March 20, 2017 – If you're not an attorney, don't give legal advice. If you're not a tax consultant, don't point out legal tax deductions. If you're not a plumber, don't fix the toilet. Realtors might run into trouble pretending they're something that they're not.
Four pieces of advice for avoiding legal troubles:
1. Don't position yourself as the primary source of information.
A Realtor's role is to close deals and oversee all the individual tasks that it takes to get there. However, that doesn't mean you must have an answer to every question, and if you don't know an answer, don't give an answer. Is this home in a flood zone? How far is it to public transportation? Is the square foot measurement in county tax records accurate? In most cases, the ability to refer a buyer or seller to the source of information is more important than knowing it.
Even if you know an answer, cite the source of your information. "According to the county tax office, it's 2,300 square feet." Or "The home inspector should give you a full list of the things he'll check and the things he's unable to check."
2. Never give tax advice.
Renters know that new tax deductions are a benefit of homeownership, and they often have a lot of questions. In general, don't answer them. The IRS offers a deduction for mortgage interest paid, but it's dangerous to promise even this well-known deduction because personal financial info is complicated. In all cases, a Realtor should include the words "Consult a tax professional" in her answer.
3. Don't interpret homeowner association rules or budgets.
Homebuyers can feel overwhelmed and may ask their Realtor to explain the rules and caveats in their thick stack of association documents. Helping a client understand the rules may sound like something a Realtor should do, but many of those documents are legally binding, and an attorney is the buyer's best source for an in-depth explanation.
4. Record what you say.
Many legal problems involve a dispute over what was said or who said it or how it was said. A meeting-note journal not only creates a lasting record of conversations, it can also be helpful in the future if a problem arises.
Source: Sam Silverstein, National Association of Realtors®
© 2017 Florida Realtors