Legal FAQs for REALTORS® — Advertising
Advertising and Social Media
If I advertise my services using social media, am I still required to comply with advertising rules and regulations? (Updated Jan. 16, 2014)
Yes. Remember that an advertisement is any written or oral statement or communication which induces or attempts to induce a member of the public to use the services of the real estate licensee. Therefore, if you are advertising your services using social media, you must still comply with the advertising rules and regulations, such as including a designation to clearly identify the licensee, including the name of your broker (in a clear and conspicuous manner), and avoiding deceptive or misleading advertising.
How do I include the required information in social media advertising when there is a character limit? (Updated Jan. 16, 2014)
If the required information would consume more than 10% of the available character limit, the real estate licensee may include a direct hyperlink containing the words “TREC DISCLOSURE” which links to the required information. Note: Where it is not possible to create a hyperlink on the words “TREC DISCLOSURE” (such as on Twitter), you may include the words “TREC DISCLOSURE” followed by a link to the required information.
The Code of Ethics also requires that REALTORS® disclose the name of the REALTORS®’s firm in a reasonable and readily apparent manner. However, if disclosing the name of the firm in an electronic display of limited information is not practical when advertising using social media, the advertisement may link to the required disclosures.
How can I determine if my Facebook posts are considered real estate advertising? (Updated July 11, 2014)
The Texas Real Estate Commission does not specifically address advertising on Facebook. However, Facebook posts may fall under TREC’s advertising rules, which say an advertisement is a statement or communication that induces or attempts to induce a member of the public to use the services of the real estate licensee.
Despite the lack of guidelines, certain posts are more likely to be construed as advertisements than others. For example, a Facebook post that contains a listing with the text “I sold this home in five days. Contact me at 555-1212 to list your home” seems to meet the criteria set for by TREC’s definition of advertising. However, the rules are less clear regarding a post commenting on the statewide housing market.
If my Facebook posts are considered advertising, what should I do to comply with real estate-advertising requirements? (Updated July 11, 2014)
TREC requires you to include your broker’s name in a clear and conspicuous manner and a designation that clearly identifies you as a real estate agent, such as agent, broker, or REALTOR®, in your advertisements. You should also avoid deceptive or misleading advertising.
Neither TREC rules nor TREC’s enforcement division specify where you should put the required information on Facebook—just that it must be in the ad.
To avoid any violations of Article 12 of the Code of Ethics, REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful and present a true picture in their advertising and ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising.
Can I advertise or recommend the use of services from certain service providers such as inspectors, moving companies, or repair contractors on my website? (Updated Oct. 2, 2015)
Yes. However, if you advertise the use of a service provider and expect to receive compensation from that service provider when someone uses his services, your ad must disclose that arrangement. Keep in mind that acceptance of certain fees from service providers may violate RESPA or other laws, so consult with an attorney about any fees you receive.
Must the license identification information be on each page of my Web Site? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
If I do not identify any individual associate in an advertisement but only name the firm, must the license identification information be included? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
If the name of the firm (regardless of the type of entity) does not readily identify the firm as a real estate brokerage firm, there must be an additional designation that identifies the firm as a real estate brokerage firm. For example, Available, Wil Anderson and Company, 512-522-2222 does not comply but, Available, Wil Anderson and Company, REALTORS®, 512-522-2222 complies.
As a REALTOR®, I’m entitled to use the term REALTOR® in my ads, but I understand there are certain requirements on how the term may appear. Can you elaborate? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
Only members of the REALTOR® association may use the term REALTOR®. REALTOR® members may use the term REALTOR® only in connection with their real estate business. One may use the term REALTOR® only descriptively. One may not use the term REALTOR® as part of one’s name, but may use that term to describe the firm. The term REALTOR® should always appear in capital letters and the federal registration symbol, ®, should follow. Punctuation should be used to separate the firm name from the term REALTOR®. Do not hyphenate or abbreviate the term REALTOR®. Do not use descriptive words to modify the term REALTOR® (for example, Professional REALTORS®, Commercial REALTORS®, etc.).
How can I determine if my online ads generally comply with the rules and regulations? (Updated Oct. 6, 2014)
The following checklist of questions can help. While this list may not be comprehensive, it sets out many compliance issues.
1. Does the ad contain any misleading statements, or does it tend to create a misleading impression in any manner? It is prudent for someone who did not design the ad to scrutinize it for any potentially misleading statements. Keep in mind that the standard is not whether a statement is true, but whether the advertisement “tends to create a misleading impression.”
2. Does the ad contain the name of the real estate firm or broker? It should.
3. Does the ad identify the professional or license status of people in the ad? It might be prudent to identify the license status of all individuals and firms named in the ad, either specifically or globally. Use of the term REALTOR® is acceptable to identify this status.
4. Does the person causing the ad to be published have proper authority to publish or submit the advertisement?
5. Is the price quoted the price agreed upon by the owner?
6. If any service is offered “free of charge,” make sure that the service is not tied to or contingent upon any service for which the REALTOR® is to be compensated.
