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.
The second column I ever wrote on Inman was titled, “Learn from those you loathe: A call for civility in real estate.” It was spawned from being mystified at “how so many dismiss ideas, data, philosophies, opinions and lessons that others can provide simply because they disagree with them, find them different or just don’t like them.”
Seven months later came, “We’re better than this: Stop trolling other Realtors.” For the first time in my real estate career, I was embarrassed to be a Realtor. This stemmed from the prolific, hateful rhetoric being spewed from across the political spectrum when it was announced that President Donald Trump would be speaking at the NAR annual conference. That column was “about our behavior, online and off. It’s about how we treat each other. It’s about professionalism. It’s about common courtesy and decency. It’s about being a good human.”
Then I wrote “Stop denying it! Discrimination is a huge problem in real estate,” in the wake of the Newsday investigative report of racial discrimination in the Long Island real estate market. To this day, some are still in denial that discrimination rears its ugly head in this business we love. Watch the videos, watch the racism unfold.
Finally, just two months ago in “Shut up! Just focus on selling houses,” I got a little ranty about the inconsiderate thoughts and actions some took when several companies announced layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How these folks treated their fellow professionals, practically cheering with glee over their job loss, literally made my stomach churn.
Clearly, I don’t have a problem expressing my opinion when I perceive a problem or issue. Heck, go back to my original blog, and you can find a rant from 14 years ago about my MLS.
When I feel passionate about something, when I have a concern that the real estate industry is headed down the wrong path, I write. Sometimes I rant, maybe drop an f-bomb or three. Please know this passion comes from the heart. I care deeply about this industry and the people in it.
This care, concern and passion brings us to the column you’re reading now. If you thought I got “a little ranty” in the pieces linked above, hold on tight. We’re about to dive into something that really needs attention; the future of this industry, and this country, demands this be addressed, right here — right now — today, not tomorrow or next week or next year.
I’m referring to the disgusting display of racism and prejudice that’s rearing its ugly head, yet again, all across this industry and country.
Unless you’ve literally been living in a cave somewhere, you are aware of all the protests that have been going on since George Floyd was murdered on May 25. These past three weeks have filled our news feeds with images and stories that are wonderful, gut-wrenching, horrible and amazing. Stories of heroes and villains. Pictures of peaceful and powerful demonstrations and pictures of destruction.
Things are all over the map. It’s hard sometimes to separate the truth from the fiction. The good from the evil. Yes, it can be quite confusing.
What isn’t confusing though is the clearly unacceptable behavior occurring in our industry and elsewhere — I’m talking crystal clear.
On what planet is it acceptable for an angry man to look at a Black policeman and say, “Fucking n***** cops, I hate you all”? Surely we can all agree that this is completely unacceptable behavior. How does it make you feel to know the man spouting the racist hate is a real estate agent in Washington, D.C.? (Here is the original, uncensored video.)
This racist was rightly let go by his brokerage. He needs to lose the ability to sell real estate, forever. But I’d lay odds that within a week his license will be hanging at some other brokerage. When is the last time a broker did a background or reference check on an agent? It’s usually more like just hire anyone with a license and a pulse.
Then there is Travis White, who was arrested by Newport Beach, California, police on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats at a Black Lives Matter demonstration. You guessed it. White is a real estate agent. Another one fired from his brokerage. Another one who will no doubt soon be selling homes under a different brokerage.
But wait, there’s more.
How about Ellicott City, Maryland, real estate agent John Smith, who is apparently also a “shirt designer” inclined to print T-shirts seen as promoting the castration of a Black county official? Keller Williams fired this moron too. No worries though, he’ll be back soon enough, selling homes and printing racist T-shirts.
In the always risky, “let’s use tragic current events as a marketing ploy” move, we have Joseph Swedroe, who Corcoran fired last week for his ill-advised email blast. Swedroe, as reported by The Real Deal, of course maintains there is “nothing offensive” in his e-blast and that “everything in the email was easily available online, or in the newspaper or on TV in the last two weeks.”
Oh, well if it’s online or in the media, by all means blast away with your racist implications.
I’m sure there are more examples of real estate practitioners displaying racist and discriminatory behavior. Not all such actions lead to getting arrested or fired. Sometimes your racist views are just posted on the internet for all to see, for the rest of time. Remember, the internet never forgets.
Think I’m just cherry-picking the newsworthy stories? Go take a look at the comment stream on Zillow’s Facebook page where it changed its logo to show support for the LGBTQ+ community. The hate being spewed in those comments is horrific.
And just to make sure all the bases are covered, there’s even more hate served up on Zillow’s post that simply said, “Racism has no home here.” Go ahead, scroll through some of the 2,000-plus comments there. Sure, a lot of that vile talk is coming from consumers. But there’s plenty of agents chiming in and liking and hearting blatantly racist comments.
These feelings and reactions make me want to vomit.
This has no place in society, real estate sales or anywhere else. Just stop. Actually, do us all a favor, and take your racist and homophobic beliefs, and get the hell out of the industry.
Those of you who insist there aren’t systemic racism issues in this industry and country are almost as bad as the blatant racists screaming racial slurs at Black cops. Your denial and burying your head in the sand simply enables this behavior.
Speak up when you see racism. Call people out. Learn about our history. Talk to a person of color, heart-to-heart, human-to-human about their experiences. I suspect you’ll be shocked, sad and angry.
Racism and prejudice are rampant in our culture, and if it doesn’t change, it will tear the fabric of our society beyond repair. We cannot just stand by, doing and saying nothing. Your silence signals your acceptance. Speak up, while you still can.
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.