In addition to surviving a global pandemic, the real estate industry navigated raw conversations about racism and discrimination last year after a summer filled with protests. Well-known companies such as Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, Compass and Redfin launched diversity initiatives and pledges, and the National Association of Realtors issued an apology for their role in upholding discriminatory policies, such as redlining.

Now HomeLight is jumping into the fray with The Black Real Estate Agent Program, a new initiative created in conjunction with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the nation’s largest and oldest multicultural agent association.

The program, which began accepting applications on Tuesday, is aimed at increasing the number of Black real estate agents and increasing the Black homeownership rate, which still remains below 50 percent despite recent gains.

Sumant Sridharan

“Our goal is to drive sustainable, structural change by increasing access to job opportunities as well as education around how systematic racism has impacted the real estate industry,” HomeLight COO Sumant Sridharan said in a press release. “We’re excited to partner with NAREB to offer this program to aspiring Black real estate professionals.”

“Together, we believe we can fundamentally shift diversity and equality in our industry by increasing access to training, education, and support for Black real estate agents,” Sridharan added.

To be considered for the program, applicants must be between 18 and 35-years-old, have no prior real estate experience, be willing to work with a NAREB mentor for at least one year and commit to at least five hours of training per week.

To begin the process, applicants must go to HomeLight and fill out a questionnaire about their personal work experience, why they want to start a real estate career, and their ability to meet the program’s mentorship and training criteria. From there, NAREB will screen the applications and choose a select number of applicants to complete virtual interviews.

Lastly, NAREB will select the final cohort of aspiring agents, who will have their pre-licensing classes, agent exams and select marketing and technology needs covered, up to $5,000. They’ll also receive complimentary NAREB memberships and access to NAREB’s biannual conferences, where they’ll have specialized training sessions.

The application process will open each February, with a new cohort entering the program by March, NAREB explained.

Lydia Pope

“Our association’s goal to achieve Democracy in Housing cannot be reached without the increase in the ranks of Black real estate professionals,” said NAREB President-Elect and Speaker Pro Tem Lydia Pope, who took over leadership from former president Donnell Williams this month. “Agents are the frontline and introduce homeownership to prospective clients.”

“We are confident that this new program will not only equip Black American program participants with the knowledge and practical experience to become top producers in their communities but also significantly expand Black homeownership in their communities,” Pope added.

In a phone call with Inman, HomeLight COO Sumant Sridharan and NAREB National Executive Director Antoine Thompson explained their long-term goals for the program and how they hope it will transform the real estate industry.

“After the death of George Floyd, a lot of companies wanted to figure out how to join this movement around solving racial injustice broadly in the U.S.,” Sridharan said. “For HomeLight, we wanted to participate [and] create something sustainable, related to real estate, that would address the issues of diversity we see in the industry.”

“I met Antoine, who is the executive director of NAREB, which is the largest and oldest association for Black real estate professionals,” he added. “It just made perfect sense that NAREB was the organization that we wanted to partner with and bring hundreds of new jobs to the Black community in real estate.”

Thompson said Black real estate agents account for only 6 percent of the nation’s total agent count — a statistic he said directly correlates with a widening Black homeownership gap.

Antoine Thompson

“According to [U.S. Census Bureau] data, Black part-time agents make half of what white part-time agents may earn, and a Black full-time agent, on average, makes half of what a white full-time agent makes,” he explained. “A lot of that has deep roots back to industry discrimination, but also the homeownership gap of 30 points.”

“If we can get more Blacks in the industry, we can have people who are very trained or very energized to get more Black people to purchase homes,” he added. “There are 3 million Black people that are mortgage-ready in the country, and we need agents out there who want to earn their business.”

Sridharan and Thompson said their respective organizations will be hands-on with the agents throughout the process and track their progress for another three to five years, which is the timeline where a large swath of agents, regardless of race, drop out of the industry due to a lack of income, resources and training to become career agents.

“We’ll have alumni for the program, and hopefully, we’ll create such chemistry that we can have them not only as members, but we’re doing our check-ins to make sure they’re being successful,” Thompson said. “We’ve been working on the framework of this program for eight months so we don’t end up like many companies who donate to a fund once and then you never hear about it again.”

“We want to ensure this is a multi-year effort, [and] that every year it gains momentum and more people are welcomed and brought into the program,” he added. “We believe we’ve found a model that can grow the Black Real Estate Agent Program for years to come.”

Both men acknowledged the program is only one part of the solution, and executives, broker-owners and other leaders must commit to raising their cultural awareness and creating environments that celebrate diversity.

“The real estate industry has a checkered past and present, as it pertains to racial issues, from the early Jim Crow Laws to redlining, racially based zoning requirements and then steering, which still happens today,” Sridharan said. “It really comes down to being intentional. These brokerages need to be intentional with their staff about their behaviors around these issues.”

“A lot of these issues are due to unconscious bias, and those folks need to be educated,” he added.

Thompson said broker-owners must remember that creating a diverse brokerage goes beyond words and includes actions such as diversifying marketing materials, supporting organizations that fight for housing equality, and placing dollars with vendors and companies who are just as committed to a diverse workplace.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Thompson said. “Some of the brokerages are doing it better than others, and some of the smaller independent brokerages need a lot of help.”

“NAREB is always ready to step in to be a resource for small or large brokerages that need some help on how to be a better, culturally sensitive office, and create an inclusive environment for agents of all walks and stripes,” he added.

Email Marian McPherson

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