Via the Orange County Register
By Marilyn Kalfus
The Orange County Association of Realtors has filed a grievance against an Irvine real estate broker who writes a blog that takes critical looks at the housing crash, homebuyers and real estate agents.
Larry Roberts, who writes the IrvineHousingBlog.com, freely admits going “over the top” in his posts, which are particularly harsh on homeowners who default on loans. He frequently shows MLS photos of properties that have gone into foreclosure. He also has accused real estate agents, in general, of being dishonest.
The grievance says Roberts and two other people have violated a code of ethics rule stating that “Realtors must not knowingly lie about competitors” as well as a general set of regulations governing how MLS information is used on the Internet.
Roberts says OCAR is trying to impinge on his freedom of speech, and that the organization has no standing to keep him from posting on his blog.
He has a broker’s license, he says, but he doesn’t run a brokerage or sell real estate, and he is not a Realtor or a member of OCAR.
The complaint, which Roberts furnished to the Register, was accompanied by a printed version of a post he ran saying that real estate agents lie.
“Realtors take advantage of their status as trusted experts to manipulate buyers, and they feel no responsibility when their statements are exposed as lies,” the statement said.
Roberts says he believes he wrote it as an introduction to an article in the blog by a University of Arizona law professor. The piece, entitled, “Trust, expert advice and Realtor responsibility,” was later removed from the blog at the professor’s request because it was going to be published elsewhere, Roberts said.
In an interview, Roberts elaborated, saying, ” …Many Realtors make representations about investment value and appreciation without regard to whether or not such statements are true. Most make these statements in ignorance, which technically isn’t lying, but some make these statements knowing better, which is lying.”
Roberts added that while he has been hard on real estate agents in general, ”I have never singled any Realtor out and called them a liar.”
OCAR’s Rena Budesky, who signed the grievance, declined to answer questions from a reporter seeking specifics about what Roberts did to prompt the action. “Everything that relates to grievance complaints, it’s all confidential,” she said.
OCAR president Jean Tietgen did not respond to a reporter’s call.
Roberts’ attorney Scott H. Sims sent a letter to Budesky and OCAR demanding they withdraw their complaint, which he called “frivolous … and a clear effort to interfere with Roberts’ right of free speech.”
“Even if Roberts had engaged in wrongdoing, which he has not, any disciplinary action taken by an OCAR grievance panel would carry no legal force and effect and OCAR would be exposing itself to liability for any and all damages to Roberts,” the letter read in part.
“If OCAR or any of its members disagree with Roberts’ opinions they are free to dispute them in ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ ” the letter says, “and leave it up to the public to decide who is right … We recognize that engaging in a civil debate about the health of the housing market may not blindly pad the pockets of OCAR’s members who are paid on commission — and thus have no incentive to tell their clients to do anything except to ‘buy,buy,’buy” — but such is the risk of doing business in a free market.”
Also subjects of the grievance were real estate agent Shevy Akason and broker Tina Rector. Akason, who works at Evergreen Realty, advertises on Roberts’ blog and pays him for referrals. Rector is Evergreen’s founding broker.
Akason sent OCAR a response saying while he occasionally writes a guest post in the blog about the market and sometimes submits observations, he has no control over the blog’s overall contents..