During the last four decades I have observed, with some chagrin, an increase in complaints about agents who are not exercising their due diligence and who are exhibiting a lack of professionalism. Every Monday, it seems, many of us in management get a call or email outing an agent for a flagrant breach on an offer presentation or for failing to respond to a fellow agents’ inquiry.

Our registrar has seen complaints mount every year. Many complaints are about non-compliance with regulations. The real estate board here in Toronto has seen many more complaints from the public and fellow agents.

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I have long lobbied for our disciplinary body to institute a mandatory ethics update course every two years, and it finally arrived in Ontario this summer. However, since then I have been mystified at how many issues we still have to handle on a weekly basis. Is it because some agents out there just don’t give a damn? I wonder how many agents were truthful when they took the online update.

Sure, some of us make the occasional error or blunder, but there are reports of continuous ethical breaches. Often when I ask agents who did this or that, the answer I get is, “Oh, I don’t have the time to lodge a complaint”, or “I don’t want to get him in trouble…” Good grief! Then how do they expect to help us clean up this growing number of miscreants? Many more great agents abide by proper practices and unfortunately get painted with a broad brush of negativity about our profession.

Getting back to why some blunders occur, I think it’s because we don’t say, “Wait a minute” enough. The rush to complete listings and agreements of purchase and sale often results in downright sloppiness.

Ask, “have I checked the details of the listing? For example, is there a locker included? Or, is the hot water heater leased or rented? Or, one of the most common errors: Is that roof really new? (“It’s two years new!”)

Here are some hard and fast rules to avoid potential breaches or errors:

Review the document. Check it more than once – then check it again. If you are not positive about something in it, call one of your brokers or managers. Think it over before you commit yourself and your brokerage.

Be respectful of all who are involved with your dealings. Don’t make up any of your own clauses that haven’t been approved. The same goes for any documents that may put you into conflict with provincial or federal guidelines, such as a valid Power Of Attorney.


  1. There is a very simple solution here, the Broker Managers should be enforcing the rules. Why don’t they? Because they only care about their bottom line, they are afraid to enforce the rules because the reps can switch the Brokerage in a blink of an eye. It seems that the more productive Realtors have a lot more leniency with Brokers, again, the reason is clear.

    To fix this problem, fundamental changes are needed. Not enforcement, the foundation on which the industry was build. The whole idea of a bunch of free agents running around like wild wolves looking for a kill is at the root of the problem. No wonder that every hungry wolf will go to extremes measures to get his kill. The structure and the principles on which this industry was build needs to be changed, until then no enforcement is going to help.

  2. RECO needs to make it easier to file a complaint. The reason why most people don’t proceed is that they want to be kept anonymous, which I believe it completely fair. RECO also needs to actively look for offenders as well.

    • Lori:

      I would go one giant step further. RECO needs to establish a politically incorrect sting/entrapment brigade whereby contracted operators posing as potential buyers place calls to registrants asking questions about their listings and real estate in general etc. Those registrants recorded misrepresenting themselves and/or properties and or/sellers’ motivations for selling at what may be discounted prices (“Put in an offer for X amount and you might just get it!”) without written permission from sellers/clients for releasing said false and misleading influence-pedalling misinformation should then be thrown under the bus…fired! This would be an area where a much higher licensing income would be put to good use.

      I’m available for the job. I would set a personal quota of fifty wack-’ems per week in order to conscientiously justify my commissions…er…I mean, salary.

      Yours truly,
      The Hangin’ Judge.
      I had some more time to waste; paint’s not dry on the boat yet.

  3. As someone who came from another profession, mandating anything achieves little. Those who operate in an unethical manner will continue to do so whether there is a mandatory course or not. Stiffer penalties for those who blantant flaunt the rules (not disclosing an interest in trade, forging signatures or deliberately misleading the public are required.

