Blog opinion at the center of controversy
Well known real estate blog, IrvineHousingBlog.com and its voice Larry Roberts are currently under fire by the Orange County Association of Realtors (OCAR) for violating the Realtor Code of Ethics for statements made on his blog. According to the OC Register, Roberts has a broker’s license but doesn’t run a brokerage or sell real estate and we verified he is not a Realtor or member of OCAR but OCAR is still calling Roberts in for a disciplinary hearing centering around his blog post that stated “Realtors take advantage of their status as trusted experts to manipulate buyers, and they feel no responsibility when their statements are exposed as lies.”
Roberts is well regarded in the real estate industry as a “bubble blogger” and admits to being “over the top,” a quality that is obvious in every article he writes from his choice of words to his parody images.
Roberts claims that OCAR has not explained why he is being called in for a disciplinary hearing (or “kangaroo court” as he calls it), rather he has only been notified that he violated the Realtor Code of Ethics’ Article 15 which states “Realtors shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices.”
It is standard practice for grievance committees of Associations to consider all complaints lodged against them, and although not so in this case, often, the agent lodging a complaint is not kept anonymous as some associations adhere to the American standard of giving the accused the right to face their accuser.
At the heart of the anonymous complaint
The anonymous complaint lodged to OCAR was about an article Roberts wrote about Dr. Brent White’s paper, Trust, Expert Advice, and Realtor Responsibility wherein he opined that “Realtors take advantage of their status as trusted experts to manipulate buyers, and they feel no responsibility when their statements are exposed as lies.”
The article was removed shortly thereafter according to Roberts who said removal came not because of his language, rather Dr. White chose to publish it in full elsewhere. Roberts said, “The post containing Dr. White’s paper is apparently part of the the OCAR complaint against me — A post that was 90% someone else’s writing. I was drawn to Dr. White’s paper because he was making the same argument I was in The Great Housing Bubble and in many posts on the IHB: realtors should stop making representations of financial returns in real estate as an inducement to buy.”
“My statement is my reality.”
Publicly defending himself against OCAR, Roberts said, “I don’t seek to shame people, I try to point out what people do whether it be borrowers or realtors so people can see the wisdom or the foolishness in the behavior for themselves.” He also noted that “My statement is my reality. If I am mistaken, and if no realtor has ever made an intentionally misleading statement as to future value of a house, then I am mistaken, not a liar. That being said, I don’t think I am mistaken.”
Roberts has been a contrarian voice for years in the real estate sector so his ruffling of some feathers is no surprise, but the disciplinary hearing given his not being a Realtor or even a member of OCAR is puzzling to us. As of publication, OCAR had not returned our call.
Putting the shoe on the other foot
OCRegister commenter JackD asked, “So, does this mean we can now sue the NAR for fraud and misrepresentation? Let us not forget that the NAR and David Lereah spent millions of dollars trying to convince people that Realtors were housing experts and that home prices would never drop.”
This sentiment is common for people supporting Roberts and calling OCAR’s move hypocritical and noting the irony of the specific sentiment the anonymous complaint has taken issue with.
Convergence of Ethics and Realtor rights
Although only 10% of Realtors have a blog, the issue of the first amendment has long been an issue- where does the First Amendment start and the Code of Ethics end and when they converge, which takes precedent? Can Realtors openly opine? It’s not just the Code of Ethics agents contend with, it is Fair Housing and other laws, and Realtors are fairly limited as to what they can say.
In this case, if Roberts was a Realtor, it would make sense to uphold the Realtor Code of Ethics, but in this case, his lawyer asserts that his First Amendment rights have been violated and Robert alludes to pursuing national consumer focused news outlets like 60 Minutes if the hearing isn’t called off, a news magazine that favors bubble bloggers and Redfins and would likely be open to hearing Robert’s story.
One Roberts supporter told us, “It is unlikely that consumers will understand that when a person says something negative and false about a Realtor or a Realtor organization, their feet are put to the fire, but when they say something positive and false (like Lereah), they are given a pass.”
Your thoughts on the controversy
We want to know what you think- does this disciplinary hearing make sense? Is OCAR doing their duty and simply responding to a Realtor complaint? Is the anonymous complainer out of line? Should the CoE be enforced amongst non-Realtors? Is Roberts’ First Amendment right being violated by OCAR? Tell us in comments what you think of this heated controversy.