Thanks for sending that gift card, but. . .

How should I handle the gratitude another broker expressed to me not long ago.

I had referred to him a man who wanted to rent an apartment in Manhattan in the range of $4,000 a month.  It wasn’t the first such referral I had made to “Bruce,” but it was the first successful one.

There arrived in my mail a nice thank-you greeting card along with a $200 gift card for use in several restaurants.

The problem is that any payment — any — to a broker has to go through that person’s brokerage firm.  It is the firm that pays its sales personnel, no one else.  That means not a customer, not a client and not another broker.

When a broker provides or receives such an expression of gratitude, it is explicitly against the law.

In acknowledging the gesture when I ran into Bruce soon afterward, I gently reminded him of the law.  He, a licensed sales associate of many years, played dumb.

But I knew something he didn’t know I knew.  Another broker friend of mine had a similar experience with Bruce only a couple of weeks earlier and also had explained the law while reluctantly accepting the restaurant card.

According to “Lily,” Bruce had said he didn’t know how to share his commission legally and also, erroneously, that he didn’t want to pay income taxes on money that wasn’t his.

In the scheme of things, $200 versus commissions that range into the thousands is not so much.  Such a sum is especially trivial compared with the $5,000-7,000 he must have collected for himself, though I never talked about or really expected a referral fee and so perhaps shouldn’t look a gift-card horse in the mouth.

Still, I have to say that Bruce has managed to appear to be cheap, stupid, conniving and unworthy of the real estate license he holds.

What’s more, I am hung on the horns of a dilemma, wanting to enjoy free food and wanting to comply with the law.  That card sits and sits on my desk waiting for me to make up mind what to do with it.

Any ideas?

Tomorrow: Purchase doctor

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
Web site


3 thoughts on “Thanks for sending that gift card, but. . .

    • Thanks for your comment, Scott. One question is whether a token is sufficient when referral fees can run into a lot of money and, especially with sales, quite a lot of money. But absent an agreement beforehand, no referral fee is owed. Once a token is considered acceptable, where should the line be drawn between acceptable and not — which really is what you are asking. The answer is, at least to me, elusive. Someone could argue that it would take a lot more than a couple of hundred dollars to corrupt a broker, and that’s probably true. Yet the law is pretty clear. I suppose getting together socially for drinks or even dinner might be okay, particularly if it could be a home-made dinner. The best thank you would be a referral in reverse and I don’t see that happening in my case.


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