Many Atlanta real estate buyers or sellers may not realize the Georgia Real Estate Commission (GREC) is there to help them if a situation arises.
In addition to setting the pre-licensing education requirements, testing standards, licensing requirements and continuing education requirements for real estate licensees in Georgia, the GREC is also a resource for the public to use if/when members of the public feel that they have not been dealt with fairly by licensees. The GREC takes complaints from the public very seriously and investigates every situation for which they receive a written request. Frustrated or unhappy buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords sometimes threaten real estate licensees with, “I’m going to report you to the Real Estate Commission.” Smart licensees know this is a serious matter.
How exactly is the public protected by the GREC?
Real estate licensees (including their brokers) must follow very strict laws regarding the receipt of, handling, depositing and reconciling of all “trust funds”. Trust funds are money belonging to a buyer, seller, tenant or landlord being kept in a Trust Account by a broker, such as earnest money, security deposits, pet deposits, key deposits, repair escrows, etc. The GREC requires that all such funds be turned over by a licensee to his broker “as soon as practically possible”.
The broker is then required to maintain a separate, federally insured account for those funds and to deposit those funds in that account as quickly as possible unless the parties have agreed otherwise in writing. The broker is also required to follow the written instructions of the principals with regard to disbursing those funds at a closing, the end of a lease, upon receipt of a written agreement between the parties or in the event of a dispute between the parties.
So how does this affect a buyer, seller, landlord or tenant? The public is harmed if trust funds are:
• Misplaced or lost
• Deposited in a licensee’s own account
• Not deposited in the time period agreed to and the funds are not honored
• Not disbursed when appropriate if the broker fails or refuses to disburse the trust funds when appropriate
• Borrowed against by the broker
Licensees are also prohibited from offering or receiving undisclosed “kickbacks” for referring the public to services such as mortgage lenders, home inspectors, appraisers, etc. These undisclosed costs would invariably be borne by the public.
Copies of all written agreements between real estate licensees and members of the public must be provided to the signers as soon as possible. This includes Listing Agreements being provided to sellers and landlords, Buyer/Tenant Representation Agreements being provided to buyers and tenants, and Leases and Purchase Agreements being provided to all signing parties. All offers must be presented to the seller/landlord for consideration unless the seller/landlord gives the licensee other written instructions (“only present cash offers”, for example).
Licensees are required to disclose the fact that they have a real estate license whenever buying, leasing or selling any property they (will) own or in which they (will) have an ownership interest. No member of the public should feel “tricked” or deceived when conducting business with a licensee.
Real estate licensees are forbidden from conducting business in any manner which restricts the sale, leasing, negotiating or availability of any real estate to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. Likewise, licensees may not engage in “blockbusting” or implying that a change has or will or may occur in an area.
No matter how well-trained and/or experienced a licensee may be, the licensee is NOT qualified to do appraisals, conduct inspections, give tax advice, render legal opinions, certify structural integrity of a property, guarantee future profits, conduct environmental assessments or otherwise give any expert opinion for which the licensee is not also credentialed.
The public should not ask or expect licensees to provide these other services, but licensees are often asked questions outside their realm of expertise. Licensees who ANSWER those questions with anything other than, “I’m not qualified to answer that so you should consult a tax attorney/lawyer/engineer/etc.” can harm a buyer, seller, tenant or landlord who believes that the retaining wall is perfectly sound or that real estate always appreciates 10% a year.
It’s important to realize, too, what the GREC cannot do. They cannot make a buyer, seller, tenant or landlord agree to specific contract terms. They cannot make a seller refund earnest money. They cannot solve commission disputes. They cannot make the builder finish the house faster. And, unfortunately, they cannot make licensees punctual, polite, considerate or sympathetic.
Has the GREC ever had to come to your rescue?