A recent Seattle Times article reported that Windermere President OB Jacobi said “he wasn’t aware of the existence of racist covenants until several weeks ago, despite the fact that his brokerage was founded in a formerly whites-only neighborhood.”
“I’m learning every single day about things I probably should have known long ago,” he said, according to the article, adding that he would like Windermere to work with homebuyers in getting rid of racist language.
The above quote made my jaw drop. And that’s no slight to or shame on Mr. Jacobi because, if we’re being honest, many of us can say the same about the neighborhoods in which we work and live.
Real talk: I’ve had to do extensive digging to uncover parts of our less-than-welcoming real estate history. It’s like it has been buried or something, perhaps not intentionally, but the atrocities of our past can’t be “swept under the rug” any longer.
‘I didn’t know’
Throughout the history of our very own industry, “I didn’t know” is said so often by real estate professionals that it almost sounds like a chorus to your favorite singer’s latest single.
As a sidebar, the aforementioned Seattle Times article was sent by Michael Orbino, managing broker with Compass in Bellevue, to our DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) think tank group founded by the enterprising Howard Chung.
Our group also includes notable leaders such as Helen Chung, Myra Jolivet, Katie Mooney and Jules Penham. I mention them because I, like most of us, don’t work on an island entirely to ourselves — even with today’s social distancing rules. (Thank you to the think tank for furthering this conversation during this pivotal moment!)
I know history can, at times, bore even the most astute lifelong learners to sleep. Yet, reading this recent article made me double-down on the need for our American real estate history (the good, bad, indifferent and ugly) to be pushed to the forefront — uncovered, told and dissected to us as industry representatives even more than to the general public.
Why? Don’t we already have enough continuing education requirements?
Well, does anyone else get embarrassed when those outside of our industry (have the audacity to) know more about our day-to-day operations, historical settings, implications, challenges, threats, opportunities and future projections than we do?
I’m convinced that not only do we repeat history when we don’t know the full, sordid version of it, but we also unknowingly cement and embed its harmful elements into our future.
Moreover, as representatives of this industry, we simply give consumers another qualification (our historical ignorance) for why misguided thoughts of disrupting and erupting agents are legitimate. (Case in point: the article referenced above.) The public may all too well understand the historical underpinnings that we — the professionals — may have glossed over.
Our DEI think tank tossed around the idea of creating a diversity, equity and inclusion certification course for Green Ocean TV. The idea was spearheaded by Chung and Mooney, and I think it’s brilliant.
To piggyback off their brainchild, I think we have to do more as an industry. To their point, I would love for us to go further than just offering another one-and-done, trite elective class that allows us to expand our “alphabet-esque” soup credentials.
So, how can we make a lasting, educational impact?
Last week, I just took my required ethics and license law classes for this four-year cycle. Honestly, making them mandatory was one of the best ways to force us to sit down and pay attention to the topics that we should, and likely do, care about — ones that often get lost among everyday transactions, operations and life in general.
For instance, I virtually participated in Leigh Brown’s annual NAR course, which felt like having tea with a good friend who gave updates on industry ethical dramas instead of a dull CE requirement. Brown can easily be the dictionary definition of an engaging speaker.
Despite all her true fabulousness, when she referenced points from last year to the group, all I heard was crickets. The group couldn’t remember what she said.
Sadly, even the content of a more in-depth certification course gets forgotten as time passes. (Where are my fellow Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource certification holders? How much do you remember, honestly?) No matter how engaging the instructors are or how well they present the material, we all tend to forget what we’re taught over time.
But what if we layer these educational tools?
At the very least, we can and should have a diversity, equity and inclusion sit-down every four-year cycle that tracks alongside our NAR ethics training as a separate three-hour continuing education requirement.
Maybe — just maybe — the “grandfather clause” can also be removed for this particular course. Doing this every four years is not super aggressive. It’s actually palatable for most. Then, adding a DEI certification program that takes a more detailed look, would be the icing on the cake.
Pair in-depth training with other opportunities to stay current at least once every four-year cycle — and score! And like Leigh Brown’s ethics class, you can take it yearly and rewatch it more often than that.
This moment of heightened awareness about equality is an opportunity for us to etch a more complete story of real estate that’s fair for all going forward. The momentum that started this summer may fizzle out but hopefully not before some long-lasting stakes have been planted in the ground of American real estate.