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Drones in Real Estate – When Technology Surpasses Policy

July 22, 2014

Author: Tom Flanagan, Vice President of Technology, Alain Pinel Realtors
This article ran in the July 11th, 2014 Palo Alto Daily News publication Premier Homes, pg 10.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with Camera
When looking at some of the latest real estate tech trends, one that has the potential to have a significant impact in the industry is the use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Photographers typically use these small remote controlled drones with a camera to take stills and video of a property, and their use is becoming increasingly commonplace in the real estate industry.
The use of drones for real estate purposes gives consumers, buyers in particular, a unique view into, or over, a listing. They are able to tell a story about a property that wouldn’t otherwise be achieved with traditional photography, and are wonderful for displaying waterfront properties and listings with a lot of acreage. From their vantage point of about 100 feet above a property, they are able to capture images that an airplane or helicopter would not, offering a truly unique perspective.
However, as an emerging technology, there is a tremendous amount of inaccurate information and confusion regarding their usage. Grey area and misinformation surrounding the legal use of drones abounds, and they have become a polarizing topic that often conjures images of military use or spying.
In reality though, UAVs and drones have been used with good intentions, primarily by hobbyists, for decades. But when it comes to commercial use, drones are an example of technology surpassing policy. Technology is moving at such a fast clip, it is difficult for government bodies to introduce legislation around them.
To date, there has only been one UAV pilot fined by the FAA. While the FAA did lose that case, they appealed it, which negated the win for the pilot. Additionally, a New York real estate brokerage was just subpoenaed by the FAA for drone use. Legislation surrounding use remains nebulous though, and Congress has issued a deadline to the FAA, requiring the agency to issue regulations and guidelines by 2015.
While government issues and questions about privacy remain, this medium offers tremendous value to real estate consumers, offering a sneak peek into a property that wouldn’t otherwise be available. There are safety concerns as well, and ensuring each drone operator is licensed after being properly trained, as with a motor vehicle, would be a responsible course of action. Finding this fine balance between legislation and innovation though will definitely pay off for the real estate consumer in the long run.

About Author:

Tom Flanagan is Vice President of Technology at Alain Pinel Realtors and is responsible for overall technology strategy and implementation throughout the company. With over a decade of experience in the technology industry, he brings a wide range of knowledge in technology, online platforms and new media, with an emphasis on design and usability. Tom is also a syndicated columnist for Inman News, the leading source of independent real estate news and information.

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The Code of Ethics and Your Professional Career

July 30, 2013

Author: Phil Weingrow, Vice President and Manager of Alain Pinel Realtors Oakland Hills – Montclair Village.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics. Many believe that a document written 100 years ago couldn’t be very relevant in today’s new electronic world of “listed today, sold tomorrow real estate.” Here’s why they’re wrong:

  • Have you been put in the situation where a client who was afraid of losing out has asked you to write an offer on two different properties at the same time? 
  • Have you been encouraged to suggest to a seller that she sell her home off market so that you can double end a sale? 
  • Do you know agents who have often taken a listing that was tens of thousands of dollars overpriced just to beat out the competition? 
  • Has a seller ever contacted you, while having her home listed with another brokerage, asking you if you would talk with her about listing her home?

Do you know all of these except the last one are violations of the Code of Ethics? And the last one is only not a violation because the seller contacted you!  These examples are all contemporary issues that come up in our current fast-paced market. They are ALL covered by the Code – if not by passages written 100 years ago – then by revisions added over the years. In other words, the Code of Ethics is a “living document” that can maintain certain ethical standards and permit us to “call out” those who do not. In today’s competitive market, the code may even be more important than ever as agents and clients are tempted to make unethical decisions in order to get a leg up.
When we talk about Article 1 of the Code and its requirement that we be a good fiduciary to our clients, we are insuring that their needs and protection are paramount. Think about how the consumer might react when they are trying to gauge your trustworthiness or professionalism and you emphasize that when representing them you are always mindful of your duty and responsibility to them as outlined in the Code of Ethics. How many of your competitors do this? How many of your clients know about the Code of Ethics?
This is a simple and much underutilized differentiator between professional, ethical Realtors® and others.
It is important to let the public know who we are and how we function. We hold ourselves to a higher standard that requires us to be at the forefront of what is going on in our industry. We are not here for a quick buck, but for our careers – this is what we have chosen to do and this is how we conduct our professional lives.

About Author:

Philip Weingrow currently serves as Vice President and Manager of Alain Pinel Realtors Oakland Hills – Montclair Village. He has been a licensed broker since 1983 when interest rates were 14% and listings were only printed in books. He has since learned the value of technology in real estate business and currently runs a “paperless” office.

