In general, what information must I include in all of my advertisements to the public? Do I really have to include my firm name, the REALTOR® logo or the fair housing logo in all of my advertisements?
Virginia Real Estate Board Regulations from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) mandate the disclosure of different information depending on the method of advertising. The regulations provide two broad categories for advertising: online advertising and other advertising. Within these two categories, the DPOR regulations also create different standards for individual licensees and the firms they work for.
Online advertising requirements adopted by DPOR were based on model rules developed by the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO). These regulations include a significant emphasis on disclosing the location of the advertising party in order to ensure that consumers and regulators can identify the source of any online advertising.
A real estate brokerage company's online advertising must include the licensed name of the firm, the city and state where the firm's main office is located, and the jurisdiction(s) in which the firm is licensed. When individual agents or associate brokers advertise on their own or through their company, their online advertisements must include the agent's licensed name, the name of firm, the city and state where the license is located (the office they report to rather than the main office) and the jurisdiction(s) where the agent holds a license.
The regulations provide strict requirements for when and where this information must be disclosed to the viewer/recipient of the advertisement. For example, the disclosure must be posted at the beginning or end of each message in an e-mail, newsgroup, discussion list, or bulletin board.
So the next time you post a message on Craigslist or the Washington Post's Real Estate Talk message board, remember that those postings count as advertisements under the regulations.
There is an exemption for correspondence in the ordinary course of business because it is presumed that if an agent has established a business relationship with an individual, then the information has previously been conveyed to the individual who has become a client.
A full copy of the regulations can be found at the following Web site.
Individuals or firms who own a Web site or have hired someone to operate a Web site on their behalf are required to provide a disclosure or a link to the disclosure on the viewable Web page. Disclosure is not necessary on instant messages if the firm or individual has provided the disclosure via another format prior to providing or offering to provide real estate related services. Disclosure is required on Voice Over Network (VON) sessions prior to advertising your services unless the disclosure text is visible on the same Web page that contains the VON session.
For online chat sessions, disclosure is required prior to providing or offering to provide real estate services. If the agent or firm own or control the Web site hosting the chat session, the disclosure requirement can be satisfied if the mandated information is visible on the same page that contains the chat session.
This category is much broader than online advertising, and includes advertising in other mediums. These run the gamut from classified ads, recorded messages, postcards, flyers, television commercials, radio spots, etc. They also often include giveaway items used to increase exposure for the firm or agent like calendars, pens, note pads, mouse pads, etc.
The disclosure requirement for these other forms of advertising is much simpler. The real estate brokerage firm must identify the firm's licensed name. Advertisements by licensed individuals must contain the licensee's name, the name of the firm and the individual is affiliated with.
There has been some confusion about the requirement to use your licensed name. A number of licensees often prefer to go by a nickname rather than their actual name. However, the regulations require licensees to use the name as it appears on their license. Individuals can register DBA (doing business as) name with DPOR if they wish to use their nicknames in their advertisements.
There is often some confusion about the requirement to include the REALTOR® logo or the term "REALTOR®" in the advertisements by firms or agents. While the use of the REALTOR® logo or the term "REALTOR®" is strongly encouraged by the National Association of REALTORS®, it is not required.
The actual ethical requirement is stipulated in Article 12 of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of REALTORS®, which states that "REALTORS® shall also ensure that their professional status (e.g. broker, appraiser, property manager, etc.) or status as a REALTOR® are clearly identifiable in any such advertising." Members can fulfill this ethical requirement by referring to themselves as a real estate salesperson, broker, associate broker, or other identifiable professional title without including the REALTOR® logo.
There is also some confusion about fair housing regulations. The absence of the fair housing logo is not automatically a violation of fair housing regulations. However, the use of the fair housing logo does provide an important advantage to firms and individuals. The presence of the fair housing logo in all advertising does create a presumption that the agent is attempting to comply with the regulations. The use is extremely important in reassuring the public that the agent and firm are committed to providing an atmosphere where clients and customers are treated equally regardless of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, elderliness, or national origin.
Furthermore, the selective use of the fair housing logo may lead to uncomfortable questions about why the individual or firm did not consistently indicate their commitment to fair housing in all their representations to the public. All things considered, any risk management expert would tell you to include the fair housing logo, statement or slogan on all advertising rather than risk having to explain to a fair housing investigator why you were committed to abiding by the fair housing laws but didn't want anyone to know it.