Ethical decisions drive or destroy a real estate agent's business, according to a panel at HousingWire's 2011 REO Expo conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday. The housing crisis was a result of unethical behavior due to a high volume of property transactions, the panelists explained. Dealing with ethics in the REO industry isn't a new thing, they said, but the issue is undoubtedly becoming more important as the mortgage industry looks to correct itself. Stephen Benetz, president of NRT REOExperts, said ethics will be a main driver that helps change the image of the real estate-owned space. "Ethics is not something you're born with, it's something you learn," said Jim Taylor, leader of national REO sales at Wells Fargo/PAS REO. "We've been in a cycle for so long and we've gotten into this pattern of complacency," said Eric Pitt, vice president of operations at Vendor Resource Management. "I've been asked how are we as an industry going to recover, and the answer is one asset at a time." REO agents and brokers face growing scrutiny with regard to ethics, as new rules and regulations take effect in hopes of keeping the housing industry away from the problems of 2007, said Taylor. More scrutiny could lead to reduced credibility as a profession, as well as increased litigation. Still, defining ethics is not going to get any easier. The panelists named several tactics to avoid an ethical breach, such as avoid using family members for property preservation tasks and live by full disclosure. Ultimately, it comes down to personal choice. "If you have to ask yourself, 'Is this ethical?' Then it's probably not and you should probably avoid that action," concluded Kelly Oswald, senior vice president of First Preston. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.