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Brian Lehrer: It’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again everyone. Anyone read The New York Times article from the other day called Selling Houses While Black? We’re going to have the writer, Colette Coleman, on. Housing discrimination is nothing new, but we usually talk about it against people looking to buy or rent, but there is another overlooked piece of discrimination in real estate, Black real estate agents face discrimination from other agents as described in this article as well as people looking to buy and sell their homes, the customers, real estate agents facing discrimination from customers.

This article in the Times highlighted many of the ways that Black real estate agents have to navigate racial discrimination while they’re just doing their jobs. Again, it’s called Selling Houses While Black. One of the stats, Black agents make up only about 6% of real estate agents in America, even though 14% of Americans overall are Black. Additionally, white real estate agents reportedly make nearly three times as much money as their Black counterparts doing the same job. Colette Coleman is a writer focused on race and equity, and we’re going to talk about her article now. Colette, thanks so much for coming on. Welcome to WNYC.

Colette Coleman: Thanks for having me, Brian.

Brian Lehrer: Listeners, we definitely want your stories here. If any real estate agents of color, Black in particular, but other real estate agents of color as well happen to be listening right now, talk about selling homes while Black. 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692, or tweet @BrianLehrer. Did something, in particular, inspire you to report this story? This is obviously a long-term ongoing thing, but was there a trigger for this?

Colette Coleman: There were actually a few triggers. One was I myself have been a salesperson for years, I have never sold real estate, but I sold education technology. You sell to school districts, and the district administrators superintendents are about 90% white, and 75% male, and I’m a woman of color, so I faced my own discrimination in the sales process.

Also, there was a great article in The New Yorker, maybe a few or several months ago about the plight of door-to-door salespeople. It was really interesting, especially as a salesperson, I loved it, it was great, but it felt like there was an elephant in the room with that article in that they never brought up. What about a Black door-to-door salesperson? That experience would just be so much harder in many parts of the country and so different.

I had those things on my mind, and then one evening, I live in a rural part of New York, I had an unexpected visitor driving up my driveway at dusk, it’s dark out, I’m getting nervous, who is this person approaching my door. It turns out, it was a real estate agent, a white real estate agent. I was just shocked that he felt comfortable approaching somebody’s door. He didn’t know in my area most homes have firearms, they have scary dogs that do bite.

After having this agent come visit my door, door knocking as they call the practice to try to drum up some business, I thought what if that had been a Black man? What do Black real estate agent feel comfortable doing that practice? Assuming the answer is for a lot of Black agents, they probably don’t. How does that impact their professional prospects if they’re limited in the marketing tactics that they can use?

Brian Lehrer: Yes. Your article, of course, has some horrifying anecdotes like having police cars arrive, while showing a house to potential buyers, even somebody being handcuffed. Also, potential buyers walking out of a home after seeing the agent was Black. Do you want to pick any one individual anecdote that really stands out to you? Or, is there one that you wake up thinking about at night even after the article was published?

Colette Coleman: Like you said, there were so many and I could only include 1% of them. It was really disturbing research to do. It was just very upsetting to hear similar anecdotes over and over the trend. Again, they all stick out but one in particular that’s early on in the article is about the president of NAREB, which is an organization, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, but it includes real estate professionals, not just brokers, and it was founded In 1947 when Black Americans weren’t allowed to join the main real estate organization, the National Association of Realtors. It’s this great organization, long history.

The President, Lydia Pope, she’s also a broker and agent, she has her own experiences. In 2018, she was doing work at a condo, I believe it was a condo or maybe a home, she was listing, and all of a sudden the police start surrounding the home. She’s thinking, “What’s going on? Why are there police everywhere?” She comes outside, and they let her know, “Well, we have a report of a break at this home that you’re inside of right now.” She pulled out her laptop, she showed her phone, her license, her ID, everything.

