Members of the public might think that all real estate agents are the same, but they are not. Those who are members of the National Association of Realtors have the right to carry the designation "Realtor." They earn this designation by taking a mandatory code of ethics training which educates real estate practitioners about appropriate business practices for the industry. When you abide by the code, it shows clients and the public that you act with the highest standards of professionalism.
The Realtor Code of Ethics test is not actually a test, but an ongoing training requirement that new members must complete when they apply for membership, and current members must complete every two years.
As experts on the real estate market, real estate agents are frequently put in a position of trust with their clients. For example, a client might go to an agent and ask, "Is this a good time to buy a condo in a particular neighborhood?" If the agent says "yes" and the client hires him, then he's looking at a $10,000 commission.
But he's looked at the analytics, and he knows the market is going down. If the client waits for a few months, she'll get the condo for a better price.
Real estate agents deal with this type of situation all the time – the ethical responsibility to give honest advice even if it means losing out on a commission. For agents who rely on commissions for their next meal or mortgage payment, the stakes are pretty high. You can see how it might be tempting to act unethically in some situations.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is America's largest trade association, representing 1.3 million real estate brokers, agents, appraisers, property managers and others involved in the real estate industry. The term Realtor is a registered trademark. It identifies someone who is a member of NAR and pays its annual dues. In addition, the Realtor must:
- Hold an active real estate license in their state.
- Be employed in the real estate industry.
- Have no criminal convictions or civil judgments against them in the past seven years (or provide mitigating circumstances).
- Subscribe to NAR's meticulous ethical framework, known as the code of ethics.
In other words, adherence to the code of ethics is required of Realtors, but not of real estate agents in general. When someone signs up to become a member of NAR, they agree to complete a rigorous ethics training program every two years.
The short answer is, it's the ethical standard for the way that realtors operate their business practices. The long answer is, it's a set of 17 sections, or "articles," that provide the standards for how realtors must conduct their business with clients, the public and other real estate professionals. You can download the full set of articles from the National Association of Realtors' website, but here's a flavor of the standards (the following are paraphrased):
Article 1: Act in the best interests of the client while treating all parties involved in a real estate transaction honestly.
Article 2: Realtors must not exaggerate, misrepresent or conceal pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction.
Article 3: Realtors should cooperate with other real estate professionals unless it's not in the best interest of the client.
Article 4-5: Realtors must disclose any personal interest in a transaction.
Article 6-8: Rules against kickbacks and "envelopes under the table." Strict rules for keeping client money separate from the Realtor's own.
Article 9: Presenting documents and contracts in ways a layperson can understand.
Article 10: Rules prohibiting discrimination.
Article 11: Realtors must act with professional competency at all times and not act outside their area of expertise.
Article 12: Realtors must be true and honest in their advertising and shall to seek to deceive in their images or listings.
Article 13: Don't break the law.
Article 14: Cooperate with NAR's investigation if charged with a violation.
Article 15: Realtors must not make false or reckless statements about their fellow professionals.
Article 16: No soliciting clients from another realtor.
Article 17: Rules for the mediation or arbitration of disputes.
Anyone can file a complaint with NAR is a realtor violates the code of ethics. Complaints begin at the local level, in one of the 1,200 local Realtors associations across the country. From there, NAR's Grievance Committee will assess the complaint and pass any violations matters to the Professional Standards Committee.
If a Realtor is found to have violated the code of ethics, then NAR can take disciplinary action against him. This can lead to a variety of outcomes ranging from mandated education programs to a letter of reprimand and a $5,000 fine.
New members must complete ethics training when they first join NAR. The minimum requirement is 2 hours and 30 minutes of instructional time. This might be one three-hour class (with breaks), for example, or three one-hour classes. You can complete the training in person (each local Realtor association offers classes) or through online or correspondence home study courses.
Existing Realtors must also complete compulsory ethics training every two years. The current two-cycle started on Jan. 1, 2019. The training follows exactly the same format as for new members.
The consequences of not completing the mandatory training are grim. Essentially, NAR can suspend your membership rights, and with it the right to use the designation Realtor, until you satisfy the ethics training requirement. Your membership will be automatically terminated if you don't complete the ethics training within two months of the suspension.
It comes as a surprise for many but the requirement is for training, not a test. For in-person training, the test element is optional. You do not have to pass an exam. The local Realtor association may give you a quiz as part of its training program, but it is not required for your NAR membership.
If you take the training online, then the training concludes with a built-in, 25-question test in the "true/false" format covering issues taught on the course. You'll find out immediately if you passed the quiz.
Understand that the online quiz is not intended to be a pass/fail scenario and it's not there to catch you out. NAR is highly transparent about its training content, publishing full training materials, PowerPoint slides and even the code of ethics exam answer key on its website. You have every opportunity to peruse the code of ethics online orientation test answers before you take the online training.
The important thing is that you take the training and agree to abide by the code of ethics. You'll need to register or login to the training with your National Association of Realtors database number (the 8- or 9-digit number on your NAR membership card) and your training record automatically will be updated to reflect that you have successfully completed the mandatory training. The online quiz is really just there to help you make sure you've understood the material.