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DRE to Become BRE: What It Means for YOU.

April 29, 2013

Effective July 1, 2013, the California Department of Real Estate, or the DRE, will become the Bureau of Real Estate, or BRE, within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. This was part of a reorganization of several California government agencies, but the BRE will retain many of the same core functions.
While a date has been assigned for the change in name, the information regarding a switch from DRE to BRE numbers on “first contact” materials for REALTORS® has not been as specific. However, the DRE has stated that the will permit a transition period for this change, and they will be lenient on brokers and agents transferring their materials to the new nomenclature.
Here are some best practice tips until we know more:

  • If you’re ordering any “first contact” materials that will be used for months to come (and beyond July 1st), then you might be best served to use a BRE number rather than a DRE number. Example: business cards).
  • It is probably in your best interest to ready all websites, Facebook pages, blogs, and other social networks that include a DRE number to be switched over to a BRE number by July 1st.
  • Be on the lookout for any more specific details and deadlines around the transition as we get closer to July 1st. While they have said they’ll be lenient, there will eventually be a deadline for changing all your marketing materials to say “BRE.”


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Email Marketing: Know the Rules

April 4, 2013

With so much of a home-buyers experience taking place online, it’s no surprise that email marketing still plays a crucial part in any real estate professionals marketing strategy. While social media and direct mailings all play a role, email marketing is one of the fastest, relatively simple, and cost-effective ways you can drive customers to your website.
However, this is really only accomplished if you do it properly. If you do it wrong, not only will you likely annoy and deter clients from using your services, but you also much be breaking the law. Yes – not sending your emails properly can land you in some legal hot water AND financial trouble. In 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act which regulates the rules of commercial email and the rights of consumers. Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act are subject to penalties up to $16,000 for each separate email in violation. 
So – how can you avoid it? Here are 7 tips you must be following if you’re using email for your business:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Many CRM systems allow you to change your “From” and “Reply-To” lines in your email. If you do this, it should still accurately reflect the business or person who initiated the message – including the originating domain name.
  2. Subjects lines should be straightforward. The subject line should accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. If you are sending a direct ad, identify it as such – there’s some flexibility in how you do this, but it must be done.
  4. Must include a valid physical postal address. Whether this is your office address, a PO box, or a private registered mailbox – you have to include a mailing address in your commercial emails.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. You must give a clear explanation of how a recipient can opt-out of your mailing list. This can be by clicking a link, sending you an email, or another method – but it has to be clear, visibly, and easy to understand. While you can ask them only to opt-out from certain subset of message types, “all commercial messages” must be an option.
  6. Honor opt-out requests in a time sensitive fashion. Opt-out mechanisms are only useful (and lawful) if they work – and in a timely manner. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. The opt-out mechanism has to be as simple as sending a reply email or visiting a single-step website. Once they opt-out you cannot sell or transfer their email address.
  7. Monitor any vendor or company you are using for email marketing. Even if you hire another company or vendor to handle your email marketing – you are not exempt from legal responsibility. Both the company / business who is promoted in the message and the company that sends the message can be held legally responsible.
These tips are fairly straightforward – and luckily for you, most email marketing platforms have these protections built in. However, it’s worth taking a look at your next newsletter or email blasts and see what the consumer sees. Run through this checklist and make sure you aren’t making a $16,000 mistake. Happy emailing!


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Beautiful Images, Ugly Copyright Violations (and Fees!)

November 7, 2012

In the past few months we’ve heard more and more reports of people being contacted by photographers and agencies claiming copyright violations and improper use of photos – sometimes even demanding compensation. Guess what? They’re probably right. Chances are you’ve illegally, and unintentionally, used a copyrighted image on the internet. In our digital age, where finding an image is as simple as Googling it – we often think we have the right to use them for whatever purpose we want – for a blog entry, to post to our website, to share on Facebook. The ease of access to photos is misleading; just finding a photo does not give you permission to reproduce it.
We often mistakenly think we’re covered if we:

  • link to the source
  • don’t claim the photo as our own
  • didn’t know it was copyrighted!
  • didn’t make money off it
  • if we have a disclaimer on our site
  • we immediately take it down if requested

None of these protect you. So then, what do we do if we want to use photos on our sites, etc? Here are some options:

  1. Use your own photos!
  2. Search for photos that are approved for use:
    Creative Commons licensed pictures – search for photos which are approved for free use (with some attribution and other restrictions)
    Flikr Creative Commons – some users allow use of their photos.
    Wikimedia Commons – offers free media files
  3. Buy rights to photos that are offered through stock photography sites, like
    –  Fotolia
    –  Veer
    –  Corbis Images
    –  Getty Images
  4. Get explicit permission from the photographer (sites like Flikr and other photography sites often allow you to contact the photographer directly) – it can’t hurt to ask.

