Cultural awareness is no longer just the “polite” thing to do – it’s absolutely critical to the future of your business. We are in the midst of an unprecedented cultural shift, and it’s impacting countries worldwide. In the United States alone, the demographic profile has drastically transformed over the past few decades, and will continue to do so. Projections from the U.S. Census indicate that the U.S. will no longer have a white majority by the year 2043.

In a recent Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) class, instructor (and former NAR President) Ron Phipps said of cultural awareness, “We don’t have the luxury of NOT knowing this.”

As a real estate agent, you must be aware of when to be culturally sensitive but also when stereotyping can get you in trouble. Making assumptions, thinking in terms of stereotypical behavior and having biases can block communication, offend others and lose opportunities to work with potential clients.

Here is an example, from NAR’s At Home With Diversity Course, of a very honest but problematic mistake:

Manuel and Olivia Romero, recent immigrants from Sonora, Mexico, are looking for a home. Through extensive research in local newspapers, they found several properties that interested them. They called a real estate agent, who agreed to meet with them to discuss their needs. It was determined that the Romeros could afford a $200,000 home, with three bedrooms, two baths, a garage, and a large backyard, close to a park and near good schools for their children.

Olivia asked if there were neighborhoods with many Mexicans. Rita hesitated and said, “I think so. I can get you some demographic information that can confirm that.”

The agent ultimately showed the Romeros five houses, four located in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and one in a “mixed” neighborhood. Manuel asked whether there were other neighborhoods with homes that met their needs. Their agent said he didn’t think so, especially since they were looking for a large yard.

The Romeros ultimately bought a home for $175,000 in one of the Hispanic neighborhoods. A few months later, Olivia was discussing their new home with a coworker who had recently bought a similar home in a neighborhood with a reputation for having excellent schools based on scholastic records. It was two blocks from a neighborhood park. The coworker had paid $180,000 for the house and said there were several homes like hers in the neighborhood. It was very popular for its large lots. Olivia immediately wondered why she and Manuel had not heard about that neighborhood, which was just a few miles away from theirs.

What fair housing violations or red flags can you identify in that story? What could the agent have done to avoid them? The agent managed to complete this transaction, but do you think the Romeros will ever use him/her again, or refer business his/her way?

This example displays one way that cultural stereotypes, assumptions, and biases can subject you to potential legal trouble and cost future business. Practicing inclusion through diversity sensitivity is critical to maintaining your business pipeline with all clients, regardless of their demographic.

If you are interested in learning more about how to avoid potential fair housing violations and cultural faux pas, take NAR’s At Home With Diversity course. It is the only course required for the At Home With Diversity certification, counts as an elective toward the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation, and the online course counts as CE in most U.S. states. For the month of August, the online course is 15% off

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