Homeownership plays an outsized role in wealth building, but a lack of affordable housing is keeping it out of reach for too many Americans. EXIT Realty CEO Tami Bonnell writes that it makes good professional sense for Realtors to prioritize affordability as an area of concern.

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Focusing on solutions is the most productive way to face any issue, especially regarding such an impactful and important issue as housing affordability. The more we brainstorm and seek new ways to solve old problems, the more successful we become with our proactiveness when new concerns arise.   

Traditionally, homeownership is the No. 1 way to build generational wealth. Owning a home doesn’t only change the position of a family socioeconomically; it has an overall positive effect on neighborhoods. Homeowners are often more bonded to and vested in their community, impacting how they live daily.

Unfortunately, income isn’t rising at the same rate as housing prices. According to census.gov, the 1990 median income was $50,200, and 2021, $70,784, an increase of approximately 40 percent, whereas the median home price in 1990 was $122,900 and in 2021, $397,100, an increase of roughly 223 percent.

If incomes aren’t doubling like house prices, how are people supposed to lay the foundation, build equity and leave a financial legacy?

Displacement is a disservice to everyone

As I travel around the country for speaking engagements, I make it a point to speak with local hospitality leaders, restaurant personnel and cab drivers. They tell me that more and more, they can’t afford to live in the cities where they work.

For example, I’ve been told it’s common to have a two-hour commute to a minimum-wage job in California. While in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the most expensive town in the US, I’ve seen the median listing price is approximately $3 million.

During the pandemic, wealthy people were attracted to the beautiful locale, which drove up housing prices. This left the people who work in the bars, restaurants, dry cleaners, and coffee shops, having to move further out of town with several roommates to be able to afford to live close by.

It will not serve anyone in this country if we can’t find solutions for everyone to enjoy a safe and affordable roof over their heads.

Let education be your motivation

As real estate professionals, we hold the power to make an impact through value-add, philanthropy and advocacy. First, we must educate ourselves so we can then educate our clients.

Yes, it takes time and effort to understand affordable housing options. This is true of any area of your passion that differentiates your expertise from the competition and helps you become fully faceted in your marketplace. 

Approximately 85 percent of the properties listed on the Bank of America Real Estate Center offer opportunities for down payment assistance, closing cost grants and affordable mortgages.

Rent-to-own options can provide opportunities for the 72 percent of “mom and pop” investors to continue with cash flow into their golden years, many times at a better tax advantage. This option can help someone who might not have been able to afford the property otherwise. These are two places to start your research, but they are not all-inclusive.  

Local level leadership is key

Real estate is 80 percent local and 20 percent national. If you want to be part of the solution but don’t know how a great way to start is by participating in your planning board or attending a town hall meeting. Pay attention to policy. If something works in one state or province, it may also work for your community. 

Represent. Start conversations with everyday people – the person who serves your coffee, teachers, mail carriers. Ask about their thoughts on the real estate market. Tell them you’re a real estate professional doing research and ask how their friends and family are navigating the housing affordability challenges.

This will help you identify common concerns; it isn’t about making a sale, but rather, simply listening. Every opportunity to hear someone’s story is an opportunity to learn.

The conversation doesn’t end here; it begins here. The real estate industry must be the change we want to see. Share practices that make a positive impact.

Housing affordability is in every Realtor’s best interest, and no stone should be left unturned. Helping someone own a home is not only a good feeling, but it’s good business.

EXIT Realty Corp. International’s Co-chair Tami Bonnell is an internationally renowned leader and visionary and a 30-plus-year real estate industry veteran. Follow her on Twitter.

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