This article was previously published in an issue of Austin REALTOR® and Texas REALTOR®.
The Ombudsman Program helps resolve complaints before they become formal.
Maybe you just need to talk it out. That’s the simple idea behind the TAR Ombudsman Program. Consumers and REALTORS® can contact the program with complaints against members of the association and speak with volunteers to attempt to resolve issues before they become formal complaints.
How Does It Work?
When a person calls the Texas Association of REALTORS® with a complaint against a REALTOR® member, he is given the option of trying to resolve the problem through the program. If the complainant agrees, the association gives his contact information to a REALTOR® member serving as ombudsman; currently, about a dozen TAR members volunteer for this duty.
The ombudsman calls the complainant, stressing the confidentiality of their conversation, and explains their role as an informal telephone mediator. The ombudsman is not there to make judgments; their role is to identify and clear up any miscommunication between the parties and discuss the options available to the complainant. Some complaints might be simple—a consumer not understanding an aspect of the transaction— while others entail further investigation.
The ombudsman’s goal is to head off a written complaint while resolving the issue to the satisfaction of both parties. They will listen to the complainant, offer to contact the REALTOR® being complained about or that REALTOR®’s broker, and explain how to file a formal complaint. Ultimately, the complainant drives the process.
While the ombudsman does not judge cases, if they conclude a violation of the public trust may have occurred, the ombudsman process is immediately terminated. They will advise both parties of the right to pursue a formal ethics complaint, a complaint with a governmental or regulatory body, litigation, or any other available remedy.
How Can You Help?
Not every complainant can be helped with this program, but TAR Director of Board Services Patricia Webb reports that the Ombudsman Program resolves about 60% of the calls it receives.
The Texas Association of REALTORS® is always looking for members to participate in the program. As a volunteer ombudsman, you attend one training session and then are assigned a two-week period each year during which you handle all Ombudsman Program calls—up to a maximum of eight calls. The Ombudsman Program shows the public and REALTOR® members that TAR is concerned about complaints and their resolution. Become a part of this important process by contacting your local board for information about volunteering as an ombudsman.