Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Insomnia is an ugly thing. Plagued with it for years, it was — sadly — not unusual to be up and scrolling through the news around 3 a.m. this past Sunday morning.
Scrolling and flipping and swiping along, story after story passed by. Politics, crime, celebrities frolicking about. Resigned to get out of bed, if for no other reason than to quiet the demented cat that was crying like she hadn’t seen food for a week, this headline from Newsday forced a pause: “Long Island Divided.”
It was the map that first caught my eye. Maps have been a thing for me since I was a kid. An outline filled with multicolored dots, as is often used to represent home sales, was placed over a subhead reading: “Undercover investigation reveals evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents.”
Read that again: “Undercover investigation reveals evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents.”
So much for the whiny cat. This demanded attention.
As with anything I see on the internet, the bull shit detector immediately immediately alerted.
- What is Newsday?
- How credible are its sources?
- How biased are they?
- How legitimate is this story?
In this day of “fake news,” unchecked sources, alternative facts, politically biased sources and questionable journalism practices, one can’t be too careful with attaching belief and trust to anything posted to the internet.
Here we have Newsday undertaking a three-year investigation of real estate practices in Long Island. Using “paired-testing,” where two people of different races but identical needs and backgrounds work with a real estate agent; they record video conversations that are later analyzed by fair housing and ethics professionals.
The results are disturbing and expose a frightening level of discrimination and fair housing violations.
There is data, videos and fair housing expert opinions. The report is well laid out, replete with compelling graphics. It is lengthy, and it certainly looks legit.
Fancy web pages however, don’t equal legitimacy. Remember the Russian proverb, Doveryai, no proverai — Trust, but verify.
A quick search gives us this:
“Newsday is an American daily newspaper that primarily serves Nassau and Suffolk counties and the New York City borough of Queens on Long Island, although it is also sold throughout the New York metropolitan area.”
Okay. So it has a left-right bias. It’s a newspaper, of course it does. Should it be way off on the end of the bell curve in either direction, it’s to be avoided. If it’s moderately left or right of center, that’s to be expected. It’s a newspaper.
The left-right bias doesn’t concern me (unless it’s extreme). What concerns me is the paper’s ability to report factually — sometimes that often feels like a dying skill.
Stopping by the Media Bias/Fact Check site tells me this about Newsday:
“These media sources have a slight to moderate liberal bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes.
Newsday has a left-wing editorial bias, but reports with credible sourcing.
That is what I want to see. I, me, not you. You might have different criteria, and that’s okay. Personally and sincerely, I hope everyone avoids sites that say, “Extreme Bias,” “Propaganda,” “Conspiracy,” “Failed Fact Checks,” of which there are many. One can only hope.
“Hope. You hope. Good luck with that,” someone is thinking.
I get that. But I’m sticking with what the great Andy Dufresne said — ”Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
Dufresne gets it. Be like him.
With a seemingly legitimate investigative report on the screen, I cracked my knuckles and a nice merlot, settling back to read and absorb this report with the disturbing subheading.
The data and results of the investigation are disturbing. Sadly it isn’t all that surprising, but deeply disturbing none the less. There won’t be a regurgitation of the results in this piece, because what you really need to do is read the report.
Please, read it. Watch the videos. Read the sidebar topics. Understand the methodology. It’s so important to read — and understand — this information.
The lede sets the tone:
“In one of the most concentrated investigations of discrimination by real estate agents in the half century since enactment of America’s landmark fair housing law, Newsday found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential homebuyers and minority communities.”
The results are not good, and this is not easy to take. But take it we must. For if there’s ever to be hope of fixing this problem, really fixing it, we’re going to have to first admit there is a problem, we’re going to have to train agents to identify and correct these behaviors. And collectively, we need to report offenses and work hard to cut this cancer out of our industry.
The educational value of this study is immense. What we need to be aware of is the potential for dismissing this as “fake news” or “biased” or “bullshit.” Discrimination in real estate (and elsewhere) is happening folks, denying won’t make it go away.
Literally within minutes of this investigation being published, there was an outcry on social media.
- “Fake news!”
- “This is bullshit.”
- “I don’t believe it.”
- “Doesn’t happen where I live!”
