Ombudsmen kept 25% of complaints out of the formal hearing process last year. They resolved 56 of the 224 complaints assigned to them.

Did you know that not all ethics complaints go through the monthslong process of hearings and appeals? Some complaints and commission disputes are informally resolved through the Texas REALTORS® Ombudsman Program.

In it, a trained member of the Professional Standards Committee acts as an impartial third party to a dispute. Ombudsmen don’t judge or weigh in on whether an ethics violation occurred. They just listen to both sides and facilitate discussion. The program is voluntary and available for every type of complaint.

Ombudsmen can help resolve complaints related to monetary disputes, potential Code of Ethics violations, a lack of communication, and transactional, technical, and procedural questions.

If you want to avoid a formal ethics hearing, communications is paramount, says Texas REALTORS® ombudsman Jim Smith, president of The Property Management Company in Round Rock. “The vast majority of complaints boil down to no communication or miscommunication between the complainant and the member. A lot of complainants just want to vent because they weren’t getting the information they needed.”

If you are having a disagreement with clients or consumers, don’t ignore the issue and hope it’ll go away, he says. Talk with them if they call, even if you feel nervous doing so. Ignoring calls may only frustrate them and lead to file a formal complaint.
Ombudsman Bill Morris, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Capital City in Cedar Park, says he begins calls with an open mind and does more listening than talking. The problem might be as easy as someone saying I’m sorry or offering an easy way to settle the matter.

Morris has seen ethics issues arise during the pandemic in which struggling members are just trying to make things work, and that leads to mistakes. He cautions REALTORS® to not get careless in their real estate practice, no matter what else is happening.

REALTORS® should not assume that the other party knows what’s going on, Smith says. That can cause the miscommunication that leads to disagreements.

Smith and Morris tout the Ombudsman Program as a great way to solve problems. It can also confirm that certain disputes should go before a hearing panel to be solved. Usually, though, the parties are relieved if they can avoid the more-involved complaint process.

“I’ve had several members say thank you for handling it through the ombudsman program,” Smith says. “They were glad to do it informally.”