Ensuring Real Estate is an Equal Opportunity Endeavor

Meet Teresa Palacios Smith, an industry leader who wants to help make brokerages more clearly reflect the markets they serve.

Teresa Palacios Smith vividly recalls the joy and humility her parents felt purchasing their first home in Miami when she was nine years old. The family, including Smith’s three sisters and two aunts, had been living in a two-bedroom apartment for two years. Palacios Smith’s father, Marco Antonio Palacios, worked long hours cleaning planes for Delta Airlines, while her mother, Mercedes Lewis de Palacios, took care of the family. The sacrifices her parents made—immigrating to America from Colombia, then moving the family from New York to Miami—finally paid off with that first home purchase. From that moment on, Palacios Smith had a passion for real estate.

“That memory stayed with me, in my heart, for the rest of my life,” Palacios Smith says. “I knew then that I wanted to recreate that feeling for others. There’s nothing more empowering for me than knowing you’ve helped someone achieve a dream.”

Teresa Palacios Smith

Today, Palacios Smith has 23 years of real estate experience, multiple industry awards, and is leading several minority-focused economic organizations. Most recently, she was named vice president of diversity and inclusion, a newly created position at HSF Affiliates LLC, which operates Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Real Living Real Estate, and Prudential Real Estate. She now oversees HSF’s commitment to increase diversity among its brokerage networks and provide resources that meet the needs of all types of home buyers and sellers.

As a first-generation American, Palacios Smith now empowers people of color and immigrants who want to achieve homeownership, start a real estate career, or become a broker of their own company. She draws personal inspiration from her experience moving from Miami to her family’s second home in Brandon, Miss., at the age of 12 when her father relocated for work. At the time, hers was one of only a handful of Latina families in Brandon, where she attended middle school and high school. “The difference in culture was a learning opportunity for me,” she says.

After college, Palacios Smith relocated to the Atlanta area, where she earned her real estate chops at Northside Realty and Prudential Atlanta Real Estate, now known as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties. She served as president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals in 2015 and co-founded the Atlanta chapter. Her real estate career and volunteer work with minority-focused groups gave her an in-depth understanding of the needs of people from all backgrounds and how to provide resources and services.

Today, minority groups account for about 120 million people in the U.S.—38 percent of the nation’s population, according to the Census Bureau. In the biggest multicultural markets, minority consumers are the core of the population. Economic reports estimate that minorities account for between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion of America’s purchasing power. “When you consider these important facts, our organization wants to align itself so we’re actually meeting the needs of this important population,” Palacios Smith says. “My goal is to increase awareness among the broker networks that we currently operate.”

She’s working with network brokers-in-charge and owners on providing opportunities for everyone from all ethnicities and backgrounds. This includes focusing recruitment efforts on diversity and developing marketing materials for minority real estate consumers. But above all else, Palacios Smith wants to listen. She wants to hear from broker-owners about ways to grow business through diversity initiatives and from agents about support they need to grow as leaders while increasing their customer base. Palacios Smith plans to create a mastermind group of agents from HSF’s brokerage networks that can act as a company resource on diversity topics. “The best way to learn is from the people who have their boots on the ground,” she says.

Palacios Smith’s leadership role came to fruition with the help of Gino Blefari, president and CEO of HSF Affiliates, whom she met when she was inducted as president of NAHREP. “His vision is to make a difference and to create an organization that mirrors the diversity that we see in our country today,” she says. “We hope to encourage others in the real estate industry to also create initiatives that will make an impact.”

Blefari says he was drawn to Palacios Smith’s expertise in the field. “She is a strong leader and is as passionate as anyone when it comes to advocating homeownership for all who want to pursue it,” he says. Open discussion allows for ideas to be exchanged and for opportunities of inclusion to be created, Palacios Smith says.

Any broker-owner can start by looking within his or her own office and asking agents and staff what tools they need to make sure they’re providing an open environment, Palacios Smith suggests. Do an analysis to ensure any client will feel comfortable working with an agent in your office. That could include bringing on additional language resources or creating a space that accommodates larger families in meetings. “Have conversations with community members about what’s important to them, and match those needs,” she says.

Training and education are key to understanding what’s happening in your local communities and which groups are underserved in real estate. Palacios Smith says awareness will lead to open discussion about the value of inclusiveness.

“I would love to see more women owners and minority owners of our franchises,” she says. “The statistics are there, our markets are changing, so it’s important for us to be able to have the tools available to help us succeed in helping those market segments.”

Palacios Smith’s parents have both passed away, but as she takes on this significant new role, she can’t help but imagine what they would say about her endeavors. “My parents would be so proud of me,” she says. “I’m working with a company that has a goal and vision to empower and allow opportunities for diversity in the franchise.”

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