There’s a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but also a long way to go to make sure that everyone has access to fair housing.

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.

I love Thanksgiving, especially when both my kids and their partners are all with us. Thinking about this column, about the Thanksgiving season, gets me leaning toward writing a “What I’m thankful tor” piece.

Or, because it’s not about me but about you, the avid reader, maybe, “Five things you should give thanks for.” Or wait! How about, “Five great holiday ads to make people give up their email address!”

Barf. To all of that.

Don’t let apathy take over

Oh sure, I have tons to be thankful for. We all do, though I know some of us have to dig a little deeper than others. If nothing else, we can be thankful we’re alive and loved by someone. 

And that gets me to thinking about something that’s weighed on my mind a lot this past week. 

Yes, the three-year investigation by Newsday that revealed steering and discrimination in some Long Island real estate transactions. 

As I wrote in last week’s column, almost immediately after publication, some in the real estate industry were denying, dismissing or minimizing the report. A week later, that continues.

It infuriates me that Douglas Elliman, a leading New York brokerage, reportedly told The Real Deal, Newsday’s report is an unreliable, unethical, and unscientific attempt to create a news story where there is none.” Others across the social space have been equally dismissive. 

There has been an almost eerie silence from leaders in the real estate space. A few have come out condemning discrimination. Most of those condemnations have no suggested action to take.

A couple of notable exceptions to the silence of the leaders would be Glenn Kelman of Redfin and Pam Liebman of Corcoran

A week ago, the Newsday report was hot off the press. Reading it, I remember thinking, “This is brutal. It’s well-researched, credible, and there’s compelling evidence. There are videos.” I was sure it was going to blow up and be the dominant topic of discussion for quite some time. 

Yeah, not so much. 

There’s a remarkable level of apathy out there, which is quite sad. The Long Island Board of Realtors (LIBOR) was relatively quick to come out and say it would be looking into whether the members named in the Newsday report had violated the Realtor Code of Ethics or fair housing regulations. LIBOR also said it would be auditing its fair housing training program. 

Good! Look, we all know there is some great training out there. We are also well aware that some of it is marginal, at best. What about all the other associations? I have yet to hear any other association — local, state, or national say they were going to look into their fair housing courses. 

Today, two New York state legislators proposed a bill that would expand the state’s ability to suspend or revoke a real estate license for violations of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. 

Good! Of course this begs the question why wasn’t this already a law and are the other 49 states following suit? States can revokes licenses for things like fraud and false advertising, they certainly should be able to yank a license if an agent or broker discriminates. What’s the point of having rules and regulations if they aren’t enforced and if the penalty doesn’t fit the crime?

How about all those brokers who said they were going to send the Newsday report out to all their agents. How did that go?

It’s been over a week, heard any feedback from your agents? What kind of questions are they asking? What is the open rate of the emails you’ve sent, and what is the plan to make sure all your agents have actually seen the report? 

You have sent the email, right?

You are monitoring open rates, right? 

You will be following up, right?

Otherwise, what was the point? Just to check off a box and say, “Hey, I tried?”

If before last week you didn’t have anything in your policy and procedure manual, if there wasn’t a mention of discrimination in your independent contractor agreements, how is it going getting language added to those documents?

You will be adding anti-discrimination and zero-tolerence language to those documents, right? 

We have to fix this

There is no option here folks. Discrimination, in all its hideous forms, has to cease. Sadly, that’s a far larger task than it should be. I wish we could just say, “No. Stop. This isn’t acceptable behavior.”

Treating people differently because of the way they look, act, feel and relate is patently absurd, yet it’s steeped deeply into our way of life. Things are not going to change overnight. 

But change they must. 

It can start right here and now. Share the Newsday report. If you think it’s bogus, I invite you to think again. And read it. And watch the videos. And get over any little nit-picky thing you think Newsday did wrong. Get over protecting the “agent image” — that’s already got a revolting gash slashed across it.

Have open dialog with your agents and staff. Encourage people to speak freely. Help others understand what needs to be done to report discrimination issues. Real estate is in a large part a self-policing organization. So report. Yes, it’s a giant hassle (associations, make this process easier) suck it up, and do your job — report.

Happy Thanksgiving week. You have the pleasure of being able to work in one of the greatest and most rewarding businesses ever created. Your potential in real estate is limited only by what you put in and take out of it.

You can help make this industry better, you can do the right things and make sure others do so as well.

Yes, there is work to be done, but there is much to be thankful for. If we continue together to purge the undesired and the unfathomable, then we’ll be grateful and thankful for a long time to come.

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, Instagram and Twitter. 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.

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