With a real estate system in which agents and brokers are legally responsible only to the seller of a property, a real estate board on which industry representatives outnumber consumers by five to three and a complaint process that is slow and inefficient, no one should be surprised that a report from the Depart ment of Fiscal Services describes regulation of Maryland's real estate industry as "inadequate."
Some of the solutions to the system's weaknesses are easily corrected. A joint House-Senate legislative committee is now drafting proposals that would add a consumer representative to the Maryland Real Estate Commission, a change that would help redress the commission's industry tilt and give the commission enough members to add another three-member hearing panel. The committee also wants the commission to streamline its complaint process, speeding up the time it takes to hear and resolve cases, as well as instituting procedures to keep consumers informed about their cases.
Some legislators say that by making it easier to enforce current law, these changes would solve any problems in which agents or brokers tilt too far toward the seller of a property by misrepresenting the condition of a listed property, either knowingly or through negligence. But there's a hitch here -- under Maryland law, brokers and agents are legally responsible only to one party in the transaction, the seller. That, it seems, is in itself a powerful incentive not to disclose any damaging information about a property. The real question in real estate reform is one the legislature seems not to be considering at all -- the question of whether a system in which agents and brokers have only the seller's interest at heart can offer any real protection to buyers.