By Toby Boyce
“Should NAR include a pro bono provision in REALTOR® code of ethics?”
The question was posed to me recently on Twitter by Sellsius publisher Joseph Ferrarra. It is something Ferrara has been kicking around for a while with “Pro Bono Real Estate Broker?” appearing June 2006 and several other articles including “Should NAR include a pro-bono provision in REALTOR® code of ethics?” on Feb. 24.
I am a huge Ferrarra fan and am honored to have had the opportunity to meet him on a couple of occasions. But, on this occasion I just don’t get it.
There are two key pieces of this discussion that bother me. (1) If you can’t afford to pay a commission on the house, can you afford to maintain the new house? (2) Adding this to the code of ethics doesn’t do anything but give it lip-service.
Don’t get me wrong, pro bono work is extremely noble and can be very rewarding. I strongly believe in giving back to our community – either through volunteering or providing pro bono work for some in the market. However, it all comes back to dollars and cents to me. Real estate is not law. People do not require our services, while everyone may need an attorney at some point in their life. If a buyer is purchasing a starter home, but “can’t” pay my 3 percent commission — so I rebate it back to them. They are essentially getting into the home with 0.5 percent down. Isn’t that the kind of stuff that got the housing market in trouble to begin with?
Now, I understand there are extenuating circumstances that may lead an agent to do pro bono work. However, those are situations that are best analyzed and taken into account by the agent and the brokerage.
I’ve not seen a compelling argument for the addition of this to the NAR Real Estate Code of Ethics. Reading through the discussion, there have been some points brought about addressing what adding the pro bono clause to the Code of Ethics would provide.
- It works for attorneys. It does? In a 2007 Jobboom.com article “Top 10 least trusted professions” attorneys come in fourth — just behind used car salesmen, politicians, and mechanics – as the least trusted professionals. So having a pro bono clause in their code of ethics has improved their perception in the general public? (Just for the record, real estate agents are not in the top 10.)
- Personal satisfaction of helping someone. The majority of people I know love to get personal satisfaction from helping people. It is a wonderful feeling. But, do we need to add a provision to the code of ethics to achieve this? No. In fact, I think adding the pro bono clause cheapens it for those of us that truly do it out of the goodness of their own heart.
- Goodwill generated from their actions – word of mouth from the grateful seller and his family/friends. Is it really pro bono if you have a hidden motive to build more business through the promotion of this event? I don’t think it is. The secondary piece is that we usually communicate with people in our own socio-economic circle. So you help Jim and Julie improve their lot pro-bono – what is the difference then in helping Stan and Karla?
- Possible free press (print & TV) for this unusual act. Again, I struggle to see how providing pro bono work is really news worthy. It isn’t curing cancer. It is just one person giving back to their community by doing pro bono work for another in the community. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see it as a press-worthy event. Having pitched stories like this before to media outlets, I expect the reaction to be something along the lines of “lawyers have been doing that for years.”
- Better image of the real estate broker overall. Would it be a better image of the broker? We are seeing more and more agents realize they are their own brand — but have to work within the brokerage’s model. However, I don’t see a brokerage having a “pro bono day” like you’ll see them have community service project days.
Every real estate practitioner needs to give back. We just don’t need it to be dictated by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Those who would do it anyhow will continue doing so, while those who wouldn’t will continue their ways.
Toby Boyce, MBA, is a real estate practitioner with Keller Williams Consultants Realty in Westerville, Ohio. Visit his Web site: www.delawareohrealestate.com.