By Joe Richer
Late last year, Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) representatives had the pleasure of interacting with nearly 200 real estate industry leaders in seven regions around the province for our first town hall tour. The discussions were thoughtful, candid and respectful exchanges on subjects such as RECO’s Mandatory Continuing Education program and possible reforms to the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002 (REBBA).
Nearly everyone agreed that consumer protection and professional ethics are shared responsibilities between RECO and the industry. But there was one exchange that left me feeling a little disappointed.
One individual – a broker of record – told me he knew with certainty that up to 10 per cent of the salespeople in his brokerage regularly break certain rules. When I reminded him that brokers of record are accountable for the actions of their employees, he responded that, no, only RECO is responsible for detecting unethical behaviour among real estate salespeople.
Really? I wonder how many consumers would list their homes with his brokerage if they had heard his comments.
First of all, I don’t believe the vast majority of people who work in Ontario’s real estate industry share such a blasé attitude towards professional ethics. In nearly every town hall discussion on continuing education, for instance, participants said they wanted standards to be tougher, not more relaxed. In fact, I was heartened by the fact that the others in the room clearly disapproved of the broker of record’s position.
There is a lot of support within the industry for weeding out unethical or unprofessional behaviour. Brokers of record will often terminate the employment of a salesperson if they have been the subject of numerous consumer complaints or criminal charges. A real estate salesperson can’t practice their trade in Ontario if they aren’t employed with a brokerage, so this is a big deal. Industry self-policing can’t replace public sector regulation, but it’s a welcome extra layer of consumer protection.
Nearly all of the salespeople and brokers I have encountered in recent years struck me as being committed to meeting high standards of accountability and professionalism, in part because they know that consumers won’t accept anything less. And the numbers reflect that commitment within the industry. Every two years, RECO commissions a registrant satisfaction survey and we ask salespeople and brokers which issues they wish to learn more about. In late 2017, “professionalism” enjoyed a large increase from the last time we surveyed registrants.
The real estate industry depends upon a high level of public trust for it to function. If the majority of salespeople, brokers and brokerages didn’t follow the rules nearly all of the time, consumers would no longer trust the buying and selling process, and the marketplace would soon become chaotic.
As the regulator of real estate salespeople, brokers and brokerages, one of RECO’s most important responsibilities is to engage with the industry to raise the bar for professional conduct. We want to help salespeople and brokerages become more professional and more focused on compliance with REBBA and the Code of Ethics.
We do that through various communication channels to registrants – articles, Registrar’s Bulletins, videos, presentations – in which we offer information and advice.
We’re also improving our registration education and MCE offerings, and building a Knowledge Management System: an indexed and searchable databank of our educational materials that will be available to real estate salespeople across the province. You’ll soon be able to look online for a greater set of reference support tools, checklists and guides.
In our consumer outreach, RECO regularly highlights the value of using a regulated real estate salesperson when buying or selling a home. This kind of messaging from the regulator benefits the sector as a whole, but it is essential that it is backed up by consistently professional conduct by real estate representatives. This is a shared responsibility.
Consumer protection is essential for a healthy real estate industry. If you’re a broker of record, I encourage you to do your part by making it clear that unprofessional and unethical behaviour won’t be tolerated in your brokerage. And if you know of a salesperson, broker or brokerage that has committed a serious violation of REBBA or the Code of Ethics, tell us, so that we can investigate the conduct and take action against the wrongdoer.