While we’re not legal experts  – we do encourage everyone to stay on the side of caution. Assume photos are copyrighted unless proven otherwise. 

About Author:
Andrew Violante is the Social Media and Communications Coordinator at Alain Pinel Realtors where he oversees social media strategy and implementation for the brokerage. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Violante
Industry Insights Legal Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Illegal E-Mails From Your Smartphone?

October 10, 2012

Does your signature on your smartphone look like the one above? Or perhaps it said “Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE DROID.” As a real estate agent, you’re constantly on the move. The concept of an  “office” has taken on a lot more meaning – it’s no longer just the desk you go to sometimes. With the right tools, the “office” is wherever we are – and we’re sending more and more emails from our smartphones. But does a Realtors® need to reference their DRE number in their mobile email signature? After all, it is almost universally added to our email signatures when we’re sending from out computers or laptops.
Let’s look at the DRE rules. As of July 2009, your DRE license number must be on all solicitation materials intended as a first point of contact with consumers. Under the section 2773 regulations this includes:

  • Business cards
  • Stationary
  • Websites owned, controlled, and/or maintained by the soliciting real estate license
  • Promotional and advertising flyers, brochures, email and regular mail, leaflets, and any other marketing or promotional materials designed to solicit the creation of a professional relationship between the licensee and a consumer, or intended to induce a consumer to contact the licensee about any licensed services.
The disclosure rule excludes advertisements in electronic media (such as radio, TV, streaming video, etc.), print advertisement in a newspaper or periodical, and “For Sale” signs placed on or around a property,

So … what does that mean about emails sent from mobile devices? The law is ambiguous – it truly depends on what type of email you’re sending. Are you reaching out to someone for the first time or just dealing with a past client? The truth is though that some email you could be sending from your mobile phone could require it. As with most legal issues – we fall on the side of caution – why wouldn’t you include it in your mobile email signature? We send plenty of emails both from our mobile devices and from our desktop computers that don’t require our DRE# in our signature – but we still list it. We do this because we know it only takes one email that requires it that is missing DRE number to have a problem.
Realtors® almost always have robust email signatures – sometimes too robust. Maybe it’s time you think about what the signature on your mobile phone says about you. Would you rather tell people what type of device you’re on – or perhaps add some branding and your DRE license number?

Do you have a question about best practices?* Send us an email ( and we will try to answer it in a future entry.
*This is not meant to serve as official legal advice – please consult an attorney for legal advice pertaining to your individual situation.
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Can I Be Removed From Your Mailing List?

September 13, 2012

Despite all the different ways Realtors® promote themselves online, direct mail marketing is still a large part of any comprehensive marketing plan. However, while email marketing has strict anti-spam and various other laws that outline who you can email and who you cannot, the rules surrounding snail mail are a bit more murky. How do you handle when a consumer asks to be removed from your mailing list?

While there are no laws prohibiting snail mail or requiring you to take people’s names off your mailing list, we do offer some best practices. Even if not required, it is a good idea to police lists and purge the names of those who do not want the mailings. Most large companies and marketers actually belong to associations that are bound to remove any customer who requests to be removed – both for goodwill and for environmental reasons. You can read about many of the ways people get removed from mailing lists and consumer rights here. In an era in which consumers are empowered by social media and other outlets to express their dissatisfaction with companies, failure to remove prospective clients from mailing lists may antagonize them.
For most real estate companies, there is no centralized “list” – most agents maintain their own lists. As a result, requests for removal need to be made directly to each agent. As it is a reflection not only on your business, but on the broker you represent, here are some tips for removing consumers:

  • Have a system in place to permanently remove addresses, no matter the source of your original list
  • Apologize for any inconvenience
  • Explain you can only remove them from your individual list
  • If necessary, explain how your list was created and why they originally began receiving your mailings (some consumers do not realize that their information is often public)
  • If they are receiving additional mailings from another agent in your broker, offer to reach out on their behalf (and follow through)

Conversationsis where we help agents deal with common client concerns and detail best practices.  Are you being frequently asked a question by your clients? Or are you unsure how to handle a situation? Trouble talking to your clients about a tricky situation? Send us an email ( and we will try to answer it in a future entry.
*These are not meant to serve as official legal advice.
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Welcome to the Alain Pinel Realtors Insight Blog!

September 4, 2012

Welcome! Today we are proud to announce our new APR Insight Blog – an agent and industry blog that will be an invaluable resource.

We have transferred some old content from our previous blog – but our best is still to come. The new blog will covers a much wider variety of content. Check back often or subscribe via RSS or email to get the latest!