The Art of Real Estate Advertising: Painting a “True Picture”

Do you know our biggest complaint from buyers, sellers and REALTORS® alike? False advertising by REALTORS®. Article 12 of the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics states:
REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations. REALTORS® shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising, marketing, and other representations, and that the recipients of all real estate communications are, or have been, notified that those communications are from a real estate professional. (Amended 1/08)
While often unintentional, some REALTORS®, looking for new, quick, quirky or less expensive ways to advertise, forget to double-check their practices against our Code of Ethics. A few common REALTOR® advertising mishaps include:
  • A REALTOR® neglecting to put his or her own name on a sign, leading potential buyers to believe the property is for sale by the owner.
  • A REALTOR® exaggerating the conditions, amenities, or location of a property, leading potential buyers to spend money and time viewing a property they would have otherwise crossed off their list.
  • A REALTOR® leaving a “SOLD” sign on a property, where the sale has fallen through. A “SOLD” sign is a marketing tool and leaving it on an unsold property is misleading.
  • A REALTOR® saying he/she will provide a service at “no obligation or cost” but then pressures the potential buyer or states contingencies upon performing the service.
  • A REALTOR® who markets, sells or lists properties that aren’t their own, without permission.
These seemingly harmless activities are in clear violation of our Code of Ethics and can be detrimental you and your buyers. Look – we get it. Real estate is an increasingly competitive industry. We applaud our REALTORS® who continuously look for new ways to market themselves, their firms and their listings. However, to avoid any issues for you or your potential buyers, let’s just take look at a list of questions you can ask yourself before launching your next advertising campaign.
  1. Am I authorized to list and sell this property?
  2. Is it clear who is selling the property?
  3. Is it evident that I am a REALTOR®?
  4. Am I being transparent about the conditions and features of the home?
  5. If “free” or “no obligation” is a term used in my advertising, do I deliver on that promise?
  6. Am I the actual seller of the properties I’ve claimed to have sold, or were they sold by a colleague?
  7. Are the qualifications for receiving the premiums and prizes I am offering made clear?
  8. Do I have explicit permission to use all of the materials in my advertisement? Tip: Beware of mentioning competitors and using their information in comparison to yours.
  9. Am I proactively removing signage when it is no longer applicable (e.g., “SOLD” signs, “limited time offer” banners)?
  10. Does my online activity reflect the Code of Ethics? Tip: We have handy do’s and don’ts in our “To Share or Not to Share” story on
Ultimately, are you painting a “true picture,” in accordance with Article 12? To make sure you are compliant: There is an art to being a REALTOR®. While we encourage creativity and innovation on your path to success, always incorporate the Code of Ethics – otherwise, it isn’t a pretty picture.

NAR takes a deep dive into some cautionary tales.