Magazine article Real Estate Issues

'Do Unto Others'

Magazine article Real Estate Issues

'Do Unto Others'

Article excerpt

A young man just discharged from the army enters a haberdashery to purchase some suits, shirts and other accessories. While counting out the $100 bills to pay for his purchases, the haberdasher notices that two of the bills have stuck together. "What a dilemma," says the haberdasher as he repeats to himself "ethics, ethics, ethics. Should I tell my partner?"

Compare our haberdasher with another entrepreneur who regards his company and its product in a responsible and ethical manner. Tom Chappell of Toms of Maine, a manufacturer and distributor of health care products, wrote a book entitled The Soul of a Business--for Profit and the Common Good.(1) In it he talks about his compans espousing that human beings and nature deserve respect. He has made a personal commitment to manufacture only those products that are safe for both the consumer and the environment.

Neither of these stories has anything to do with real estate except to indicate that ethical behavior is universal in any business culture. There is only one categorical imperative to apply in all walks of life and that is the responsibility for any practitioner of any business or profession to act according to ethical principles.

Ethics is that branch of philosophy devoted to the examination of universal principles of conduct.(2) Sometimes we confuse morals with ethics and sometimes the two words are used interchangeably. Morals generally refer to modes of conduct which can and do vary according to the culture.(3) Quakers are pacifists; peace to them is a moral imperative. The military is formed to conduct war; those in the military are trained to kill. Nudists want their bodies to be exposed to fresh air and sunshine. Muslims cover themselves with clothing, and Muslim women even hide their faces from strangers.

Morals and/or codes of conduct vary while ethics are the principles by which a group is governed. Standards establish the framework by which we practice as individuals or as a group. One who is ethical conforms to accepted professional standards of conduct.

A LOOK AT REAL ESTATE

In the real estate industry, those who are members of the National Association of Realtors must subscribe to the Code of Ethics. The last sentence of their preamble states The Golden Rule: "Whatsoever ye would that other should do to you, do ye even so to them."(4)

Anyone who has been in the real estate business knows about making decisions on problems which involve a quandary or a dilemma. While an organization's code of ethics and standards of practice are helpful guides, neither can answer all the dilemmas.

For example, if one does not know the answer to a question regarding a property, this is a simple ethical problem. The solution is not to guess but to say "I do not know, but I will find out!"

A more complicated ethical dilemma might involve receiving approval of the town's planning board for a subdivision. The board is about to reject the proposal and as the realtor you know that one vote by one member can get the subdivision approved. You also know that one board member is having financial problems and that your hefty commission is at stake. Does the realtor attempt to corrupt the process by approaching the planning board member to accept a gratuity for a vote?

There are many stories in our business about agents who have withheld information so as not to lose the sale or listing. Are real estate people more or less ethical than others in the business or professional world? While I am personally not aware of any survey to determine this, a reasonable guess would be that real estate practitioners are for the most part honest, hardworking, knowledgeable people who experience the pressures of their environment as do other people in business.

CAN I TRUST THEM?

Ethics are a concern. In dealing with a lawyer, doctor, car salesman, accountant or realtor one often questions, "Can I trust him?" We all have heard about lawyers who rifle client accounts, of doctors who improperly prescribe medications or care, of car salesmen who do not tell the whole story, of accountants who falsify records and of realtors who misrepresent a client or property. …

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