Driskell misrepresents herself as a real estate broker

Full MIRS News article - June 17, 2016 - Driskell Mistakenly Advertised Herself As Broker Multiple Times

Rep. Gretchen DRISKELL (D-Saline), the Democrats' candidate in the 7th Congressional District, has presented herself for years as a real estate broker when state records show she does not have the license to match. 

Driskell is an independent commercial real estate agent for Swisher Commercial in Ann Arbor and has had a state license since 2003 to sell real estate as a salesperson. 

But a broker license is a separate designation, one that comes with a combined 90 hours of additional training and at least $500 in additional costs and fees, said Ron ZUPKO, an associate broker in Brighton and a member of the Board of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons. 

A broker is the equivalent of a manager in the real estate business. In Michigan, any real estate agent must operate under someone with a broker's license. To operate professionally as a broker without the appropriate license is punishable by state fines up to $10,000 and the possible revocation of one's membership with National Association of Realtors, of which Driskell is a member. 

Zupko noted he had to "jump through a lot of hoops" to get his brokerage license in the early 2000s, but saw it as a valuable enough commodity to go through the training. 

"This can be kind of a big deal," Zupko said. "Anybody in the profession should know the difference." 

However, there's no evidence Driskell tried to operate as a broker, but based on information obtained by MIRS, she represented herself publicly as a broker on at least four occasions. 

Her personal profile for Swisher Commercial, which management there says the agents write themselves, Driskell is listed as an "Agent/Broker." Her LinkedIn Profile has her listed as a "Commercial Real Estate Broker" with Swisher Commercial from Jan. 2006 to the present. 

In testimony to the House Transportation Committee in 2010, Driskell told the panel, "I work as a commercial real estate broker recruiting national and international business to the region." 

An MLive article from 2012 also lists Driskell as a commercial real estate broker with Swisher Commercial. 

Driskell's campaign manager, Keenan PONTONI, confirmed Driskell does not have a broker's license and that any public listing as a broker online "was a mistake and nothing more." Asked if Driskell may have confused the two designations, Pontoni said the campaign didn't have anything more to say on the matter. 

He did say the information has been fixed on LinkedIn. Dave HAMILTON, the president of Swisher Commercial, said the staff makes changes to their own bio page and that any inaccurate biographical information will be fixed. 

However, Driskell isn't currently doing much real estate work for the firm given the time she's dedicated to her job as a state representative and a congressional candidate, Hamilton noted. 

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) oversees the practice of 42,419 real estate salespersons, which Driskell is, 9,942 associate brokers and 11,348 real estate brokers. 

A licensed salesperson who represents him or herself as a broker could be subject to penalties under the state's Occupational Code, which puts the maximum fine at $10,000, but there is no specific penalty for that specific violation, according to LARA spokesperson Michael LOEPP. 

"The penalty for an individual circumstance would be determined as a result of the disciplinary process," he said. 

Likewise, misrepresenting oneself as a broker could be a violation of the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) code of ethics, said Sara WISKERCHEN. She noted that in some states the terms do get intermingled, but Michigan licenses brokers and salespersons separately. 

If the NAR were to receive a complaint that a realtor was misrepresenting him or herself as a broker, it would go before an arbitration panel. The penalties -- if any are deemed appropriate -- can range from additional training to a revocation of a realtor license, she said. 

"It's not a black and white issue," Wiskerchen said. "It's very gray. They would have to look at the facts and circumstances." 

Matthew DAVIS of Marshall, another member of the Michigan Board of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons, said rumors of Driskell misrepresenting herself as a broker have been in circulation for a couple weeks now. 

"To me, it's a big deal being in the industry . . . It's a misrepresentation of what your license is," Davis said. "A broker is someone who is leading an organization or a group of salespersons. It requires much more education and experience.” 

Davis said the misrepresentation may just be part of a strategy to "puff up her qualification" or it could be an honest mistake. Either way, he called it a "lack of understanding in the different levels of licenses. 

"It's lax. It's sloppy. She should certainly know better," he said. "Maybe it's an oversight on her part and we can chalk it up to that. We've all made mistakes." 

Driskell is running in the competitive 7th Congressional District seat against U.S. Rep. Tim WALBERG (R-Tipton) in what could be the state's most competitive congressional election this November. She is a two-term member of the state House, representing the Washtenaw County-based 52nd District. 

Read the MIRS News follow-up story here. Listen to Driskell continue to misrepresent the facts in this WILS interview.