Use of “Choose Your Neighbor” Marketing Letters
Article 10, Part 3
REALTOR® A listed a property in a new subdivision. At the instruction of his client, Seller X, REALTOR® A did not ﬁle information on the listing with his Board’s MLS, did not place a “For Sale” sign on the property and did not advertise the property in the local newspaper. Seller X had told REALTOR® A that he wanted the sale handled quietly, with the new purchasers being people who would “ﬁt into the neighborhood—people with the same socioeconomic background” as the other residents of the subdivision.
Based on his conversation with Seller X, REALTOR® A’s only marketing effort was mailing a letter to the other residents of the subdivision, inviting them “. . . to play a part in the decision of who your next neighbor will be. If you know of someone who you would like to live in the neighborhood, please let them know of the availability of this home, or call me and I will be happy to contact them and arrange a private showing.”
REALTOR® A’s marketing strategy came to the attention of REALTOR® B, whose mother lived in the subdivision. REALTOR® B ﬁled a complaint charging REALTOR® A with a violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.
At the hearing, REALTOR® B told the Hearing Panel of receiving a copy of the marketing letter from his mother, who had recently moved to the subdivision. REALTOR® B advised the panel that he had checked the Board’s MLS for information on the property, had driven past the house to look for a “For Sale” sign and had scanned the Sunday real estate section of the local newspaper for information on the property. Finding no mention of the property in either the MLS or the newspaper and noting the absence of a sign on the property, REALTOR® B concluded that REALTOR® A’s marketing strategy was to limit access to the property to individuals preselected by the current residents. “In my mind,” said REALTOR® B, “this could only mean one thing. REALTOR® A was deliberately discriminating against home seekers from other areas, or those with different backgrounds, who would never have the opportunity to learn about the house’s availability. Obviously, REALTOR® A was directing all of his marketing energies into ﬁnding purchasers who would not disrupt the ethnic and economic character of the neighborhood.”
REALTOR® A defended his actions by advising the panel that he was acting on Seller X’s instructions. Seller X appeared as a witness for REALTOR® A and conﬁrmed this fact, adding that he and the other residents of his block had an informal agreement that they would try to ﬁnd “suitable” purchasers for their homes if they ever decided to sell. Seller X felt that by broadening the marketing campaign to include all residents of the subdivision he had increased the chances of finding such potential purchasers.
The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® A in violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics. In their decision, the panel advised REALTOR® A that no instruction from a client could absolve a REALTOR® from the obligation to market properties without regard to race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, country of national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as expressed in Article 10. There was no doubt, in the panel’s opinion, that the exclusive use of “Choose Your Neighbor” letters to market the property was designed to circumvent the requirements of Article 10.