    • Alan:
      You are on the right track, but the solution is not stiffer penalties, as in plural; only one penalty is required, and it is this: “You’re FIRED!”…first offence..
      There are far too many innocent, naïve consumers out there whose fiduciary and psychological interests need to be protected to be worried about the interests of miscreant (by design or by ignorance of the rules etc.) commissioned sales people who lurk in the shadowy world of deception and feigned ignorance as they build insincere trust relationships (the phoney-baloney professional rapport-builders) waiting to pull the emotional string for that next big commission cheque. We all know that most (buyers especially) purchase/sell real estate (as well as purchasing most other consumer goods; just look at the money spent on emotion inspiring advertisements) driven by emotion. Commissioned sales people take great care to learn all about how to influence people, but not early enough care is devoted to the interests of those same said marks. Commissions, especially when desperately needed post-haste, tend to lead one to compromise one’s higher standards of behaviour (if they exist in the first instance when nothing is really on the line when it is therefore easy to do the right thing, because there is no negative cost attached thereto). It is when the chips are down that most commission-chasers do the Jekell- and-Hyde conversion thing and use the emotion card in concert with keeping information of a negative nature to themselves, thus committing the unforgiveable sin of looking out for their own financial interests at the expense of their “clients” interests. The vast majority of Realtors would likely be fired if the truth were ever gleaned in this regard.
      Answering questions with correct answers (by memorizing them without actually learning and embedding them) does not a moral/ethical person make, just as answering questions correctly in a driving school classroom does not a good, safe, defensive driver make.
      This commissioned real estate sales business attracts all the wrong types in the first place. It is amazing that as many good guys/gals as there are actually work within this framework of subterfuge for commissions.
      Way to go CREA/ORE for continuing to support the broken model and hoping for the best from a few here and there, all the while knowing full well that you are exposing the general public to the vagaries of the hit-and-miss system of hiring and recruiting as many (if not more) as those who are routinely, predictably, falling by the wayside. I am glad that the healthcare system is not run this way, because it would be largely populated with unqualified wannabes with a pulse due to fail before they have learned much about their profession as they experiment on their patients like newbie lab workers let loose in an anything-goes lab testing rats for disease control…and quitting because most of the rats die before their careers die. Harsh words yes, but the truth often hurts.
      Back to my boat.

  4. This industry needed to transition into a true professional industry, or at a minimum we needed to keep pushing for increased professionalism. An ethics test won’t solve anything because the cunning will usually know what to say and write when they realize they are under the microscope.

    An overpopulated industry will typically foster bad ethics and this isn’t a surprise to anyone. Greed and desperation have different motivations, but the consequences aren’t different — throw in a measure of incompetence and who knows what the outcome will be.

    The truth is that organized real estate wasn’t and isn’t at the point where it can handle an emphasis being placed on the notion of competition as being an intelligent initiative, in the face of the money that can be potentially lost as a result of: incompetence or bad ethics. As a matter of fact competition in the face of unpredictable levels or quality of service is incongruous to the end goal of better value for the consumer.

    What increased competition may in fact do for organized real estate, is to cause the industry to implode and self-destruct and thus require a total rebuilding. When this happens consumers could then see the fruit from today’s notion of competition.

  5. This observation about the increase in breaches of fiduciary responsibility should be made within the context of the unrestrained growth in the number of licensed realtors, especially at TREB.

    Is it actually an increase on a per-realtor basis as the article implies, or is it just an increase because there are many more realtors than ever before.

    I checked TREB numbers two years ago. I’m certain the situation is ‘worse’ now. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s (TREB) membership was about 38,000. Of these, almost
    4,000 became Realtors and 1,320 left the profession between August 2012 and
    June 2013.

    Obviously, the net effect of increased impropriety remains the same. However, the difference is what is the real issue here and how the problem should be solved. An ethics test is definitely a desirable move forward, provided it is done properly (RECO should do this but definitely not the RE Boards). Is it poorly trained realtors, a low barrier to entry into the industry, a self-serving indifferent set of regional RE Boards?There are many possible reasons and combinations thereof.
    I believe the issue of ethics is a symptom of a much greater issue: organized real estate’s compensation based on number of licensed realtors rather than quality of licensed realtors. This has to be addressed before any headway is made on improving the professionalism (which is a synonym for ethicalness) of our industry.


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