“It’s been 50 years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act and still we have American cities that are deeply segregated by race and class,” said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. “And sometimes that’s because people don’t have enough money to buy houses, but too often it’s because the folks who have money to buy a house still can’t get great service from a real estate agent.”
We heard from University of New Mexico Professor Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, who spent a year following ten real estate agents in Houston. Korver-Glenn attended open houses and home showings, observing interactions between real estate agents and customers of different races and backgrounds. She conducted in-depth interviews with agents, lenders, others service providers and customers, and published her findings in the study: Brokering Ties and Inequality: How White Real Estate Agents Recreate Advantage and Exclusion in Urban Housing Markets.
In a discussion with Kelman, Korver-Glenn discussed her observation that people of color weren’t provided the same level of service from real estate agents as white people.
“Regardless of actual income or finances, white people got better treatment because they were assumed to be wealthier. Studies show people of color are systematically shown fewer homes than white individuals even when they are equally qualified,” said Korver-Glenn.
In addition to racial biases, Korver-Glenn explained how agent networks play a role. “Agents meet clients and conduct business through their networks, however, networks are not race neutral. Agents of color had a more diverse set of contacts while white agents were more likely to work with white people.”
Korver-Glenn stressed that these individual customer experiences shape entire neighborhoods and communities. What can real estate agents and brokerages do to root out discrimination and ensure fair treatment? Korver-Glenn suggested several strategies:
- Recruit and train a racially diverse cohort of agents and work in mixed race pairs to break down the segregated network.
- Train agents with concrete examples of what may happen and how to handle those situations.
- Train on racial coding. For example, in Houston an agent saying a neighborhood was “unsafe” really meant it was black or latino, while a “good” neighborhood meant white.
- Train and equip agents with facts about homes and neighborhoods to reduce stereotypes. For example, demand is higher in black/latino neighborhoods even if it’s perceived that it’s higher in white neighborhoods.
- Do not allow pocket listings, which can limit competition, limit profit for homeowners and disproportionality exclude people that aren’t included in agents’ networks, which tends to be homebuyers of color.
- Pay brokers on a flat fee basis to eliminate the incentives in a commision-based structure that assign “customer value.”
The symposium also featured panel discussions with Redfin agents Daneisha Brazzle, Lori Bakken, James Li and Roderick Story who shared their personal experiences working in real estate as people of color and how they approach working with customers of different races, cultures and backgrounds. Redfin agent Ellen Campion and her client Carlos Mojica, also took the stage.
Mojica, a retired FBI official, has faced discrimination both as a veteran and as a Puerto Rican. He shared an experience of submitting an offer on a home with a Veteran Affairs loan that was rejected by the seller. He recalled questioning at the time whether the seller was opposed to his loan type or whether his race may have been a factor.
The conversation returned to common themes of empathy and awareness. “Love people and have empathy,” said Li. “When you go out, be caring. Ask yourself, why the customer is feeling a certain way and keep an open mind.”
The agents agreed that better training and education would be helpful across the industry. “Providing some background and upfront education would be beneficial, as well as making people aware of our unconscious biases, as well as the other cultures we’ll be dealing with as agents to create more understanding,” Story suggested.
Lori Bakken found unconscious bias training at Redfin “eye-opening” and recommended that similar training be incorporated into mandated continuing education for real estate agents. “It helped me look deep inside and ask, ‘what do I think?’ and how I can do better.”
Following the symposium, Redfin will host town hall discussions in our local markets to continue the conversation and share ideas about how we can foster diversity and better serve people of color in our local communities. We encourage other brokerages and real estate teams to use our our discussion materials as a template for hosting your own dialogues about housing equality. (Google slides, PDF)
This symposium is part of an ongoing dialogue and effort at Redfin to break down racial barriers, eliminate discrimination in real estate, encourage diversity and help our agents and customers of all races to succeed.
A large part of Redfin’s efforts will be continuing to increase diversity among all Redfin employees, including real estate agents, support staff and software engineers. The race and ethnicity of Redfin real estate agents does not yet reflect that of the communities the company serves. However, the Redfin field organization is more diverse than the industry. Learn more about Redfin’s commitment to diversity.