The National Association of REALTORS (NAR) reports that 87% of home buyers and 90% of home sellers in 2022 used a REALTOR or real estate agent. That’s a smart move since REALTORS must adhere to NAR’s ethical standards of practice and professional courtesies. For buyers and sellers, working with a REALTOR typically delivers a smoother and easier transactional process.

Integrity and Professionalism

With so much at stake in a real estate transaction, it’s in everyone’s best interest to work with a REALTOR who operates under NAR’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

In fact, according to Angela Walters, board chair for the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS (GMAR), the willingness to voluntarily accept and abide by these guidelines is one of the single, most important differentiators between REALTORS and other real estate practitioners.

“When new members join NAR or GMAR, they agree to practice according to a contract that lays out ethical standards in three key areas,” says Walters. “The Code of Ethics ensures REALTORS serve their clients, the public and each other with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

17 Enforceable Articles

There are 17 articles in the Code of Ethics that are more than just ideals. They’re enforceable.

“Should a consumer or fellow REALTOR experience behavior outside of the outlined standards, a clear process exists for filing a complaint,” says Scott Bush, administrator of the Professional Standards Process for GMAR.

An Arbitration Committee reviews complaints that have been filed and determines the penalty based on the seriousness of the complaint.

“Failure to comply with the standards can result in a sanction, fine or even expulsion from the organization,” notes Bush.

For example, giving the electronic lockbox code to someone who’s not authorized can result in a $5,000 fine. Consequences also exist for REALTORS engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

“Buyers and sellers often want information that falls under the realm of legal advice but REALTORS can’t assume duties outside of the Standards of Practice,” adds Bush. “The Code of Ethics protects all parties in a transaction by clearly defining matters that must be referred to a lawyer.”

Standards of Practice

The Code of Ethics defines Standards of Practice related to other situational matters including:

  • Providing equal services to all and not discriminating based on a protected class
  • Failing to include transactional details in writing (such as a provision that allows the seller to rent the home back for few weeks after the sale to accommodate a move schedule) or keep amendments current
  • Obligations for property inspections and disclosures
  • Knowingly contacting someone who’s already under contract with another REALTOR

Professional Courtesies

In addition to the Code of Conduct, REALTORS must abide by established Professional Courtesies.

GMAR’s Professional Courtesies follow NAR’s Pathway to Professionalism that includes guidelines that are grounded in the “Golden Rule.” According to Cindy Fleming, career sales leader with First Weber Brookfield, the courtesies incorporate an extra layer of respect and etiquette into standards of practice.

“The Professional Courtesies underscore the priority REALTORS place on being respectful to each other with simple courtesies like returning phone calls promptly or turning off lights after showing a property,” says Fleming.

In the Know

Understanding the Code of Ethics and Professional Courtesies doesn’t come without effort and commitment.

“REALTORS are educated on how to deliver a professional experience to the consumer,” says Pat Mullikin, broker-owner of M3 Realty.

“New GMAR members receive a thorough walk-through of the Code of Ethics as well as the Professional Courtesies during monthly meetings,” says Fleming who also previously led new member orientation classes for REALTORS. She adds that weekly reminders and required continuing education continue to highlight ethical topics so REALTORS stay apprised of important matters in the industry.

“There’s a real value to being trained in and performing by a set of standards,” notes Fleming. “It continually keeps REALTORS sharp, accountable and competent.”

The REALTOR Advantage

A REALTOR is a member of the National Association of REALTORS, is committed to a Code of Ethics and has the expertise to find the right home for everyone. Look for the “R” to determine if your agent is a Realtor.

Locally, the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS is a 5,500-member strong professional organization dedicated to providing information, services and products to help REALTORS help their clients buy and sell real estate. Visit for more information.

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