Real (Estate) Talk: Why 'I Didn't Know' Can't Be an Excuse

As featured in Inman News.  


'Jacobi [Windermere President] said he wasn’t aware of the existence of racist covenants until several weeks ago, despite the fact that his brokerage was founded in a formerly whites-only neighborhood.

“I’m learning every single day about things I probably should have known long ago,” he said. He’d like his company to be able to work with home buyers to get rid of that racist language, he said.' Seattle Times

The above quote made my jaw drop. And, that is no slight to or shame on Mr. Jacobi since, if we are honest, many of us can say the same about the neighborhoods in which we work and live. Real talk -- I have had to do extensive digging to uncover parts of our less than welcoming real estate history. It is like it has been buried or something, perhaps not intentionally but the atrocities of our past do not need to be 'sweep under the rug' any longer.

'I didn't know' 

Along these lines, 'I didn't know' may be said so much by real estate professionals surrounding the history of our very own industry that it almost sounds like a chorus to your favorite singer's latest single.

[As a sidebar, this Seattle Times article was sent by Michael Orbino to our DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) thinktank group founded by the enterprising Howard Chung. Our group also includes notable leaders: Helen Chung, Myra Jolivet, Katie Mooney, and Jules Penham. I mention them because I, like most of us, do not work on an island, entire to ourselves (c.f. John Donne) even with social distancing. Thank you thinktank for furthering this conversation during this pivotal moment!]

I know history can, at times, bore to sleep even the most astute lifelong learner. Yet, reading this recent Seattle Times article made me double-down on the need for our American real estate history (the good, bad, indifferent, and ugly) being pushed to the forefront, uncovered, told, and dissected to us as industry representatives even more than to the general public. 

Why? Don't we already have enough continuing education requirements?

Well, is anyone else embarrassed when those outside of our industry (have the audacity) to know more about our day-to-day operations, historical settings, implications, challenges, threats, opportunities, and future projections than us? 

I am convinced that not only do we repeat history when we do not know our full, sordid history but we cement and embed it's noxious elements unknowingly into our future. Moreover, as representatives of this industry, we simply give consumers another qualification (our historical ignorance) for why misguided thoughts of disrupting and erupting agents are legitimate (case-in-point: see the article referenced above). The public may all too well understand the historical underpinnings that we, the professionals, may have glossed past.

Our pensive DEI thinktank tossed around a diversity, equity, and inclusion certification course for Green Ocean TV being created (idea spearheaded by Howard and Katie). Brilliant!

To piggy-back off their brainchild, I think we have to do more as an industry. To their point, I would love for us to go further than just offering another one-and-done, trite elective class that allows us to expand our 'alphabet-esque' soup credentials. 

How can we make a lasting, educational impact?

Last week I just took my required ethics and license law classes for this four-year cycle. Honestly, making them mandatory was one of the best ways to force us to sit and pay attention to topics that we should (and likely do) care about but perhaps these topics get lost among everyday transactions, operations, and let's be real -- life. 

For instance, I virtually participated in Leigh Brown's annual NAR course where it feels like tea with a good friend giving updates on industry ethical drama instead of a dull CE requirement. Leigh Brown can easily be the dictionary photo for an engaging speaker. Despite all her true fabulosity, as she referenced points from last year, it seemed I could hear crickets and other sounds of nature as the group I watched with silently could not remember her references from even a year ago.

Sadly, even the content of a more in-depth certification course gets forgotten as time passes. (Where are my fellow SFR (Short sale and Foreclosure Resource) certificate holders? How much do you remember honestly?) Yes, no matter how engaging the instructor or well presented the material, we all tend to forget.

But what if we layer these educational tools?

At the very least, we can and should have a diversity, equity, and inclusion sit-down every four-year cycle that tracks alongside our National Association of REALTORS® ethics training requirement as a separate 3-hour continuing education requirement. Maybe... just maybe the 'grandfather clause' can also be removed for this particular course. Every four years is not super-aggressive but palatable for most. Then the 'icing on the cake' becomes having a DEI certification program that takes a more detailed look. In-depth certificate training plus opportunities to stay current at least every four-year cycle (and like Leigh Brown's ethics class, you can take it yearly and rewatch it more often than that). Score!

Don't miss this

This moment of heightened equality awareness is an opportunity for us to etch a more complete story of real estate that is fair for all going forward. The momentum that started this summer may fizzle out but hopefully not before some long-lasting stakes have been planted in the ground of American real estate.

Sound off - I would love to hear from you!  Give me a shout on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, or by visiting  

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