As you may know by now, 2013 is the centennial year of the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. And this month marks the official birthday of the Code: On July 29, 1913, at the annual convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba, NAR’s board of directors got their first look at the much-anticipated Code and adopted it for use by the association’s members.
One of the first questions many REALTORS® ask when they find out about the Code’s origins is: Winnipeg? Why Winnipeg?
To get to the answer, it should first be explained that for many decades, the Winnipeg REALTORS® Association, along with several other local and provincial real estate associations in Canada, were members of the National Association of REALTORS®.
The National Association’s mission as stated in its 1908 constitution was to “unite the real estate men of America” — meaning North America, not just the United States. A proposal to change the word “National” to “International” in NAR’s name was hotly debated at the 1912 convention, but the legal and strategic implications of such a move were seen as too much for the fledgling association to take on. Instead, the constitution was revised in 1912 to say “unite the real estate men of North America,” eliminating any confusion about the status of Canadian members.
In the late 1930s the National Association expanded its territory to include the United States, “the Territory of Alaska, the Territory of Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.” Winnipeg and other Canadian real estate boards left NAR in 1943 to join the newly-formed Canadian Real Estate Association, but Canada still remained part of NAR’s official territory, at least on paper. It wasn’t until 1959 — during NAR’s annual convention, held that year in Toronto — that Canada was finally removed from the territory described in NAR’s constitution.
So how did Winnipeg in particular come to host the 1913 annual conference, where the Code of Ethics was first introduced? Today, the site of NAR’s annual convention is usually decided years in advance. In the association’s early days, however, one of the highlights of each annual convention was a contest to decide which city would host the next year’s meeting. Delegates at the Board of Directors’ meeting would offer invitations from their cities, speeches would be made and much debate ensued over the merits of one city over another.
At the 1912 convention, held in Louisville, KY, three cities were in the running to host the 1913 meeting: Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Winnipeg. All three lobbied hard for the honor of hosting the next national REALTORS® convention, but in the end, Atlanta and Cincinnati didn’t stand a chance. A few months before the Louisville meeting, the R.M.S. Titanic famously collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Among the 1,502 passengers lost were three REALTOR® members from Winnipeg: Mark Fortune, J. Hugo Ross, and Thompson Beattie. It was in their memory that the 1912 delegates chose Winnipeg to host NAR’s 6th annual convention.
One hundred years have passed since a key document in the REALTOR® organization’s history first made its debut. Written in 1913, the Code of Ethics was seen as a declaration of the real estate industry’s principles and beliefs, a “golden thread” uniting those devoted to raising the standards of professionalism and service in real estate.
The Code is a living document that undergoes regular revision to keep it updated and relevant as the real estate industry evolves, so today’s Code of Ethics looks much different from the one that was adopted in 1913. Even so, REALTORS® are often surprised to see that the words “Under all is the land,” the familiar opening of the Code’s preamble, are nowhere to be found in the original version.
So where did the preamble come from, and who wrote it?
The Code of Ethics was over a decade old before the preamble was introduced. In 1924, the National Association’s committee assigned with revising and modernizing the Code decided that the rules should have an introduction, and prepared two versions of a preamble for consideration.
The first version, written by A. S. Adams, a REALTOR® from Atlanta, GA, took the form of a straightforward personal pledge: “I, a member of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, accept as the primary requirement for engaging in the Real Estate Business that my first duty is to the public whom I propose to serve, and the protection of whose interests must always be my first consideration….”
Adams’ preamble was not nearly as poetic and visionary as the second version presented before the committee. Written by the committee’s chairman, a prominent REALTOR® and Presbyterian minister from Tacoma, WA, named Arthur H. Barnhisel, this preamble took a different tack, “setting forth the social responsibility of the association and of the local real estate boards who make up its membership.”
With its inspirational portrayal of the nation’s land and the REALTOR®’s role in ensuring its “highest use” and “widest distribution,” Barnhisel’s preamble easily won the committee’s vote. With little debate and only a few minor edits, the preamble was included along with several other revisions to the Code that were accepted by the National Association’s Board of Directors at its June 1924 meeting in Washington, DC.
As far as we’ve been able to find in the NAR Archives, Barnhisel never explained how he came up with his version of the preamble or revealed his sources of inspiration for the language. Among REALTORS®, though, the preamble quickly became the Code’s best-known feature and was proudly displayed on the walls and in the windows of real estate offices across the country. By 1943, NAR president Cyrus Crane Willmore declared in a speech before the association’s Board of Directors: “Property ownership is fundamental to our way of life. The first five words of our Code of Ethics should be impressed upon the minds of every man, woman and child in our country. They are, ‘Under all is the Land.’”
The Code of Ethics was revised again in 1955, and it included, among other changes, a rewritten preamble. The new preamble tried to preserve the ideals expressed in the original, using modernized language that was more in tune with the post-war 1950s.
REALTORS® were largely unhappy with the changes made to their beloved preamble, though, and in 1961 the National Association took steps to return it to its original form as written by Arthur H. Barnhisel. “A return to this wording is proposed because of its superior phrasing,” explained the report to the Board of Directors.
With the exception of those six years, the preamble remained exactly as Barnhisel wrote it for nearly seven decades. The preamble as we know it today took shape in 1994, when the first six Articles of the Code were incorporated into the preamble, adding paragraphs regarding the REALTOR®’s obligation to share their professional knowledge and stressing the importance of maintaining a spirit of cooperation with other real estate professionals.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about New Year’s resolutions. They’re an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and personal reform for some, or a review to undertake daily instead of annually, and still others see them as an exercise in futility. Whatever your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, we present two here for every REALTOR® to keep in 2012.
First, though, we’ve set aside a collection of over 80 ebook titles to help fill your own list and realize your goals in 2012. You’ll find advice on everything from learning a new language to taking control of your finances, travelling the world to reducing stress. The eBooks Collection on REALTOR.org is a free service for NAR members — browse the site, borrow a title or two, and download them to your favorite device.
The first resolution every REALTOR® should put on their list this year: NAR requires every REALTOR® to complete their Code of Ethics training every four years — and Dec. 31, 2012 is the next deadline. If you haven’t done it already, take some time to get it out of the way well before the deadline. The online course is free and available anytime, or contact your local association of REALTORS® to inquire about Ethics training in your area.
And the second resolution: Seven decades ago, the songwriter Woody Guthrie jotted down his own list of resolutions for the year 1942 in his notebook. It’s a curious list of 33 resolutions, combining the easily attainable (“Change socks”) with more ambitious goals (“Love everybody”). After the wild ride we’ve had in 2011, and the vast array of predictions for 2012, #20 in Woody’s list is one for everyone to adopt as their own: ”Dream good.”
What’s the connection between three Winnipeg REALTORS®’ unfortunate voyage on the Titanic and the evolution of NAR’s Code of Ethics? Info Central’s Video Update solves the mystery with a visit to the NAR Archives.