Ombuds Programs for REALTOR® Transactions

For many years one of the essential services that REALTOR® associations have provided is a review process for ethics complaints. And, for some years now, local and regional REALTOR® associations have experimented with ways to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of ethics reviews and disputes among REALTORS® and between REALTORS® and the general public. One approach that some REALTOR® associations have used, and which is now of growing interest, is an ombudsman approach.

While of deep historical origins, which date perhaps back to Viking tradition, the first use of the Ombudsman[1] approach is of Swedish origins in the 18th Century.  An ombudsman was a person identified to independently examine concerns of the community and to advise the king.  In modern times the ombudsman approach has been in continued use by governments around the world as an avenue to provide an independent examination of issues and to advise those in government.  More recently the ombudsman model has been adapted and extended into long-term health care and medical treatment facilities, where an ombudsman can independently review complaints regarding care and make recommendations to resolve any concerns discovered in the review. Dating from the 1960’s and forward, the ombudsman approach has been incorporated into the higher education and the corporate world.

For a full discussion of ombudsman models, see:

GAAR-2A few years ago, I was asked by the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS® [GAAR] to help the Association design and implement its Ombuds Program. This involved working with the staff that currently handled ethics complaints to help the Association design a new Ombuds Program from the ground up.

(I posted an article on this site on January 11, 2012 about the program. See, )

Implementation included the following steps:

  • Briefing the Board on Ombuds Program considerations and design elements;
  • Working with GAAR to decide among the models and approaches on its preferred model for its ombuds program;
  • Developing a Program Implementation Plan for the Board and staff so that the program could be launched to a coherent and efficient plan;
  • Drafting the GAAR Organizational Ombuds Program Charter;
  • Working with the staff to develop the GAAR Ombuds Program Brochure;
  •  Helping the Executive Director and staff, develop the Ombuds Program Position Descriptions so that they could recruit new people interested in serving in the program.

Once the program was operational, I worked extensively with GAAR to ensure that the individual ombuds were fully trained and, most importantly, felt confident that they could provide the help that their visitors deserved. This training involved extensive research into the sorts of ethics complaints that the Association typically encountered and then developing a customized training program to best enable participants to gain exposure to typical issues and practice experience helping visitors resolve their concern. Under my lead, three professional ombudspersons and a mediation expert provided a comprehensive two-day ombuds training program that included:

  • Scenarios
  • Role play exercises
  • Standards
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Conflict Styles training
  • Subconscious styles and Rapport
  • Framing and reframing
  • Use of metaphor
  • Best Practices
  • Program Completion Certificates

GAAR-3We continued to help GAAR mature its new ombudsman program by helping GAAR design a new case tracking system so that trends and patterns could be identified and designed and helped to implement a new case statistics “dashboard,” which allowed the program managers and leadership have current, “real-time” access to trends. Our support of the GAAR program continued and we provided several comprehensive follow-up training programs.

Apparently, based on the success of the GAAR program and other REALTOR® programs, the National Association of REALTORS® recently enacted Professional Standards Policy Statement #59, which now requires (as of January 2016) all local and state associations of REALTORS® to implement ombuds programs.

The NAR professional standards policy, which is now included in the current NAR Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual provides that:

Every local and state association of REALTORS® is required to offer, either directly or as part of a cooperative enforcement agreement (consistent with Professional Standards Statement #40, Cooperative Enforcement Agreements), ombudsman services to members, clients, and consumers on or before January 1, 2016. 

Every local and state association of REALTORS® is required to offer, either directly or as part of a cooperative enforcement agreement (consistent with Professional Standards Statement #40, Cooperative Enforcement Agreements), ombudsman services to members, clients, and consumers on or before January 1, 2016.  (See, ).

As an organization with extensive experience in ombuds program design, we have been approached to help REALTOR® organizations execute to comply with the new NAR requirement. As one who has worked with different models of alternative dispute resolution for 37 years, and has served for nearly 20 years as an ombudsman in both classical and organizational models, I applaud the National Association of REALTORS® for its move in this direction.  Our organization, Business Excellence Solutions, includes consulting experts who are recognized leaders in ombudsman program design, mediation, grievance systems, arbitration, case audit, and organizational conflict resolution. We look forward to helping see that the transition to including the ombudsman approach, goes seamlessly for the state and regional associations of REALTORS®!

If you are working in the REALTOR® field and would like information on how we can help you design and implement your program, and train staff to manage the program and to serve as ombudspersons, please contact us at or post a comment below!

[1] There are sometimes questions about the term “ombudsman,” which some find gender-biased. While the men and women of the International Ombudsmen Association embrace the term as a gender-neutral term of foreign origin, many organizations use a variation of the term, often shortening to “ombuds” or expanding it to “ombudsperson.” For consistency with the International Ombudsman Association and its standards, for purposes of this article, I use the traditional form of the term.

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