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Are Your Agents’ Social Media Ads Breaking the Law?

November 1, 2019 in Broker Information

Your agents have taken all of the required pre- and
post-licensing courses. They are current on the REALTOR® Code of Ethics class
requirements. Some may even religiously attend your sales meetings. That means
they can’t possibly do anything to jeopardize their career or your firm, right?
Think again. Even the most studious agents can have mental lapses.

I published a quiz on my business website during the month of August 2019,
to gauge real estate agents’ social media marketing knowledge. The quiz, which
closed on Aug. 29, was referenced on the YPN Lounge blog,
and I emailed it to agents around the country (the quiz was not written,
reviewed, or distributed by NAR). Results from the 1,830 responses highlight
some of the slips agents are making in their daily business activities.

Find out what mistakes are most common and how to keep your team members
away from a legal hot mess.

Question 1. Do your social media
posts or descriptions make people feel unwelcome? For example, do you say, “No
_____” and then fill in the blank with exclusions like Supplemental Security
Income, children, etc.?

Broker Beware: While 94% of
respondents said “never,” what about the remaining 6%? What if one is on your
team? Nearly all respondents who said they’d excluded certain groups said they
did so because it was an option on the marketing platform they were using. If
your neck muscles are starting to tense up, it’s for good reason. Let’s
redirect this stress by calling out the marketing platforms that have options
that allow agents to potentially exclude protected classes under federal and
state fair housing laws. You may already know that the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development is suing Facebook, saying the site’s ad platform
enables discrimination. Agents shouldn’t wait for HUD to start examining their
marketing efforts before ensuring their social media advertising complies with
federal and state laws.

Question 2. Are you hiding or
omitting your brokerage name on social media posts?

Broker Beware: More than 27% of
the respondents admit that they are not including their brokerage name in their
marketing. This is a direct violation of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics (see article 12) and likely a violation of your
state’s laws and regulations, depending on where you live. Agents should review
social media ads and posts to ensure all necessary information is included. You
may want to consider sharing tips about what’s required under your state’s laws
in an email to your team.

Question 3. Do you like to
specialize in finding real estate clients around their seasons of life?

Broker Beware: Slightly more than
30% of respondents are doing just that. This specialization may not be a problem,
as long as agents aren’t engaging in any discriminatory behavior that violates
state or federal laws or the Code of Ethics while marketing a property. For
example, familial status is a federally protected class, age and military
status are protected in some states’ fair housing laws, and gender identity and
sexual orientation are protected in the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

Question 4. If someone informs you
that he or she feels unwelcome by your social media post or video, have you
ever responded, “That’s what my seller told me to write”?

Broker Beware: The vast
majority—96% of respondents—said “never,” but the remaining 4% responded yes
because they say their duty is to the client. While agents do have a duty to
their clients, that does not supersede their duty to obey the law. When we make
individuals, particularly those who belong to a protected class, feel
unwelcome, we could be inviting trouble. It’s our job as real estate
professionals to educate clients on our duties and responsibilities to them and (not or) the law.

Question 5. Have you used filters
or staging apps for your real estate listing photos without disclosing that an
app was used?

Broker Beware: While about 90%
answered “never,” the remaining 10% could cause needless headaches for themselves.
The Code of Ethics requires a “true picture” in all representation, including
images, and REALTORS® may not exaggerate, misrepresent, or conceal pertinent
facts relating to a property. Be careful that your use of filters or staging
apps doesn’t create anything other than a “true picture” in your listing
photos.

Question 6. To generate higher
quality leads, do you currently select social media targeting that allows you
to sort by race, religion, familial status, color, handicap, national origin,
or sex?

Broker Beware: More than 7% said
“yes.” This is 2019. While reading the responses, I felt like a DeLorean should
drive by to get me out of the 1950s. Agents have to be cognizant that they are
not discriminating in their marketing, which would likely violate state and
federal fair housing laws. Even more shocking, almost a third of those
respondents indicated that they chose options to exclude simply because it was
an option on the marketing platform. Simply because an option is available does
not mean it is appropriate or legal to use. This is the second time in this
short seven-question survey that this was respondents’ prevailing reason for
violating the law.

Agents may be on “autopilot” when it comes to legal areas that require
attention and care. It makes me wonder, what else may be short-changed (perhaps
time for more quizzes)? As I suggest after Question 1, agents should ensure
their marketing complies with federal, state, and local laws.

Question 7. Complete this
sentence: Ignorance of the law is________.

Broker Beware: In this
multiple-choice question, 97% of the survey participants selected “no excuse.”
However, the remaining 3% chose “not a big deal because I am sure I will get a
warning first.” This attitude is a liability both to the agent and to his or
her firm. Agents and teams should be less—shall we call it “creative”—in their
marketing and have a mindset of asking for permission rather than assuming
forgiveness will be an option.

—Reprinted from REALTOR®
Magazine Online
, September 2019, with permission of the National
Association of REALTORS®. Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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