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. After their tips, Jeff Berger—founder of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP)—shares thoughts on the (surprisingly recent) fight for LGBTQ+ protections in NAR’s Code of Ethics.
10 Ways to Make Real Estate More Inclusive (Beyond Rainbow Flags)
1. Engage With Your Local LGBTQ+ Community to Make a Lasting Impact
“As a member of the leadership team at The Close and an 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 NAR’s Code of Ethics. In states like California, where I live, brokerages are working hard to be welcoming to agents and customers from all walks of life. Progress, not perfection, 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 hope they understand that rainbow washing is now canceled and exposed. You need to authentically care for the community. 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.”
2. Reach Out to LGBTQ+ Agents & Clients With a Message of Support
“If you know an LGBTQ+ person, this is a great time to make a phone call, send an email or text, and tell them that you care about them and that you have their back.
“You have no idea how powerful a message like that is. For many LGBTQ+ people, the roar of a pride parade crowd, seeing people wearing pride shirts, or receiving a thoughtful message may keep them going. It may provide enough positive fuel to battle through depression, fear, discrimination, and other challenges they might face.
“Whether you line the streets of a pride parade; support a friend, colleague or loved one in the community; or fight alongside us for the same rights and decency afforded to every other American, please know you—as an ally—are so important to our community. Pride Month is your month too! I say that because you take the platform June provides and run with it as you loudly or softly offer your support.
“On behalf of the entire 3,400 members of the alliance, thank you and Happy Pride!”
3. Post Equal Opportunity Posters at Open Houses
“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 an inclusive melting pot can also be helpful.”
4. Help Overcome Housing Discrimination in Your Community
“The battle for acceptance is never won, as some would say. Unfortunately, 21% of LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance members believe discrimination against LGBTQ+ homebuyers has increased over the last three years. Furthermore, the Center for American Progress shared with the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance that 29% of LGBTQ+ people reported experiencing some kind of housing discrimination or harassment in a housing setting this past year.
“More than a fifth of the members of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance noted legal forms needing signatures is an area where housing discrimination is most visible. These do not adequately represent life experiences of potential homebuyers, which points to an actionable area of improvement for the LGBTQ+ community at large—both for agents and clients. Understand these small actions and get involved with your local Realtor association to speak for the community.
“Also, know that clients and fellow agents alike enjoy seeing your advocacy! Are you a member of the community or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community? There are ways to show your support beyond just a rainbow flag. Showing up for the community in a real way makes a difference. Reach out to those in your network to wish them a Happy Pride Month. Donating to a local LGBTQ+ nonprofit or cause is another great way to show your support. If you’re curious about causes to donate to or how to get involved, connect with your local LGBTQ+ community center.
“Remember that support for the LGBTQ+ community starts with you, with empathy, compassion, and caring. Happy Pride Month!”
5. Create More Inclusive Marketing Materials
“Even in 2023, 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 programs, family equality, healthcare equality, and more.
“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.”
6. Inclusion Starts From the Top
“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.”
7. Hold More Panels, Talks & Events at the Brokerage Level
“I recently went to the GLAAD Media Awards and it was powerful to see our media industry allies unite and celebrate success stories. I would love to see more brokerages encourage their LGBTQAI+ agents to share their stories through discussion panels, spotlight talks, and events.”
8. 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 diversity, equity, and inclusion 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.”
9. Highlight Your Commitment to Diversity When Hiring & Onboarding
“As someone who has hired hundreds of agents over the years, diversity is about more than just ticking boxes to me. I wanted to create a tight-knit team where everyone felt comfortable enough to thrive. That’s why I would always 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.”
10. Uncover Your Own Biases
“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.”
A Short History of LGBTQ+ Protections in the NAR Code of Ethics
While most Realtors know about the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the NAR Code of Ethics, many do not know about the work NAGLREP did behind the scenes to achieve these goals. Here is a quick timeline of how the organization fought to include LGBTQ+ protections in the ethical code all Realtors must follow:
In 2007, when I founded NAGLREP, one of our first goals was to amend Article 10 of the NAR Code of Ethics to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This was the beginning of a years-long struggle for protection in the Code of Ethics.
NAGLREP proposed the amendment in 2008, 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.
Finally, in 2020, a new standard of practice under article 10 was adopted, which codified a ban on harassing speech, hate speech, and slurs into the Code of Ethics.
Over to You
What are some ways we can help make the real estate industry more inclusive for everyone? Let us know in the comment section.