Sunday, June 24, 2018

What to do with the realtor who keeps on emailing

About 10 years ago, a couple of readers we're calling Al and Tina were in the market for a house. They worked with several brokers to find a place and were ultimately successful in finding a home they loved.

Now that they've been settled in their new home, they continue to get postcards from assorted local realtors informing them of properties for sale. One realtor continued to send them unsolicited emails long after they'd purchased their home. For a while, that realtor's emails stopped.

But a few weeks or so ago, Al noticed that he again started receiving emails about available properties from that realtor. At first, Al thought nothing of the email. But something struck him as different about the most recent email.

After consulting with his wife, Tina, she pointed out that the realtor was now at a different firm from the one he was at when they'd met with him.

"Anyone can buy our name to mail to," writes Al, "but this guy clearly got my email address from when he worked at his old firm and he's now using it at the new firm."

Using his former company's leads didn't strike Al as kosher. "Don't those email addresses belong to the old company?" he asks. He wonders if he should alert the realtor's old boss and tell them that the guy might have left with company property in tow. Or, he asks if he should just let things lie since he never pays much attention to the emails or cards he receives from realtors anyway.

If the realtor stole company information, then he's wrong to do so. But Al doesn't know what the realtor's relationship to the old company was. He might have had an agreement with his former employer that it was OK to take his leads with him. Or he might have paid the former boss for use of the names.

If Al wants to get clear on the propriety of the realtor using his email address, then rather than accuse him of theft to his former boss, he should get clear on the facts first. He can do this by responding the realtor and asking him if he has permission to use his old leads, or, if he wants to escalate matters, he can contact the realtor's former company and alert it to the realtor's behavior.

But the right thing is for Al to figure out what goal he is trying to achieve. If he doesn't care one way or another about receiving occasional emails from the realtor, he can let things lie. Or, if he does care and finds the emails to be a nuisance, he should contact the realtor and ask him to stop. If the realtor persists, he should report him to his new company, and he might also want to take the extra step of letting the former employer know that one of its former realtors is refusing to cease his practice of emailing Al, even after Al specifically asked him to stop.

It's not Al's responsibility to put in the time it would take to discover whether the realtor's behavior is on the up and up. But once Al asks him to stop, the realtor should. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

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Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin