DennisBeaverDecember 11, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

The real estate crisis has spared no city and few streets. Evidence of homes lost to foreclosure is within a 60-second drive of most people reading this column. Outright con artists have ripped off desperate families with one promise after another, soaking them with advance-paid fee scams for loan modifications which never materialized.

Millions of Americans are asking: “Should we try to save our home or let it just go into foreclosure, and if that happens, then what? What is the truth about loan modification? Why does our bank tell us so many different things? Can anyone do something to help us, or at least provide realistic guidance that we can trust?”

“I’ll tell you what’s also cruel, and it’s where families who could have been helped became victims of incompetent real estate salespeople who didn’t have a clue what to do. This is why who you speak with when facing foreclosure is so critical,” maintains Dick Jacques of Hanford, the president of the Kings County Board of Realtors and a real estate professional for over 32 years.

Duty to look out for your best interest

“A Realtor will tell it like it is and is here to help, but far too often, we just do not come to mind soon enough,” Jacques told me when we discussed the plight of a reader whose home was days away from foreclosure.

“It is important to understand that Realtors are held to a much higher standard than real estate agents or brokers who have not acquired that distinction. In these rapidly evolving financial times, anyone at risk of foreclosure needs someone who is both experienced and duty bound to look out for what is in their best interests, not to simply close a deal and earn a commission. That’s what a Realtor offers,” he points out.

“The world of real estate is very much the Wild West, especially in this foreclosure crisis. Most people have no idea just how ridiculously easy it is to become a licensed real estate agent in California and, once licensed, to do real damage.”

He’s right. Few people would consider allowing a “doctor” to touch them who had three months training and passed a test which only requires 70 percent correct answers. But anyone can sign up for a cheap Internet-based course, and three months later take a three-hour, multiple-choice test which only requires getting 70 percent correct in order to be licensed.

You and the Law has spoken with a number of people in the Department of Real Estate, as well as Consumer Affairs, who believe far too many people have entered this field, that they know too little, and because of this – even under the supervision of a broker – do a great deal of harm.

Why a code of ethics matters

“Someone who is a member of the California and National Association of Realtors not only has years of experience, but – and this is so important today – must adhere to a strict code of ethics which offers significant consumer protection,” Jacques told me.

“Of course, you don’t have to be a Realtor to be licensed to sell real estate. There are, of course, competent people in this business who are not Realtors, but the critical problem today is that we have so many people who simply obtain a license and then get well over their heads in complicated transactions.”

“They present themselves as experts with the knowledge to guide clients which way they should go. The major problem that the Department of Real Estate has is with licensed real estate agents who are not Realtors. They do not need to follow our code of ethics.”

“The code of ethics is important and governs how Realtors must conduct themselves in a transaction with other Realtors, and how they must conduct themselves with the public at large. Realtors are monitored. If a real estate agent does something against the interest of a consumer, we cannot do much. But Realtors have a professional standards committee which offers real consumer protection,” he maintains.

“When a consumer comes in with a complaint about a Realtor, it goes first to an ombudsman who will try to find a way to cure the situation informally. If not remedied, a grievance committee will then look into the matter, attempt to verify the complaint and pass it along to a professional standards board which conducts a hearing.”

You and the Law has seen first-hand that Realtors will pursue other Realtors for wrongdoing.

“Penalties we assess can range from that Realtor being ordered to make a refund to the injured consumer, to expulsion from the board – losing the Realtor title – and even to passing the matter along to the Department of Real Estate for an investigation by State authorities,” he stated.

Next time: What to expect when you ask a Realtor to help stop your foreclosure.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.