7. If any inducements are offered, does the ad fully describe the conditions for inducements?
8. Is any ownership interest in the property held by the REALTOR® disclosed?
9. If any loan information is advertised, does the ad comply with requirements of Regulation Z?
10. Does the ad inadvertently imply a limitation or preference to a protected class that could potentially violate fair housing laws?
11. Is the specific information related in the advertisement accurate?
Is my Web site an advertisement? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
Generally, yes. The Internet is a medium in which merchants, professionals, vendors, etc. place notices and information designed to call the matter to public attention. Most “commercial” Web Sites are designed to solicit and attract business.
Along those same lines, would the following designations in advertisements be sufficient? (updated July 24, 2013)
Yes: For Sale, Branigan Real Estate Brokerage Firm, 555-5555
Yes: For Sale, John Elder and Company, REALTORS®, 772-2828
Yes: For Sale, Cahill Realty, 523-2323
No: For Sale, Rio Bravo Real Estate, 444-4343
No: For Sale, Rio Lobo Management, 222-2727
No: For Sale, Guns Donavon and Company, 667-6677
May I use the term REALTOR® in my domain name? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
NAR’s Legal Affairs Department answered this question as follows: “The term REALTOR®, whether used on the Internet, as part of the domain name, or in any other advertisement, must refer to a member or member’s company, may not be used with descriptive words or phrases, and should be separated from the member’s name or company’s name. Uses such as number1REALTOR®.com, firstREALTOR®.org, or REALTOR®properties.com are all incorrect. Uses such as johndoe-REALTOR®.com or abcrealty-realtors.com on the other hand are examples of what could be done with the term as part of a domain name.”
My Web site is designed in such a way that persons accessing the site can communicate and transact business with my firm directly from the Web site. Is my site still considered an ad? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
Generally, yes. It is the electronic transmission or e-mail that is the communication vehicle through which the business is conducted. The information on the Web site is an advertisement.
If the ad identifies the firm as a real estate brokerage firm and names individual associates in the advertisement as well, must I designate each associate as a salesperson or broker? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
It is prudent to identify each and every person named in the advertisement as a salesperson or broker to avoid confusion, but is not required as long as the person or firm causing the ad to be published is identified in the ad as a real estate broker or salesperson.
Must the name of my firm be included in a newspaper ad or on my Web site? What about my broker’s name? (updated Jan. 7, 2010)
NAR’s Code of Ethics requires that the name of the firm be included in advertisements of listed properties and on a REALTOR®’s Web site. It is prudent to include the name of the firm in all ads. Furthermore, TREC rules prohibit an advertisement that in any way implies that a salesperson is the person responsible for the operation of a real estate brokerage. The broker’s name should also be included in any advertisement, including a REALTOR®’s Web site, to avoid violating this rule.
May I have a global disclosure at the top or bottom of each page that says all persons and firms named in this advertisement are licensed brokers or salespersons? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
Yes, assuming all individuals named in the advertisement are licensed. Be careful not to include the names of any unlicensed persons in such an advertisement.
May I use abbreviations to identify a person as a licensee? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
Yes, if the general public commonly knows the meaning of the abbreviation. For example, brkr. or agt. are probably sufficient.
What are the rules about how quickly I must remove a listing from a website once it has sold? (updated March 10, 2014)
The Real Estate License Act and NAR’s Code of Ethics prohibit any misleading or false advertisements. If a real estate licensee advertises listings on the Internet and fails to remove the listings within a reasonable period of time after the listing sells, the licensee could be accused of misrepresenting the status of available property in his advertisement. A real estate licensee might be accused of misleading the public to believe that the licensee has an inflated number of listings. Therefore, advertisements on the Internet that concern listed properties should be promptly removed after the listing sells.
Do the same rules that require the license-identification information to be included in an advertisement and require the name of the broker or firm to be an advertisement apply to classified ads as well? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
How do I identify myself as a real estate broker or salesperson in my advertisements? (updated June 25, 2014)
The Real Estate License Act requires licensees to identify themselves as a real estate broker or salesperson in any ad the licensee publishes. Using the term REALTOR® by REALTOR® members is sufficient to identify yourself as a broker or salesperson.
The following is an example of unacceptable ad copy:
2-bedroom apartment available
Jacob McCandles and Company
Call Rooster Cogburn: 512-555-2222
The following are examples of acceptable ad copy:
2-bedroom apartment available
Jacob McCandles and Company, Real Estate Brokers
Call Rooster Cogburn, salesperson: 512-555-2222
2-bedroom apartment available
Jacob McCandles and Company, REALTORS®
Call Jacob McCandles, broker: 512-555-2222
Do these same rules apply to commercial real estate brokers and salespeople as well? (updated Jan. 1, 2002)
What if disclosing the name of the REALTOR®’s firm is not practical with social media?
Standard of Practice 12-5 states that, “where disclosing the name of the firm may not be practical in electronic displays of limited information (e.g., thumbnails, text messages, tweets, etc.), such displays are exempt, but only when linked to a display that includes all required disclosures.”
How do you comply with the advertising rules when using social media?
A real estate licensee using social media must still comply with the advertising rules. If the social-networking website limits the number of characters in a communication and the required information would consume more than 10% of the available character limit, a licensee may include a direct hyperlink containing the words “TREC DISCLOSURE” that links to the required information.