This spring, as part of its Fair Housing Action Plan, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) teamed up with the experts at the Perception Institute to create a free online workshop to help members avoid implicit bias in their daily business interactions.
What is implicit bias?
The human brain uses shortcuts that allow us to quickly make judgments and solve problems without conscious thought. These mental shortcuts, or “heuristics,” help our unconscious minds process around 11 million bits of information per second. (In contrast, our conscious minds process around 50 bits per second.)
These split-second mental shortcuts can lead to problems. Implicit bias is the brain’s automatic, instant association of negative stereotypes with particular groups of people, often without our conscious awareness. These unconscious stereotypes, embedded in our brains over time by history and culture, can cause us to treat those who are different from us unfairly, even while our conscious minds reject discrimination.
How does bias affect the real estate market and my business?
“All agents go through pre-license training, we do continuing education, and we know the law. We come into this business wanting to help people buy their dream homes. We all think we’re being fair,” says Pat Combs, an agent with Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt Realty in Grand Rapids, Mich., and past president of NAR.
But an undercover investigation of real estate agents published in December 2019 by Newsday revealed sobering findings. The three-year study uncovered evidence that brokers and agents allegedly subjected minorities to different treatment from whites in 40 percent of transactions, and in nearly half the transactions involving black potential homebuyers.
“It’s been a surprise to a lot of agents that they are not coming across as fair as they thought they were. The testing has opened our eyes,” says Combs.
In an increasingly multicultural America, making diversity a central part of business strategy is a business imperative. The fastest-growing demographics in America are Asians and Hispanics. Hispanic homebuyers accounted for nearly half of the homeownership growth in the past decade. There are 6.3 million mortgage-ready black and Hispanic millennials in the 31 largest U.S. metro areas. Bias in the real estate market not only harms home seekers, it also stops brokers and agents from growing and diversifying their customer base.
What can real estate professionals do to counter biases?
The good news is that recent studies have identified specific practices to interrupt and override the bias that can interfere with our objectivity.
Jasmyn Jefferson, principal managing broker in the Tacoma, Wash., office of Windermere Professional Partners, has organized implicit bias training for agents in Washington. “Interacting with people that look different than you and have different lived experiences can be uncomfortable, scary and difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be wonderfully enriching,” she says. “Remember that feeling when you first got your real estate license? It was tough, and messy, but you just had to jump in. It’s the same thing with implicit bias work.”
The new free online workshop from NAR and the Perception Institute helps members understand how our unconscious brains stereotype others without our knowing it. It offers practical tools to help with cross-group interactions, like creating protocols and scripts to ensure you treat every potential client the same and don’t have to worry about saying the “wrong” thing.
The training offers other techniques to improve relationships with all the different people agents encounter—to ensure they treat everyone as individuals, practice empathy and appreciate the world from others’ perspectives.
With implicit bias training, real estate professionals can exemplify their values, improve relationships, grow their business and halt discrimination in the home-sales market, one interaction at a time. For more information, visit www.nar.realtor/fair-housing.
Bryan Greene is NAR’s director of Fair Housing Policy.