Okay, here’s the undeniable truth. This article is thousands of words long. The section on methodology alone is almost 4,000 words (almost three times the length of this column.) This is a lengthy read, basically a novella.
Point being: If you’re denouncing the study without reading it, if you can’t get past the headline, then let’s be real — you need to step away from the keyboard, get off Facebook and go read.
Try thinking while you’re at it.
Denial is a powerful thing. There is no doubt that some started reading this very column, and clicked away as soon as they realized I’m in agreement with the study’s findings. I do not doubt for a second that racism and discrimination are alive and well in our industry.
Racism and discrimination that is certainly not limited to Long Island.
If you don’t believe this investigation, if you don’t believe discrimination happens daily in your backyard, then you need to wake up and secure yourself a seat on the next train headed out of Fantasyland.
Watch the videos. No, you don’t need to watch all 240 hours of them. The highlights will do.
“You don’t want to go there. It’s a mixed neighborhood … it’s a mini United Nations.” When you say that to a white person, but not an Asian person, that’s discrimination.
When you require black people to be prequalified before you can show them a home, but the white people get a free pass, that’s discrimination.
When you refer to the brown people as “taking over” a neighborhood, that’s racism.
Alerting the white guy to local gang activity sounds fairly innocuous until you see it’s not even mentioned to the black guy.
When you are teaching a fair housing class and you liken fair housing laws to speed limits telling students, “you get to choose whether you break the law,” you’re enabling racism and discrimination.
There are more, many more examples in the report.
Try actually reading and engaging your brain before you proudly proclaim it “a steaming pile of bullshit.”
If you’re in the camp that feels this investigation is meaningless, if you don’t believe the very words coming out of agents’ mouths along with fair housing instructors, guess what? You are a significant part of the problem. You are enabling the racism and discrimination. Shake your head and roll your eyes all you like, but it’s true.
Want to know what a broker should do if an agent dismisses this report and enables racism and discrimination? Do the same thing J. Philip Faranda said in this video — fire them.
If you’re a broker, you should fire agents with this mindset. For the sake of the industry and society, you are obligated to do something. Same for agents that witness this sort of behavior.
Yes, reporting is a giant pain in the ass. But it’s nowhere near the pain inflicted by discrimination. If you fail to report it, you are sending the message that this is acceptable behavior.
We have got to put an end to this, but we can’t even admit we have a problem. This despite the words coming straight out of the mouths of agents and instructors.
Read this damning investigative report that demonstrates reprehensible behavior among many of your peers. Listen to what they say!
Don’t you dare deny or dismiss this. You just can’t.
White male privilege
I am a privileged white male. This cannot be disputed. Clearly I’m caucasian, and it’s equally obvious that I am male.
The word “privileged” will probably be debated by some and make a few angry. Some will scratch their heads. But as a white man, I’m privileged, doubly so being a male. Clearly, no one chooses the race or gender they are born with, but that doesn’t make it any less true that in today’s society, whites and males have privileges that others do not.
As a privileged white male, I can’t possibly understand how those with different color skin or those with different body parts feel. There is no way for me to know what it’s like to be treated differently just because my skin is a different color.
What I can do is recognize there is an issue. I can keep an open mind. I can read with a critical eye. I can follow and confirm sources.
I can not simply dismiss something that I don’t agree with as “fake news.”
Labeling a legitimate investigation as fake is the easy way out.
Stop taking the easy way out. Stop denying the ugly truth.
Step up, and get a grip on reality. There’s discrimination happening in this industry, it’s happening all over the country, and it has to stop.
I don’t know how to end it, but a good start is acknowledging and accepting the truth, helping others understand and keeping an open mind. The more open we are about this, the more we can have rational dialog about how to address it.
Share this article, think about it, talk about it. We can grow and learn from this rather than dismissing it. We don’t want it to be true, so dismissing it is easy. It’s well past time to face the ugly truth — racial discrimination is still happening in real estate, and there needs to be an all-out push to eliminate this sordid practice, forever.
And for additional reading, add The Color of Law to your reading list. It’s a fascinating look at what basically amounts to governmental and institutionalized segregation. Understanding history is important. The whole idea of, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” thing is quite true.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.