the highest standard of service to every client. It's also perfectly OK to ask Cousin Joe not to call at midnight with a listing question. Professional boundaries will help your personal relationships and your business flourish.