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New video shows REALTORS how to overcome bias and promote fair housing

By Anthony SanFilippo
July 2020

“How would it feel to be really excited about living in a certain neighborhood only to have a real estate agent tell you would be more comfortable somewhere else?”

This is the question that Rachel Godsil, Law professor at Rutgers Law School and co-founder and co-director of the Perception Institute, asks near the beginning of a 52-minute video that the Institute created in conjunction with the National Association of REALTORS® titled “Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing.”

The video, created to help REALTORS® create protocols to both recognize and eliminate implicit biases in their industry, comes at an important time in the nation’s history, as awareness about social issues like systemic racism and implicit bias have been brought to the forefront.

NAR is using this video as an introduction to implicit bias training but has plans to go even further.

“We are all better if we have people in our lives who are different from us. This is especially so in integrated schools and neighborhoods. Children who go to integrated schools learn organically and learn how to work well with others.”

The organization is working with the Perception Institute to develop a three-hour curriculum that brokers can use to train their agents. The plan is that the curriculum will be customizable for each brokerage so that they can address real life scenarios that their agents may encounter where an unrecognized bias could enter into the transaction.

The video opens with a recreation of a typical interaction between a black potential homebuyer and a real estate agent. Upon seeing the buyer is a person of color, the agent suggests that if the home he is looking at doesn’t feel right, there are homes in other communities that may be more affordable and would make the buyer feel more comfortable.

“Some of you might be asking, ‘Why are we still talking about identity differences? Why is different important? Can’t we just be people?” Afua Addo, Deputy Director of Programs and Training at the Perception Institute says in the video. “Difference is actually really good. Research shows that when we are surrounded by people who look different from us, each of our brains acts in a more rigorous fashion. Why? Because if you are sitting at a table with a group of people who all look alike, our brain assumes that we all agree with one another. We go into group think and are more error prone and we think less rigorously because we are all going along the same path and think the solution is obvious.

“We are all better if we have people in our lives who are different from us. This is especially so in integrated schools and neighborhoods. Children who go to integrated schools learn organically and learn how to work well with others.”

Godsil and Addo take the REALTORS® on a path toward understanding what these implicit – or unconscious – biases look and sound like, explain why they happen – even by those individuals who are cognizant of not showing bias – and creating structures within their brokerages that will eliminate them.

Godsil talks about how she is Irish Catholic and when her ancestors first arrived in America, they were dehumanized, considered savages and uneducable while the women were deemed promiscuous.

She points out, though, that those stereotypes have all but disappeared, and credited that to the assimilation of different European immigrants in certain neighborhoods after World War II. Once programs were created by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration, loans became available to working class Americans to be used in certain communities.

As a result, people from different backgrounds started living in the same neighborhoods, got to know one another and stereotypes went by the wayside.

However, these loans were not accessible to people of color and they weren’t available in certain neighborhoods because of red-lining – a form of mapping that separated ethnic groups into their own communities and prevented people of color from having access to neighborhoods where whites were living.

As such, the stereotypes and biases directed at those communities remained and, in many cases, became exacerbated.

Addo said there are five steps known under the euphemism BRICK, that will help create more successful diversity in communities.

BRICK is short for:

  • Belonging
  • Respect
  • Investment/individuation
  • Conversation
  • Kindness

“The challenge is that what we believe and how we act can often be different,” says Godsil. “Those of us who believe ourselves to be fair, who value fairness, can often act inconsistently with those beliefs.

“We call this ‘the fairness paradox.’”

The film was born out of a 2019 investigation, conducted by Newsday, that studied REALTOR® practices. Newsday recruited regular people to act as testers, posed as house hunters and filmed interactions discreetly to check and see if those who were otherwise equal (based on job status) would be treated differently based on their race or ethnicity.

The results were sobering.

The investigation found that 19 percent of Asian-Americans had unequal treatment, as were 39 percent of Latinx or Hispanic and 49 percent with black testers.

The video shared actual comments from brokers to these testers that, while unlikely to be intentionally biased, they were still implicitly biased.

One example was suggesting to a black tester that a small downgrade in neighborhood could get them more house for their money, while urging a white tester not to consider homes in those same neighborhoods out of concerns for safety and lower-funded school systems.

NAR partnered with the Perception Institute to create this video as a way of helping its members know what to say after being told for so long what not to say.

Godsil suggests that it’s all about “building muscle,” much in the way you would working out in a gym. Keep doing the exercises repeatedly until it becomes easy.

She suggests to REALTORS® that when interacting with clients they:

  • Have a go-to positive memory.
  • Really focus on the other person’s experience.
  • Have a script – something that you validated to ensure that your words will be received well.
  • Respect reset – if something said lands wrong, don’t self-justify, but explain, and take ownership.

“To override bias, brokerages need to develop a set of protocols to make sure that everyone is treated fairly,” she says. “Listen to the clients’ preferences and allow every client to make his or her own choice… This may seem obvious but ignoring this is when bias gets in the way.”


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