Texting Your Real Estate License Into a Suspension


Texting Real Estate License Suspension

Text messaging has become ingrained in our daily lives. Not a day goes by that a person does not send or receive at least one text message from coworkers, friends, or family. The content of the texts varies from “what’s for dinner” to “did you pick up my dry cleaning?” to “I think we should start seeing other people”. Have you given any thought to how many real estate deals live or die via text message?

Well, it’s time that you do.

Every realtor knows that, with any transaction, if the facts are not documented then it never happened. Section 4735.18 of the Ohio Revised Code outlines the conduct for which a licensee can be disciplined by the Ohio Real Estate Commission. Among these is “…having failed to keep complete and accurate records of all transactions for a period of three years from the date of the transaction, such records to include copies of listing forms, earnest money receipts, offers to purchase and acceptance of them.”

The Division interprets this section very broadly to include a duty to maintain emails and text messages relative to a transaction or even a potential transaction. Therefore, to avoid possible disciplinary action, including a license suspension, it is important for licensees to maintain these in their file for the mandatory three year period. Most agents are compliant with putting the corresponding emails in their files. However, many agents fail to be as diligent about documenting their text messages. In today’s market, text messages fill a huge void as to what transpired between the date the listing agreement was signed, or offer to purchase was written, and the actual closing date.

Agents are going to find themselves in quite the conundrum when they end up at a hearing or in a lawsuit and realize a vast amount of the information they’d like to present was actually conducted through text messages which they erased long ago. The hearing officer or judge will want to see the documentation proving the agent had a “text conversation” with a client, loan officer, home inspector, or co-broker and exactly what was said. No one is going to take the agent’s word as to what transpired. The agent will have to produce it in print.

This would be a good time to review Section I Article I of the Canons of Ethics, specifically the line that reads: “The licensee should endeavor to maintain and establish high standards of professional conduct and integrity in dealing with members of the public as well as with fellow licensees.” For those agents with short tempers, you’d better learn to slap your own hand away from that keyboard before you send a haughty text message or email to anyone because it will be forever documented. Read the text or email numerous times before you hit the Send button and, if in doubt about the content, ask your manager or a respected co-worker to read it first. The adage “better safe than sorry” is certainly appropo here.

The late Lord Harold Samuel coined the phrase, “There are three things that matter in real estate: location, location, location.” Clearly, the phrase needs to change with the times to be, “Documentation, documentation, documentation.”

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