Ethics can mean different things to different people, but at the core, it is the commitment to do the right thing, even when it’s not clearly spelled out in a law or policy. Your ethics guide you to do what’s fair and just, regardless of whether you’re instructed to do so. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.
In commercial real estate, we’d like to believe that every broker is ethical, but sheer probability would lead us to believe that’s not an accurate assumption. Unfortunately, there are gray areas in CRE, just as there are in residential real estate, where an agent or broker could interpret the law in such a way that they stand to gain something at the expense of someone else.
The challenge of finding an ethical CRE broker is that no one is going to openly say they are not ethical. In fact, many brokers who partake in questionable practices don’t even recognize that what they’re doing is unethical, or at very least unfair to their clients. Which is why it’s so important to be your own advocate. You need to have a basic understanding of how the CRE industry works and know what questions to ask to get to the real answers. Fortunately this doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. In fact, there are just a few key things you need to know to be able to discern whether your CRE broker is ethical. Take a look!
A Changing Ethics Climate
Realtors face far more complex issues today than they did decades ago. As a result, developments in recent years have changed the ethics climate. For example, the savings and loan crisis resulted in more regulation and oversight in the banking and lending industry. Additionally, most states have now adopted agency disclosure where real estate agencies are required to disclose potential or perceived conflicts of interests so that clients can make informed choices and be aware that a broker may not be representing their interests exclusively.
Though there is still quite a bit that real estate can learn from the legal industry, the benefit of added regulation and oversight is that it draws a line in the sand between what is right and what is wrong, giving people ground to call brokers out and file a complaint if they feel that ethics have been breached.
Lack of Knowledge vs. Lack of Ethics
When dealing with a CRE broker who demonstrates questionable ethics, such as representing both the buyer and the seller in a deal, one very important differentiation must be made. And that is whether a broker is choosing to engage in dual agency because of a lack of ethics or because of a lack of knowledge or awareness. Both are red flags that this may not be a CRE broker you wish to work with; however, knowing the ethical dilemma but choosing to disregard it is a sure sign to not walk, but run away.
In contrast, a CRE broker who is a 100% exclusive tenant representative or buyer’s agent completely eliminates the conflict of dual agency, therefore preserving and protecting that broker’s code of ethics. In this day and age, given the rising awareness of the conflict of interest that can exist in dual agency, and seeing some such cases even brought to court for it, it’s unacceptable for a CRE broker to be without understanding of the issue, or worse yet, choose to ignore it completely.
Doing the Right Thing
So what’s the answer? A CRE broker who is ethical will avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest in any real estate deal. This means choosing to exclusively represent one side rather than trying to double dip with commissions. After all, having ethics means choosing to do the right thing even when it may not be the most popular or self-serving thing to do. You do it because it’s right. A CRE broker who is ethical will not wait for a law or policy to add clarity to a gray area. They will do what they know is fair and right, even if it takes from their bottom line.
The Good News for Commercial Real Estate
When it comes to finding an ethical commercial real estate broker, there is some good news to share! As someone looking to lease or buy commercial space, you can gain peace of mind by working with a 100% exclusive tenant representative/buyer agent. It’s often difficult for tenants and buyers to spot “double dipping” and with a tenant representative/buyer agent, that’s one less thing you have to worry about when vetting your CRE broker. Finding one is as simple as exploring the Tenant Representative Channel and looking for a tenant rep/buyer agent who serves your local area.
You can take your vetting process one step further by looking for a CRE broker who is also a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). Simply put, this designation recognizes experts within the commercial and investment real estate industry, so you know you will receive a superior level of service and expertise when working with them.
Although finding a CRE broker who you feel is ethical and trustworthy can feel like a large undertaking, it doesn’t have to be. With these resources, and a general understanding of red flags to look for, the process can be streamlined and you can quickly narrow down your options. Look for an exclusive tenant representative who is a CCIM, and you will automatically have a short list of highly qualified, highly ethical CRE brokers!
What do you find to be most challenging about finding a CRE broker who is ethical? Do you have a question to ask or advice to share? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!