An article was published in Real Estate Magazine based on this press release December 13, 2021
The MLS® System is a cooperative system that does more than just give REALTORS® access to listing data. The system, and use of the MLS® trademark, also ensure a certain level of accuracy of information, professionalism, and cooperation amongst REALTORS®. While much ink has been committed to the security and standards of the data, and rightly so, cooperation and professionalism has not received as much attention.
This is particularly the case in this over-heated market where properties are selling in record time and there are more alternatives than ever before for REALTORS® to promote their properties. During this time, the need for a strong framework to ensure cooperation is critical and, as an industry, we need to take an active role to ensure the professional conduct of REALTORS®. We need to manage our own users, and not rely solely on the provincial regulator.
One year ago, ITSO launched its regional professional standards and arbitration regime with one Member Association delegating enforcement of the Professional Standards Complaints (PSC) Policy to ITSO. That program has since grown to 12 of ITSO’s 20 Member Associations. ITSO’s PSC Committee consists of actively engaged REALTORS® throughout our Member Associations committed to elevating professionalism. The PSC Committee meets monthly to deal with the incident reports they have received. The complaints have varied from accepting pre-emptive offers without notifying interested parties, reusing pictures or listing descriptions without consent, conduct unbecoming of a REALTOR®, accessing lockboxes without appointments, and misleading advertising. Charges have been laid alleging breaches the ITSO MLS® Rules and/or REALTOR® Code in 35% of the incidents received by ITSO over the last year. Where breaches were made out, either at hearings or where REALTORS® admitted to the alleged conduct and entered into consent agreements, the respondents have been subject to a variety of penalties ranging from reprimands, fines and, orders to complete educational courses.
The ITSO PSC Committee, composed of 15 REALTORS® from all over Ontario, are passionate about enforcing the ITSO MLS® Rules and the REALTOR® Code. “The REALTORS® on the PSC Committee take their role very seriously” says Geoff Halford, a Broker at Royal LePage First Contact Realty and Co-Chair of the ITSO PSC Committee. “They don’t want consumers to think badly of all REALTORS® just because the unethical conduct of a few leads to negative press. We’re trying to fix that one incident at a time, but we can only do that if REALTORS® file incident reports with ITSO so that we can hold REALTORS® accountable for their conduct”.
“During the initial investigation, I always thank everyone who files an incident report for bringing potentially unethical behaviour to our attention” says Co-Chair of the ITSO PSC Committee Kristi Mercier, Broker at Your Hometown Realty. “I also thank those who are the respondents, or accused parties, as well. As a committee, it is imperative that we listen to all sides of a situation to decide if we feel a Rule or REALTOR® Code Article has been breached. It has been very gratifying to see how many people involved in these incidents are eager to learn about what they may have done wrong and take action to ensure it doesn't happen again. This is how we improve our professionalism and the perception of this industry”.
ITSO created the regional PSC regime to increase consistency in the enforcement of the MLS® Rules and REALTOR® Code across the jurisdictions of their 20 Member Associations and to raise the level of professionalism among ITSO MLS® System users. ITSO aims to resolve incidents in a timely manner knowing that going through the PSC process can be stressful and stigmatizing. How long an incident takes to resolve depends on if charges are laid and whether or not the incident proceeds to a hearing, but the average time for resolving incidents over the past year has been 65 days. The regionalization of the regime has also made REALTORS® feel more comfortable filing incident reports, as the diversity of REALTORS® on the ITSO PSC and Discipline Committee means incidents can be reviewed without conflicts. But the fact that ITSO has received many incident reports in the last year should not be considered an indication of poor conduct for the whole industry.
“We see the number of incident reports we’ve received as a sign that REALTORS® are happy someone is willing to listen to their concerns and take action when those concerns are founded” said Steve Dickie, a Broker at Royal LePage RCR Realty and Chair of the ITSO Discipline Committee. “Wherever possible I like to require completion of education courses in discipline decisions. Our goal is to hold these REALTORS® accountable, but we also want to improve our industry, which is why education is key”.
The ITSO 2021 MLS® Rules Committee made sweeping amendments to the ITSO MLS® Rules. Among other things, the amendments clarified a few MLS® Rules that were commonly breached in the last year, such as the rule related to pre-emptive offers, in hopes to increase compliance with those rules. ITSO is currently developing a course in collaboration with a group of Member Associations that will educate REALTORS® on the MLS® Rules, policies, Articles of the REALTOR® Code enforced by ITSO, and the PSC process. The goal is to launch the course this December and make it available to all REALTORS® that belong to ITSO’s Member Associations.
“We’re excited to be able to offer this course for the benefit of all our Member Associations” said Michelle Wobst, President of ITSO and REALTOR® at RE/MAX Real Estate Centre. “As a strong proponent of this course, our Board of Directors and I are proud that ITSO is in a position to provide this resource to our membership, which will help them better serve their members, the province of Ontario, and our Industry.”