Before you file a complaint, talk to an ombudsman.
Misunderstandings in real estate can often escalate into official ethics complaints or litigation, simply because two parties can’t communicate. That’s why our Ombudsman Program is so important to our members. Our ombudsmen are trained to help solve problems through communication and conciliation, avoiding the expense and hard feelings that can be caused by litigation.
The ombudsman’s role is not to adjudicate disputes, determine if an ethics violation has occurred or issue awards for monetary disputes. Rather, ombudsmen anticipate, identify and resolve misunderstandings and disagreements before matters ripen into disputes and possible charges of unethical conduct.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between the ombudsman process and mediation?
The ombudsman process usually begins before ethics complaints are filed or an arbitration request is made. That’s because the disputes that can be resolved via the ombudsman process are usually caused by miscommunication that can be resolved via informal communication. Often, ombudsmen operate as intermediaries between the parties, conveying the concerns of either party in a neutral fashion until a positive relationship can be restored.
In contrast, mediation is most often used to resolve monetary disputes where an arbitration request may have been filed. In a mediation, the parties meet face to face in the presence of a mediator, who encourages both parties to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution of their dispute.
Who can use the ombudsman process?
Consumers and Realtors can use the ombudsman process. NSDCAR is the final decision maker as to which disputes may be settled via the process, which may include questions about real estate practice, transaction details, ethical practice, and enforcement issues. Sometimes, NSDCAR’s ombudsman process may be initiated by a consumer. In this case, the ombudsman will contact the Realtor involved to gather the information necessary to develop an informed and accurate response.
Do ombudsman decide who’s right or wrong?
Absolutely not. An ombudsman’s job is to anticipate, identify and resolve misunderstandings and disagreements. They do not determine whether ethics violations have occurred.
How long does the ombudsman process take?
The process can be surprisingly quick — sometimes disputes can be resolved in a few hours or a couple of days.
Do I have to use the ombudsman process?
No, but it’s always a good idea. If you’re an NSDCAR member, it’s a valuable benefit that may save you time and money.
What about paperwork?
The best part about the ombudsman process is that it’s about communication first, rather than scads of paperwork. This process is about finding resolution through communication, not exchanging evidence.
What happens if it doesn’t work?
If you can’t come to a resolution via the ombudsman, you can still file a formal ethics complaint or a request for arbitration. It’s important to note that when you enter the ombudsman process, you’re not giving up any rights to file. The date you brought the matter to NSDCAR’s attention is the date that will be used to file, as while you are in the ombudsman process, filing deadlines are suspended. That’s why you’re encouraged to try the ombudsman process first, because it’s fast and effective and may avoid more serious procedings.
What if the ombudsman finds a violation of the public trust?
if this is the case, the ombudsman will immediately terminate the process and the parties will be advised that they can file a formal ethics complaint, or any other complaint necessary with the appropriate governmental bodies. “Public trust” refers to misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm. It’s important to note that you can’t use the ombudsman process to settle alleged violations of the public trust.
Can the ombudsman file an ethics complaint as result of the process?
No. Ombudsmen are impartial, and cannot file ethics complaints on either party. However, if an ombudsman is concerned that a violation of the public trust has occurred, they may refer the matter to NSDCAR’s grievance committee.
Is the ombudsman process confidential?
Yes. Everything discussed in the program may not be reported to NSDCAR, or any other party, except under circumstances established by the National Association of Realtors’ Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.