In the well-regulated US real estate industry, following the ethical standards for listing properties online can be confusing. Many different guidelines need to be followed to ensure the listing is ethical. Still, fortunately, these guidelines can be broken down into three main categories according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). According to the NAR, their Code of Ethics applies to realtors in all related transactions, whether in person or online. When listing a property online for current or potential customers, realtors cannot:
- Purposefully declare a value that is different from the market value price or inaccurately depicts their business.
- Mislead clients to further savings or benefits if they choose to utilize the realtor’s services.
- Deny their services or a sale to a family or an individual based on race, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or make it difficult to access the website due to a disability.
The first two points are well understood in the industry; the third point is trickier than most real estate professionals realize. You may think you aren’t discriminatory, but there are strict guidelines in place for your website and marketing material that must be followed (or you risk a lawsuit). Learn more about how to be more inclusive below.
Understanding Website Accessibility for Your Real Estate Website
One of the most commonly missed ethical considerations involves an online website – realtors must ensure that their online listings and website are accessible. The CDC estimates that an entire 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. People who are blind, deaf, prone to epileptic seizures and more, can only navigate websites that are accessible to them.
For a website to be accessible, users with disabilities must properly access a website and consume its content, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which passed new standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In short, just like physical spaces must be, website content must be available to blind users, deaf users, and those who use assistive technologies to read, write, and speak.
With that said, if realtors and real estate businesses do not have an accessible website, they run the risk of being sued due to lack of compliance, run the risk of violating the NAR’s code of ethics, and can lose valuable business. In 2018, real estate brokerage Compass made headlines by being slapped with a lawsuit on the premise that their website “posed barriers to blind people, including a lack of “alt-text,” which screen-reading software can use to describe pictures to blind people, as well as links that contain no text.” And they aren’t alone- In 2019, there were 11,053 ADA lawsuits filed, and it is estimated that this number rose by 25% in 2020. So how can your brokerage avoid such lawsuits? What is the most efficient way to make and keep the site accessible?
AI-powered solutions accessible can be easily implemented onto any website. The solution, once downloaded, ensures your site is entirely accessible within 48 hours, and every 24 hours, it scans your whole site for new content to make accessible. Using this tool, your online brokerage will be compliant with the ADA and the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Avoiding Discrimination on Your Online Website
When listing a property or advertising a property online, realtors must not use any language that indicates a preference for or discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Property professionals should never use hate speech, slurs, or harassing speech when listing properties. In regards to preparing opinions and prices on properties for clients online, realtors must:
- Be knowledgeable about the type of property being valued,
- Have access to the information and resources necessary to formulate an accurate opinion, and
- Be familiar with the area where the subject property is located
In addition to the above guidelines on listing properties, the NAR has an additional policy specifically for online listings, online advertising, and marketing. It includes the following eight rules:
- A licensed firm that has authorized the advertising or marketing of a real estate property on the site must include the city where the property is listed, the registered firm’s name, and the location in which the real estate firm is licensed.
- On the real estate firm’s website, the following information must be on the homepage or linked on the home page: the firm’s registered name with the real estate regulatory board, the city and state in which the firm is located, and the regulatory jurisdictions in which the firm holds a real estate brokerage license.
- A licensee who has authorized the marketing of a real estate property on a website must include on the same webpage of the listing: the licensee’s name, the city in which the property is located, the affiliated firm, and the regulatory jurisdiction(s) in which the licensee does hold a real estate broker or salesperson license.
- A licensee who is advertising real estate listings on their site must include on the homepage or have the following information clearly: licensee name, name of the firm that the licensee is affiliated with, city/state the licensee’s office is located, and the regulatory jurisdiction(s) in which the licensee holds a real estate broker or salesperson license.
- When using electronic communications (email, online discussion groups, and online bulletin boards) to list properties, a licensed firm must include the following data on either the first or last page of the communication: the registered firm’s name, the city/state in which the firm is located, and the regulatory jurisdictions in which the firm holds a real estate brokerage license.
- A licensee using Internet electronic communications to list properties must include the following: licensee name, name of the firm the licensee is affiliated with, city/state in which the licensee’s firm is located, and the regulatory jurisdiction(s) in which the licensee holds a real estate broker or salesperson license.
- Every thirty-one days, a licensed firm should review the information on their site concerning list properties. Additionally, when there is information about a property listed on a separate licensed entity’s website, the site must clearly state where the information was sourced from and whether the information is still available on the source’s webpage.
- Licensed entities may only display real estate listing information online if authorized by the listing broker. These licensed entities may not alter the information online without consent from the listing broker.
For real estate professionals, it’s important to realize that utilizing the Internet to provide information, services, and products come with a new set of rules and regulations to follow. When listing real estate properties online, realtors and offices should always strive to provide accurate and accessible information to all.