The Do's and Don'ts of Appearing Before the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC)
You've worked for years to become a licensed realtor or broker in Texas. Ignoring a complaint that has been lodged against you, regardless of whether it has any merit, could jeopardize your career and livelihood.
What should you DO if you receive a notice of investigation?
RETAIN EXPERIENCED LEGAL COUNSEL
Facing an investigation into your professional conduct is never easy. Even for inexperienced lawyers who have been trained to comply with procedural requirements and analyze substantive issues, defending a complaint before the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) can make their heads spin. Accordingly, it is imperative that you hire experienced counsel to craft and present a defense that protects your professional license from every attack.
A hearing before the Texas Real Estate Commission is high-stakes business. So, dress as though you were meeting with a client to close on a high-valued property. I recommend wearing business professional attire to these hearings. Men should wear a suit, a tie, and well-polished shoes. Women likewise should wear a neat business suit, hose, and well-polished shoes.
BE WILLING TO ADMIT ERROR
The Commission will be more lenient if you admit to your mistakes. If, however, you insist that you acted as any reasonably prudent real estate professional would act under similar circumstances, you should still concede that other approaches may have avoided the underlying issue. Of course, your counsel should carefully advise you about testifying to matters that may be self-incriminating or self-indicting.
Your entire case may hinge on one word of a contract or email. It is therefore imperative that you familiarize yourself and your attorney with each document relating to your case. A solid paper trail that supports your story is one of the strongest shields you have to protect your license.
ACCEPT THE COMMISSION'S DECISION
If the Commission deems your complaint meritorious, it will recommend some level of punishment. You will then have the opportunity to accept the punishment or appeal the Commission's decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). If you appeal the decision, an administrative law judge will be assigned to your case and a more formal trial system will take over.
IGNORE NOTICES FROM THE COMMISSION
Pretending that an allegation against you does not exist is not a prudent way to assert your innocence. No one on the Commission has ever thought, "Despite the licensed professional's failure to respond to the complaint, we were probably way off base to think that these complaints had any merit! Let's just close the case." When you receive a written notice of an investigation, respond, and be sure to respond within the appropriate timeframe.
CIRCUMVENT THE CHAIN OF COMMAND
Attempting to circumvent the legal process by using political connections will surely do more bad than good to your case. The Commission members often view such attempts as an admission of guilt and an attempt to evade just punishment. Accordingly, you should not contact politicians, lobbyists, and other non-lawyers in an attempt to influence the outcome of your hearing. Advocate vigorously for yourself and your license, but do so within the legal system.
SOLELY RELY ON YOUR ATTORNEY TO SPEAK FOR YOU
The Commission is generally persuaded by licensed professionals who are willing to discuss the events that gave rise to their complaint and argue in support of their actions. Accordingly, you must thoroughly understand the facts of the complaint. You will be permitted to convey your story and any detail you find relevant, and to refute any challenge made by the Commission. Should you consistently defer to your attorney, however, the Commission will question your confidence in your own actions.
CLAIM IGNORANCE OF YOUR JOB RESPONSIBILITES
One of the Commission's many functions is to protect the general public from incompetent real estate professionals. For this reasons, when you respond to a complaint about your past actions, it is far preferable to admit, rather than plead ignorance, to your mistakes. The Commission does not want a real estate professional who does not understand how to properly perform his or her duties.
While no real estate professional wants to be brought before a review, it happens to many. If you find that a complaint has been made against you, you must take every step possible to insure the best outcome. Your license, livelihood, and reputation as a real estate professional may be at stake.
By knowing what to expect before that board notice ever arrives in the mail, you are creating the circumstances for a pleasant resolution to the complaint process.
Attorney Tony R. Bertolino is the Managing Partner of Bertolino LLP. The law firm has been able to help licensed professionals across the State of Texas through our offices in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. If you or anyone you know is facing a Texas Real Estate Commission complaint and needs an experienced lawyer, contact Bertolino LLP today!