In a major new effort to increase diversity among its ranks, Coldwell Banker announced Tuesday that it will waive franchise fees and give other financial support to would-be franchise owners who self-identify as minorities.
The new offering — dubbed the Coldwell Banker Diversity in Ownership Program — is available now to any real estate professionals who identify as racial or ethnic minorities, as well as women, military veterans and agents who identify as LGBT. Members of those groups can apply for the program and, once accepted, will be able to start a Coldwell Banker franchise without paying the normal $25,000 franchise fee.
Additionally, program participants will get up to $100,000 in funding support from Coldwell Banker, receive mentoring opportunities, two years of royalty fee rebates, and complimentary membership in various industry organizations such as the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP).
In a conversation with Inman, Coldwell Banker president and CEO Ryan Gorman said that the goal of the program is to boost the number of franchise owners who come from traditionally underrepresented groups. “We need to clear financial road blocks,” he explained.
In a blog post published Tuesday, Gorman said, “I strongly believe that one of the best things we can do to increase homeownership in underrepresented communities is to increase access to and understanding of programs and information related to buying and owning a home.”
He added, “As an industry, that means increasing diversity and representation among brokerage owners.”
Gorman further explained to Inman the idea for the program came late last summer when he attended an annual conference for NAREB, which advocates on behalf black real estate professionals.
“People were surprised Coldwell Banker had a booth there,” Gorman said, explaining that the response highlighted the need to improve diversity at his company. “I vowed to take action.”
The program was developed over the ensuing months, a period that also ended up coinciding with a bombshell report from Newsday alleging widespread housing discrimination on New York’s Long Island. The report ignited a widespread debate about diversity in real estate, and Gorman himself even eventually ended up testifying on the topic while New York lawmakers looked into the issue.
“I vowed to take very serious action, and this was one of the things that I had in mind,” he said, referring to both his testimony and the program he was preparing to launch.
While Coldwell Banker’s new diversity program isn’t specifically a response to the Newsday report or its fallout, Gorman did say that the “investigation really put a point on the need for timely and serious action.”
Gorman told Inman that it’s unclear how many people might take advantage of the program, though so far the response to its development internally at Coldwell Banker has been overwhelmingly positive. He also said that there is no predetermined number of people who can use the program.
“There are no limits to it,” Gorman explained. “There is no fund that would run out or be exhausted. We have the funds to invest in what matters.”
Participants can use the program to either rebrand existing brokerages as Coldwell Banker franchises, or branch out on their own and start a franchise from scratch. Gorman said that real estate professionals in both categories are welcome to apply, though the program may prove to be especially useful for people who want to run a franchise but never thought that was possible.
“That second group is a relatively large population today of practicing agents who haven’t felt they have the opportunity or confidence or wherewithal to be able to open their own brokerage,” Gorman said. “It makes the dream of being a broker owner real.”
He added that the real estate business is also one of the few U.S. industries in which a majority of practitioners are women, even as a majority of leadership positions are held by men. The program, Gorman hopes, may help address that imbalance.
Would-be participants will go through Coldwell Banker’s normal franchise vetting process, but can begin by emailing the program administrators.
Whatever the final outcome of the program ends up being, though, Gorman said he hopes that it lowers the hurdles talented real estate agents might face as they worked to build companies.
“We’re the biggest, we think we’re the best,” Gorman added. “We should have the most impactful programs to increase diversity in the industry.”