She said there was a man standing across the street, and it was a predominantly white area, and he was a white man sitting across the street. He was just looking at her like a look like, “I got you.” He really thought he had caught her. That’s disturbing especially, it shouldn’t happen to anybody, it shouldn’t happen to any Black person, but somebody also her stature, she’s the president of a major organization, and she’s not immune from experiences like that. The indignity of it really stuck with me too of having to explain yourself when you’re just trying to do your job.

The other thing that stuck with me about it was that she didn’t go back, she gave the listing back. She’s losing out on money. With the stats you reference of Black agents making less, that could be part of why. There was another anecdote in the story from a real estate professional, Chastin J. Miles, who also decided I’m not returning to this $3 million home because I was treated so poorly, that it’s just not worth that emotional toll, so he’s losing out on money. There are a lot of reasons I think that Black agents are making less, but I think that is part of it, of just not wanting to stick with it and endure some of these atrocities.

Brian Lehrer: Yes. The atrocities don’t only come from neighbors and from law enforcement and from official industry groups, but as you’re describing in the piece, there’s a huge financial penalty that comes along with the racism that affects Black real estate agents. There was a survey from an industry association that showed that there’s a huge disparity in sales volume, and therefore, obviously, how much money is earned between Black and white agents. That goes to the attitudes of the buyers, right?

Colette Coleman: Yes. For the most part, what I found is that people do want to work with people who look like them. Of course, there are exceptions, and of course, in areas like New York City or the surrounding areas of New Jersey, it’s not as big of a problem as it is talking to agents in Arizona, or North Carolina, in the south in Texas, but it’s still as a trend.

Thinking about that, if some Black agents are somewhat limited to working with Black sellers and buyers, there are fewer Black Americans already, but then there are also fewer Black homebuyers because of all of the issues with home buying and the history of home buying and the racism around that in the country, and Black homes are priced lower than those of white homeowners. There are just all of the structural racism that’s stacked against the Black agents, where if they’re predominantly working with Black clients, they will end up making less.

Brian Lehrer: Again, listeners, we invite you to call in if you are a Black real estate agent, about being a Black real estate agent. Anything about that, that you want to say, as we’re talking to Colette Coleman who wrote The New York Times article published the other day called Selling Houses While Black, or you can also talk about being a homebuyer or a prospective renter while Black, we can expand it to that. On the phones; 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692, or tweet a question or comment @BrianLehrer, but the particular angle here is on the real estate agents. Louis who I think has a story of being a buyer, you’re on WNYC. Hi, Louis.

Louis: Hi, Brian. Thanks for taking my call. This hits close to home. During the pandemic, I had worked for years to save up some money to buy a property. As soon as COVID hit, it was a perfect opportunity to buy a property. I started doing my due diligence, I got approved by a bank. I had about $50,000 for a down payment. I tried looking in Jersey, Connecticut, the surrounding areas, somewhere within driving distance of the city. Well, firstly, I was surprised that all of the agents that I was looking for the property within my price range were white. I started contacting them and I had a hard time getting ahold of agents in the beginning.

As soon as I got a couple of agents, I would send my applications and they would always come back 90% of the time with, “Oh, it’s a beating war, there’s somebody else looking at this property.” I had a really hard time, and this is prior to the government giving out this zero interest loans for housing. I knew I had a good opportunity.

It wasn’t until I found a Black agent that I was really able to get some momentum going and looking at all the properties. The other problem was that he would only show me houses in predominantly Black or brown neighborhood. Whenever he would try to get in touch with seller’s agent, he always also had a hard time getting responses back.

It took me a long time to actually get property, and of course I didn’t buy it in an area where I would like, I had to settle for a property in Albany and I just hold it now as an investment but I just really had– there’s this unspoken and it’s really hard to prove that it was racism because we couldn’t find any other explanation. In my case when I tried to approach agents with my Hispanic name, that’s when I would have a hard time but whenever I send my wife’s name because she’s Asian, we would always get a reply right back. I guess that’s my–