Newsday’s investigative report on the residential real estate industry, published last November, was shocking. The newspaper’s three-year study uncovered evidence that brokers and agents subjected minority customers to different treatment from white customers in 40% of agent-customer interactions.

Agents take prelicense training, do continuing education, and study fair housing law. Most agents believe they treat customers fairly and say they’ve never witnessed discrimination in real estate. So where’s the disconnect?

Part of the answer is that discrimination can happen without our knowing it.

As part of its ACT Fair Housing Action Plan, the National Association of REALTORS® teamed with the Perception Institute to create an online workshop that helps REALTORS® understand how implicit bias may enter into business transactions. The 54-minute video, “Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing,” explains the cognitive processes that can lead to hidden biases and result in disparate treatment.

“Nothing is more important than helping people feel like they are being treated fairly when finding a new home,” says Rachel D. Godsil, the Perception Institute’s co-founder and co-director.

Couple walking hand-in-hand along a residential street

How Biases Take Root

The human brain streamlines processing by creating categories for objects, people, and experiences, the Perception Institute says. Such cognitive shortcuts speed learning and decision-making, but can also embed historical and cultural stereotypes into our brains, creating biases. When such biases reveal themselves in conversation, body language, and other ways, they undermine trust and respect, potentially causing a consumer to lose a housing opportunity and an agent to lose a sale. Left unchecked, routine biased behavior becomes structural discrimination.

Recent studies have identified specific practices that can interrupt and override bias. Brokerages can set protocols to ensure that every client is treated fairly and equally. Agents can learn how to manage their mindsets and perform a “respect reset” if they accidentally say something that might be perceived as negative or biased.

‘The Work We All Need to Do’

Recognizing and countering hidden bias is a lifelong process and the responsibility of every person and profession, Godsil says. The most important tool for overcoming bias is to create meaningful, long-term personal relationships with people of different identities. “The next time you work with clients from different cultures and backgrounds, you will be able to provide equal and professional service because you have embraced the work that we all need to do,” she says.

NAR is now collaborating with Perception Institute to design a three-hour classroom training that will be released later in 2020.

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Additional Resources

Fair Housing

REALTORS® are charged with upholding fair housing laws as well as offering professional service to all in their search for real property.

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