Real (Estate) Talk -- Fair Housing Month and the Elephant in the Room: The Color of Professionalism

As featured in Inman News.  

Woo-hoo, April is here! The weather is getting warmer in many parts. Also, April is National Fair Housing Month, which is an annual time to reflect and challenge ourselves to ensure housing is fair for all -- one of my favorite times of the year. 

Quiet as it is kept, fair housing is not just what we as real estate pros do in regard to the public but fair housing entails who is even included in the various professions of the real estate industry (cue the "mmm hmms" and "wells" of the proverbial choir of agreement). 

I repeat: fair housing begins with the inclusion of under-represented real estate pros.

The real estate industry has a ways to go in being representative and unfortunately, this lack of inclusion is known to contribute to unfair housing (like this for example). Thus, as we reflect on how to ensure fair housing for all, let's be conscientious of intentionally including -- recruiting, mentoring, sponsoring, promoting, and partnering with -- those that are most under-represented

The Elephant in the Room: Unfair Housing Starts with Little Attention to the Unfair Treatment of RE Pros

Imagine finally getting to meet a client that you have built a wonderful rapport with via email.

“Wait, you’re _______ (fill in the blank with your name)?”, asks the person who has been impressed with you via email or over the phone but now that they see you in person, they are visibly confused.

“Oh, you look different than I thought,” they mutter incredulously.

Unfortunately, this is the last conversation you have with them. They had been dazzled by your business acumen before this face-to-face meetup but now they are like a ghost. What changed?

Clearly, it was something about how you looked -- they said it although not everyone will be so forthcoming. It could have been your style of dress, hairstyle, and/or some other superficially bogus determinant that did not actually diminish the savviness they had previously experienced from you. 

That hurts and may even crush your spirit despite being good at what you do. You may decide to change things about yourself to ward off similar rejection (although I do not recommend it). 

Let's take this further. Now imagine you are dismissed due to a trait you cannot so easily change like height. That should seem preposterous because it is.

Yet, that is the lived experience of some real estate pros. Remember when this agent faced the barrel of a gun simply because he did not match what the neighbors thought of a real estate agent. Or, even these stories of REALTORS® still thriving despite being discredited for how they looked. 

I've shared at various conferences and in my books, what it was like getting started as a real estate agent almost twenty years ago for me. Like anyone, I wanted to drum up business. I was told by my managing brokers at the time that door-knocking was a good start. (Sidebar: social media was brand new at that time and not yet seen as a viable way to find legit clients although I would eventually find the most success using my blog and Facebook.) 

I tried it but the first person to answer in the suburban neighborhood 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘐 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘰𝘸𝘯𝘦𝘳 told me that although I seemed nice enough, I could be mistaken for a 𝐁𝐔𝐑𝐆𝐋𝐀𝐑. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ My mouth dropped.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ What about me made him say that?⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ I was wearing a nice dress (like always when working and even not working as a girly girl; my logo is even my avatar in a dress!). I even had a briefcase so that I could on-the-spot run home comparables (this was before today's smartphones when laptops were big boxes lol). ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ 

I cringed but I was grateful that my white neighbor cautioned me about the reality of how I would be seen in my community.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ My white managing brokers at that time that had suggested door-knocking to me, didn't understand the danger of going uninvited to someone's home presented for me even in the middle of a sunny day. ⁣⁣⁣They had success with doorknocking (again, pre-social media) and could not imagine why I -- living in a similar neighborhood with a similar socioeconomic status -- would be seen as a threat to anyone. ⁣⁣⁣ I was around their age when they started.  I was an outgoing and educated (Go Blue!) woman like them. The only glaring difference was our skin colors.

When I think back on that, I become even more committed to championing and teaching fair housing, not just for our clients but for the real estate pros that face the same realities.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣

As unfortunate reminders:
  • Black pros are underrepresented: Less than 6% of real estate pros are Black, making a whopping $32,700 less in median real estate sales income 
  • Most historically Black colleges and universities have not had the support of the real estate industry to offer competitive real estate majors unlike neighboring predominantly white colleges and universities
  • Women (who make up 65% of the REALTOR® industry) are woefully underrepresented in firm leadership (sidebar: the NAR 2021 Profile of Firms had an opportunity to track and update this needed information along with People of Color representation but did not; hopefully it will include such demographics going forward because what gets measured, gets awareness, and gets changed)
  • The Law of Supply and Demand dictates that if demand remains unchanged for Black and/or women (and other underrepresented) real estate pros and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price. In other words, we cannot simply add more underrepresented real estate pros without improving demand, or earning gaps will only increase!

Demand for inclusion, despite a clear need, is foremost to diverse representation

Getting the Elephant Out of the Room: More Attention to Underrepresented RE Pros

How can we improve inclusion as an industry? Some businesses like Amazon have committed to giving money, which is needed and a good start. But, rarely does solely throwing money at an issue end that issue. 

The Mott & Chace Sotheby's International's Blackstone Team recently announced The Black Real Estate Agent Scholarship & Mentoring Program that will begin accepting applications at the end of 2022. And, remember last year, when I shared DreamTown Realty's InspiRE Mentorship Program? These are outstanding sleeves rolled up, hands-on initiatives yet we need "all hands on deck" throughout the real estate industry.

In this video, hear from dynamic real estate pros (Kim Scott and Christian Ross) that share their experiences along with their recommendations. I hope their stories spark ideas that help you too.

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