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Case #8-1: Failure to Put Deposit in Separate Account

The following Case Study was produced by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS®

Revised Case #18-1 May, 1988. Transferred to Article 8 November, 1994. Revised November, 2001

REALTOR® A, a listing broker, obtained a signed offer to purchase, together with Buyer C’s check for $5,000 as an earnest money deposit. Buyer C’s offer was subject to the sale of his current residence. REALTOR® A presented the offer to Seller B who accepted it. REALTOR® A then inadvertently deposited the earnest money check in his personal checking account. Since Buyer C’s offer was contingent on the sale of his current home, Seller B’s house remained on the market. A week later, REALTOR® A received another offer to purchase Seller B’s house from another broker and presented it to the seller as a back-up offer. Buyer C was informed about this new offer and reluctantly concluded that he would be unable to waive the sale contingency or proceed with the purchase of Seller B’s house. He then asked REALTOR® A for his $5,000 check back. REALTOR® A explained that he had mistakenly deposited Buyer C’s check in his personal bank account which had been attached since he received Buyer C’s offer, and he was temporarily unable to refund the deposit to Buyer C.

Buyer C filed a complaint with the Board of REALTORS®, which was received by the Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee concluded that the complaint warranted a hearing and referred it to the Professional Standards Committee. At hearing, REALTOR® A explained that his bank account had been unexpectedly attached following the loss of a civil suit which he was appealing; that his deposit of Buyer C’s check in his personal account was a simple error in handling deposit slips; that he was arranging for the prompt release of his account; and that everything would be straightened out in three or four days, which should not be of great inconvenience to Buyer C.

It was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that REALTOR® A was in violation of Article 8 of the Code of Ethics for having failed to put Buyer C’s earnest money deposit in a special account separate from his personal funds.

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