I’ve been in real estate my whole life. Literally. My father made his career in real estate and development. My mother would talk through the projects in the car on our Sunday drives with my dad. Every. Last. Detail. Visiting job sites, and answering phones at the office, all of this real estate activity was the backdrop to my childhood. Of course, despite thinking I might become a high school science teacher, I ended up being a leader in sales as an agent, becoming a NJ Real Estate State Instructor, and ultimately a broker/owner leading the company!
Over the years, our company has cultivated a tight-knit team of agents by supporting them in building their businesses. We connect with the communities we serve and being the best and most well-informed agents is how we “do better” for our customers and clients. One of the ways we do that is through educational events, and learning together as a team.
Recently, I had the opportunity to host a lunch and learn event entitled, “The Client of the Future: Multiply Your Business with Fast-Growing Segments.” I brought together leaders from real estate diversity organizations for a panel discussion designed to help agents discover how to better understand and attract diverse clients. I called it “the gift of education.”
Our company is based in Northern New Jersey – only about eight miles outside of New York City – a very diverse area and growing more diverse every year. We are keeping top of mind that our agents' book of business should reflect our community. That means connecting with and growing segments in different ways so as not to miss any opportunities that could expand their business.
Our panelists included Tanya Reu-Narvaez, chief people officer at Anywhere Real Estate, Inc., Virginia Caamano, president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals North New Jersey Chapter, Soo Yoo, vice president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America Northern New Jersey Chapter, and David Siroty, vice president of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.
The discussion opened with introductions, during which we learned that during her more than 20 years with Anywhere Real Estate, Inc., Tanya has steadfastly championed diversity in real estate. Her commitment to this cause has, in my opinion, served as a significant driver of the industry’s evolution.
“When I started in this role, I was one of two women in senior leadership positions and the only Hispanic person in a leadership position at Anywhere,” Tanya recalled. “When I tried to figure out why that was, I realized that the company’s corporate leadership reflected the real estate industry as a whole. Unfortunately, the real estate industry did not reflect the country’s demographics.”
That discovery set Tanya on her path to change the trajectory of real estate.
Virginia of NAHREP recalled that her mother, who was from Uruguay, and her father, who was from Spain, saved for 15 years to buy their first home in Newark, New Jersey in 1990. They recently sold it for more than half a million dollars and were able to retire to the Mediterranean and pursue their passion for sailing – a perfect example of the critical importance homeownership has on wealth generation. A retirement like that would not have been possible if Virginia’s parents had remained renters.
Soo, who is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, is a certified Korean interpreter who worked as a wedding planner before starting her real estate career. She vividly recalls her first exposure to lack of access to services for people from diverse communities. “I fielded a call from a gay couple who wanted to get married but had been denied service at six establishments before calling mine. Of course, I said yes, but I was shocked that this behavior existed in a business where we serve people. That should mean all people.”
That encounter influenced Soo to become very intentional about ensuring she was culturally competent so she could serve all types of clients. As she put it, “You don’t have to represent a community in order to understand it and engage with it appropriately. At the end of the day, it’s about taking the time to learn, which shows respect for your client.”
Virginia agreed. “Every single client is looking to trust you and to know that you care.”
According to David, while acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is growing, the effects of discrimination, which often starts as early as high school, can affect school performance and college attainment, which significantly impacts earning potential and subsequent wealth building.
The Marriage Equality Act, which legalized same-sex marriage, has been an important development for homeownership among the LGBTQ+ community. Cities have served as safe places for people in the community to live, but as same-sex couples build families, schools become a priority in choosing where they live, resulting in a suburban migration.
“You may think that same-sex couples with children have the same needs and preferences as a heterosexual couple and in many cases that is true, but the single most important thing same-sex couples are looking for is safety,” explained David.
In addition to gaining more insights into diverse communities, our agents were given a challenge.
“Working with diverse clients is not only the right thing to do, but it is good for your business and the overall economy,” explained Tanya. “When you look at the changing demographics of our country, we are no longer a melting pot, we are a salad bowl. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing demographic, Hispanics are 20 percent of the U.S. population, and 10 percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ+. If you don’t engage with your future client, you will miss out on serving an entire generation of homeowners.”
I encourage you to accept Tanya’s challenge as well!
Jennifer Darby Metzger is a broker/owner of ERA Justin Realty in Rutherford, N.J. She is a second-generation real estate professional with more than 25 years of experience. An invaluable ambassador for ERA Real Estate, Jennifer is a charter member of ERA’s Young Leaders Network, a member of ERA’s Marketing and Technology Advisory Council, and a member of ERA’s National Advisory Council.