After working in the real estate industry for more than a decade, I still wake up most mornings with a smile on my face. No, it’s not because of the unlimited earning potential or the freedom to go to the beach on a Tuesday afternoon. What really gets me excited, and what keeps me going through all the stress and chaos, is that when real estate agents do their jobs right, we actually help make the world a better place.
That’s something we should all be proud of. But we can do better.
That’s why this Pride Month, in the spirit of Harvey Milk, we’re encouraging you to do more. I don’t care if you’re a brand-new agent or the president of a multinational brokerage empire. If you work in real estate, you can help us live up to the promises in the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Code of Ethics and make our industry more inclusive and welcoming.
For guidance and inspiration, we talked to top-producing LGBTQ+ agents, industry friends, and allies about how we can all help make our industry more inclusive. Jeff Berger, founder of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP), spoke to us about the (surprisingly recent) fight for LGBTQ+ protections in the NAR Code of Ethics.
Support LGBTQ+ Organizations & Create More Inclusive Marketing Materials
“Even in 2022, the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for our rights. I know, I can’t believe it either. I would encourage agents and brokerages to look into (or outside of) their local community and see where they can help out. There are plenty of LGBTQ+ organizations and nonprofits that need support for homeless youth, racial equality, immigration equality, anti-violence, family equality, healthcare equality, etc.
“I would also like to see more LGBTQ+ representation in marketing efforts. We are starting to see more same sex couples in housing advertisements, but we are still missing visibility of other members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, I have never seen a transgender person in a property tour video or marketing advertisement.
“I want all members of the LGBTQ+ community to be seen, recognized, and respected in our industry. Ultimately, our approach as professionals draws a certain demographic of clients to us and we don’t want to put a limit on that. I am incredibly proud to provide a quality service to people of all different backgrounds with completely unique stories.”
Inclusion Starts From the Top: Leadership Needs to Set the Example
“In any business, inclusion has to start with leadership, and the real estate industry is no exception. Leadership sets the example—so they must do the work to integrate equity and inclusion from above to see results at the agent level.
“Inclusive hiring practices, having more authentic conversations, offering fair access to leads and promotions, and providing more opportunities to celebrate our differences and bond together as a team are all excellent ways leadership can center diversity and help make our industry more inclusive for everyone.
“To improve LGBTQ+ inclusivity in my day-to-day interactions with customers, I try to go the extra mile and provide local resources and deep market insight to help my customers feel like they’re already part of the neighborhood.”
Post Equal Opportunity Posters at Open Houses & Take Fair Housing Talks Seriously
“One way that I try to make people feel comfortable is to display the Equal Housing Opportunity poster at my open houses. I have it near the sign-in sheet in a plastic frame. Sometimes, I even hang it on the front door of the apartment.
“When buyers pose questions that even hint at fair housing violations, I stop them and make it clear that this is something I cannot discuss, and more importantly, explain why. I am clear that the real estate industry takes these issues very seriously and has schooled agents not to respond. I add that my firm and most importantly, myself, personally, take Fair Housing very seriously. Stressing that everyone is welcome and that New York is inclusive and a ‘melting pot’ can also be helpful.”
Hold More Discussion Panels, Talks & Events at the Brokerage Level
Follow the Letter & Spirit of the NAR Code of Ethics
“Making the real estate industry more inclusive for LGBTQ+ agents starts with respecting one another and maintaining the professional standards of practice for Realtors in the NAR Code of Ethics. In order to do better, we need to follow the letter and spirit of the Code of Ethics.
“We should also recognize that the DEI progress we’ve seen so far in the real estate industry is the result of the hard work of those who came before us. They’re the ones who had the tough conversations to get us where we are today. Now it’s our turn to collectively continue to evolve and reach a point where we don’t need to have the conversations anymore—period. Taking the Code of Ethics more seriously will help us get there.”
A Short History of LGBTQ+ Protections in the NAR Code of Ethics
“In 2007, when I founded NAGLREP, one of our first goals was to amend the NAR Code of Ethics, Article 10, to include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This was the beginning of a years-long struggle for protection in the Code of Ethics.”
“In 2008, NAGLREP proposed the amendment and by 2010, NAR finally added sexual orientation to the code. However, back then, NAR and most large corporations didn’t understand gender identity, so they wouldn’t touch the topic with a 10-foot pole. As an organization, NAGLREP decided we were not leaving the trans community behind, so we knew we had more work to do.”
“In May 2013, we invited then HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to speak about gender identity discrimination in housing at our NAGLREP meeting during the NAR midyear legislative meetings in Washington, D.C. This was a first step to getting gender identity protections into the ethical codes all Realtors must abide by. By November 2013, the NAR delegate body voted during their national conference to finally include gender identity protections in the code. You can read the amended article 10 in full here (PDF).”
“Finally, in 2020, a new standard of practice under article 10 was adopted, which codified the banning of harassing speech, hate speech, and slurs into the Code of Ethics.”
Highlight Your Commitment to Diversity When Hiring & Onboarding New Agents
“As someone who has hired hundreds of agents over the years, diversity to me is about more than just ticking boxes. I wanted to create a tight-knit team where everyone felt comfortable enough to thrive. That’s why I would make a point to highlight our commitment to diversity when interviewing new candidates. This is not only the right thing to do, but avoiding the issue can actually cost you money down the road. Here’s why:
“Intolerance of any kind drags down the performance of any team, but especially in the emotional roller coaster of residential real estate. If even one of my agents doesn’t feel comfortable and supported in the office, they are not going to perform up to their full potential. Worse, they might even find another brokerage where they do feel accepted. The downsides to hiring intolerant agents don’t end there. If an agent of mine discriminated against a potential client, my brokerage might lose years of business from referrals.”
Inclusivity Is About More Than Rainbow Flags: Engage With Your Local LGBTQ+ Community to Make a Lasting Impact
“As a newly minted real estate agent in California and openly proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s heartwarming to see the real estate industry start to live up to the egalitarian ideals laid out in the NAR Code of Ethics. In states like California, brokerages are working hard to be welcoming to agents and customers from all walks of life. Progress, no matter how small, makes the world a better place.
“That said, I think some agents and brokers still see LGBTQ+ inclusion as just a marketing tactic. Don’t get me wrong—I love seeing brokerages celebrate Pride Month on social media, I just wish they would understand that waving a Pride flag around is not going to get them more LGBTQ+ customers. We just want to be treated like everyone else.
“So worry less about how many rainbow flags you include in your social media posts and instead work behind the scenes to engage with your local LGBTQ+ community. Stop by your local queer community center, attend a fundraiser for the trans community, or just patronize LGBTQ+ businesses and get to know people.”
The Industry Has Made Progress, but More Training Is Needed
“I believe we can all benefit from training about, and greater insight into, our unconscious biases. We all have them, even if we wish we didn’t. But as long as we remain in denial, we are less likely to take the steps to remediate these issues.”
Over to You
What are some ways you help make the real estate industry more inclusive for everyone? Let us know in the comments.