Realtor® Ombudsman Program
In order to comply with a new NAR mandate, FAAR and Realtor® associations across the country have added an ombudsman program to their list of services. FAAR and five other associations in the area, Northern Virginia, Greater Piedmont, Prince William, Blue Ridge and Dulles Area Associations of Realtors® already have a regional professional standards agreement in place. The group now has launched an ombudsman program. Several FAAR members have been trained in the program and are ready to review requests from members and the public. Diane K. Disbrow, 2015 National Association of Realtors® Professional Standards Committee Chair explained the Ombudsman program best in the following article.
So what is an ombudsman program? The Ombudsman Program in its simplest definition is informal telephone mediation. In some cases it can address and solve minor complaints from the public. The ombudsman can also solve inter-Realtor® conflicts before they become serious problems. Some complaints do not allege specific articles of the NAR Code of Ethics and many times they are transactional, technical and procedural questions that can be addressed by communication. Like a mediator, an ombudsman helps parties find solutions that everyone can be happy with.
How does it work? In most cases, the designated contact person at the local association; often the Professional Standards Administrator, listens to the callers complaint or concerns and then explains the ombudsman service if the complaint meets the associations criteria for an ombudsman to handle. The staff person also explains that if the ombudsman service is not successful in resolving the problem, the complainant may still file a formal, written ethics complaint with the Association. If the complainant accepts the ombudsman service, the staff person then relays the concerns to the ombudsman who contacts the complainant, listens to their concerns, clarifies that they understand the situation and ascertains what their desired outcome is. The ombudsman’s role is to communicate the concerns of one party to the other and seek a resolution so that a positive relationship between the parties can be restored. Let’s face it, most people don’t like conflict so it’s easier for a consumer or Realtor® to contact the local association of Realtors® to vent or voice their concerns than bring the problem up directly with the Realtor® they are upset with. It’s so much easier with a neutral person who can be the go-between.
Who are these ombudsmen? Typically, Associations of Realtor® appoint members to be ombudsman who have a certain number of years of real estate experience and are familiar with the Realtors® Code of Ethics, the professional standards process and have knowledge of their state real estate regulations and are active in the real estate business and understand the current real estate practices. The ombudsman must be fair and credible, avoid making a judgment of who is right or wrong and can also not give legal advice to any party. Careful listening, summarizing the situation, determining what is most important to resolve the situation or make everyone satisfied and working toward that goal.
Why now? The main reason is because it’s been so successful for associations that have a program in place. It seems that many members of the public are reluctant to file a written ethics complaint for several reasons; the process is too cumbersome and the paperwork is too hard to understand. They really just want someone to listen and help solve their problem. They do not want to fill out paperwork. Many times the problem is not a violation of our Code of Ethics and the complaint is dismissed. Even Realtors® are often reluctant to file ethics complaints for similar reasons and also because they would rather not “rock the boat” and cause conflict with other members that they cooperate with on transactions. Many ethics complaints might be averted with enhanced communications and initial problem-solving capacity at the local Association level.
In reality, many association staff people have been providing services similar to that of an ombudsman for years since they are the first point of contact when a Realtor® or consumer wants to file a complaint. In many instances, staff is successful in alleviating the concerns. However, that isn’t always the case. Consumers and our members really just want their story to be heard and having a team or committee of qualified Realtor® members serving as ombudsman available to assist in resolving disputes has met with great success. It shows that we really care about trying to help resolve the problem and also overcomes the perception that one Realtor® may be trying to cover up for another and reopens communications between the parties.
The goal is to accelerate the ethics enforcement process and provide a means to clear up misunderstandings that members may not know exist. This is a valuable service which can get a transaction back on track so the consumer has a positive real estate experience. It’s an opportunity to improve our professional reputation as Realtors®.
Over the years, the mediation of monetary disputes between Realtors® has been a huge success and mediation is the “preferred dispute resolution” process of the National Association of Realtors®. Hopefully, the ombudsman program will have similar success. It’s a very positive step in providing an opportunity for the public and our members to resolve disputes without anyone having to file a formal complaint and insuring that our customers and clients continue to have great relationships with Realtors® who truly want to make sure they have a great real estate experience.
Each of the links below will open a PDF document available for you to read, print or save locally.
Interpretations of the Code of Ethics has been developed by the Professional Standards Committee of the NAR to help REALTORS® understand the ethical obligations created by the Code of Ethics.