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Your Critical Role in CodeNEXT as a Realtor

If you are an Austin Realtor, you need to read this and then act on it immediately!




Most Realtors®, in my experience, are unaware of what is perhaps our most important obligation under our Code of Ethics – to advocate for the widest distribution of real estate ownership:


“Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.


Such interests impose obligations beyond those of ordinary commerce. They impose grave social responsibility and a patriotic duty to which REALTORS® should dedicate themselves, and for which they should be diligent in preparing themselves.”


Did your eyes start to glaze over when you read the first 5 words? Likely – mine used to. But read beyond that first sentence, pause, and think for a few moments. What condition in real life most severely impacts “the widest distribution of land ownership”? Affordability perhaps?


Now read the second paragraph again.


I would assert that the Code is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that our support and advocacy for real estate affordability (including, and perhaps most importantly, the homes of our clients and our community’s residents generally) is indeed our most important responsibility as Realtors.


I know that close to 100% of our membership at the Austin Board of Realtors® would agree that an increasing lack of housing affordability has become our community’s most pressing problem. If we’re honest with ourselves, we really have not done a very good job on advocating for affordability in the past, and we have to share at least a significant part of the blame for where we now find ourselves. In short, we’ve been too passive in the face of a deepening crisis. After all, in the late 1980’s, Austin had been America’s most affordable major city, according to HUD, in spite of consistently high rates of growth going back to the city’s founding in 1839.


In 2017 we now have a once-in-a-generation unique opportunity to solve our affordability problem: that opportunity is CodeNEXT (the name given to the process through which we are writing a new land development code (which, among other things, rezones the entire city of Austin for the first time since 1984)).


The process is not going well with respect to improving affordability. Even though the creation and maintenance of affordability in neighborhoods throughout every part of Austin is a very clear priority of our new ABOR-supported comprehensive plan, Imagine Austin, and was supposed to have the same high level of priority in the new development code (that in theory is intended to implement Imagine Austin), the current mayor and council are getting intense pressure to resist neighborhood affordability. So far many of our council members are responding to that pressure. It is up to us, as Realtors, with our unique ethical obligation set forth in the Code, to advocate strenuously for neighborhood affordability, even if that means that our neighborhoods, over time, must change in appearance, in types of housing, in price points, in density, in inclusion over a broader range of household incomes, and in basic fairness to all Austin residents. If our neighborhoods don’t change in a meaningful way, Austin will fail. Bottom line, Austin has become a big city. Big cities need big city forms of housing to dominate the urban center in order to retain any semblance of affordability – not 1940’s style suburban housing.


I urge all of you to seriously consider the above admonitions from our NAR Code of Ethics. I would also ask you to visit affordableneighborhoods.org (a website I own personally – not affiliated with ABOR or NAR) if you would like to support the cause of affordability in Austin, and to learn more about why change in our neighborhoods actually benefits us all, contrary to the assertions of those who so feverishly argue against change.


Frank Harren

July 2017


Note: Here’s a link to an interesting history of the preamble to our NAR Code of Ethics, published by NAR in 2013 on the 100th anniversary of the original Code, the preamble having been added to the original 1913 code in 1924:




The article notes, among other things, that the preamble was written by the 1924 chairman of the NAR Ethics Committee, Arthur Barnhisel (who was both a Realtor© and a Presbyterian minister from Tacoma, Washington), and easily beat out a second version written by a Realtor® from Atlanta, A. S. Adams.




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