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During the past few weeks I have participated in Realtor® meetings where, during open discussion, members spoke with considerable concern about a growing lack of civility among agents engaged in transactions. No one predominate cause was suggested as the source of this phenomenon, though a good deal of blame was directed to the fact that, nowadays, agents who are counterparts in the same transaction are often likely not to know each other, not to see each other, or to become acquainted during the course of the transaction. They may not even converse with each other on the phone.

To an increasingly greater degree, communication takes the form of email and text messages. Moreover, the source of those emails and texts is often likely to be a transaction coordinator or an agent's assistant.

Now, this could easily sound like another old you-know-what pining for the good old days when Realtor® competitors were friends, too, and they regularly sat around the Board office singing kumbaya. But let me note that the meetings where those topics were being raised were meetings where risk management was the issue of concern. They weren't committees whose mission was to foster social bonding.

A couple of things are clear. One is that problems are more likely to spin out of control when agents access each other through filters of assistants and coordinators, and they haven't established a direct channel of communication. The other is that those whose primary method of communication is by forms such as texting and email are much more likely to write something that is offensive or misunderstood than if they were speaking in person or by phone.

Some might think that, for REALTORS® at least, the Realtor® Code of Ethics ought to be involved here, particularly Article 3 which enjoins REALTORS® to cooperate. It would be a mistake, however, to think that behavior which may range from arrogant to rude and boorish necessarily constitutes a violation of Article 3. REALTORS® forget sometimes what the Code of Ethics is and is not meant to do.

The Code is not a comprehensive set of rules for living. It does not supplant the Ten Commandments, or the strictures of any other religious tradition. It is not the Boy Scout Oath. The Code of Ethics, like other professional codes of ethics, is meant to apply in specific ways to specific kinds of situations that may arise in the course of a certain kind of business. It may, indeed, be based upon certain general ethical principles -- most notably the Golden Rule -- that themselves are not specific to a particular kind of business or profession. But it does not constitute a general guide for behavior.

The Code, for example, prohibits false advertising or making false statements about a competitor; but it doesn't prohibit making false statements in general. You can cheat on your spouse without violating the Realtor®Code of Ethics; although you may have some answering to do with respect to certain other rules of behavior.

Article 3 does not require that REALTORS® play well with others or even that they act civilly. What it does say, in full, is this:

REALTORS® shall cooperate with other brokers except when cooperation is not in the client's best interest. The obligation to cooperate does not include the obligation to share commissions, fees, or to otherwise compensate another broker.

The specific sense of "cooperate" here is that the Realtor® will -- except when it is not in the interest of the principal -- share with other REALTORS® information about the property, its availability, and terms on which it is offered for sale. If compensation to other brokers is offered, those terms are to be spelled out.

Like other Code of Ethics articles, the implications of Article 3 are fleshed out in a series of Standards of Practice. They all have to do with various disclosures and information about a listing. Regrettably, perhaps, none of them requires good manners or a helpful demeanor. Teaching that is going to be up to brokers, owners, and office managers.

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors®. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is

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