As real estate agents in an increasingly tumultuous world, it’s more important than ever that we remain cognizant of the tremendous impact real estate has on social justice. The two are intertwined more than you might realize; read on to learn the many ways in which marginalized communities are affected by various real estate practices, and what we can do to make things more accessible to all.
For decades, real estate has played a significant role in marginalizing minorities within certain communities. We’ve all watched vibrant, culture-rich communities like Brooklyn and various neighborhoods of Philadelphia become gentrified in recent years, displacing residents who have lived in those areas for years as glossy amenities like coffee shops and Whole Foods move to town. In these cases, many residents and business owners are forced out, while wealthy and typically white people take over.
This phenomenon is not a new one; it was particularly prevalent during the 1950s when the post-World War II climate led to white families moving to newly-built suburbs. People of color could either remain in cities or move away, only to face discrimination and alienation in these mostly-white suburban developments. This frustrating situation has kept many Black families from creating generational wealth, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to get approved for home and auto loans, or to send their children to private schools or colleges. White families, who have in some cases been able to accrue wealth for generations, are given an unfair advantage. As real estate agents, we must remain aware of this history of discrimination and work to systematically denounce unfair fair business practices in every aspect of the real estate transaction where discrimination and bias could cause an issue for non-white buyers and sellers.
When a home is up for sale and generating a lot of attention and interest, it’s become popular for potential buyers to write “love letters” to the seller as a way to help them stand out in the crowd. While this can certainly be a great way to humanize the potential buyer and appeal to the seller’s emotions, there are some downsides as well. We should be aware that clients must be protected from prejudice in these situations; for example, if your client drafts a letter that mentions their same-sex spouse, the sellers might have homophobic prejudices that dissuade them from choosing your client. While of course we always hope that this won’t be the case, it may be better to advise your client against writing any love letters to keep themselves as anonymous as possible. It’s best to avoid any discrimination that might entangle your client in an upsetting and challenging situation. As a seller’s agent, it may be the best practice to not allow personal letters entirely in order to protect all parties from a situation where inherent biases may play a factor in deciding on which offer to accept.
So, what can we do? As real estate agents, it can be incredibly frustrating to watch our clients struggle with discrimination, prejudice, and unfair housing markets. The best we can do is continue to speak up against injustice and let our clients know that we are there to be the best possible advocate for them, ensuring they are able to find the home of their dreams.