New York City and the surrounding counties are notorious for their high rents and even higher apartment and home prices. While the average renter or homebuyer laments the sticker price and the still high mortgage rate that is hovering above 7%, real estate agents are usually not too impacted by the fluctuations in the market since their livelihood is often based on commissions, whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market.
However, for Black real estate agents, their jobs are challenging no matter the temperature of the market. Only 6% percent of real estate agents and brokers in the United States are Black, although 14% of the population is Black. This essentially means Black agents are not getting the same lucrative commissions as their white counterparts.
Mable Ivory, a New York-based real estate agent who primarily sells houses in the Bronx, says she has had to rely on her network to even get those sales.
“While I have no problem helping Black clients find their dream house, a lot of the work I do comes from referrals and working twice as hard to do my job.”
Home sales in the Bronx will be at lower price points than home sales on the Upper West Side, for instance.
George Floyd’s murder in 2020 led to a racial reckoning in corporate America that saw an abundance of companies expand their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to address the imbalance of racial equity in companies. Unfortunately, that did not extend to the real estate market. And three years on, a lot of those roles have disappeared and the initiatives have mostly gone nowhere.
Ivory, who has been a licensed real estate agent since 2006 and is a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business, has checked off all the boxes academically and professionally, but has yet to realize the fruits of working long days, nights and weekends on behalf of her clients.
“It’s come to a point where I know how far I can go in the situation I’m in and I have to be my own advocate and make my own path. Lip service is paid to DEI initiatives, but there is no formal mechanism in place even in the form of mentorship.”
Although the National Association of Realtors (NAR) admitted Black members in 1961, there is still a need for the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), which was founded in 1947 by Black agents and brokers. A lot of the support that Black real estate agents get is through this organization.
Ivory says once a niche area is established, it’s not easy to shift gears and try for another geographical area within an organization because there’s already going to be an agent covering that area.
“If I hear about something through my network that’s fine, but will I necessarily be given a listing outside my normal scope? No.”
Ivory recalls an instance where a potential white client did not believe she was the listing agent and wanted to talk to the “real” agent.
The escalating cost of living and raising a family in New York City has also tightened the market. Nearly 200,000 Black people, 9%, have moved out of the city in the last 20 years according to the latest census data. Ivory noted that homeownership builds generational wealth and if the people are leaving, it is a smaller pool of clients; the situation saddens her in general.
“I was able to get a young client into a home that has appreciated in value so much since I sold it to her, and I am grateful I was able to do that,” Ivory says. Although, she continued, “Black New Yorkers are buying more affordable homes in the South or a second home elsewhere that they can use as an Airbnb or a straight rental.”
Despite the trends that have stymied Black realtors and potential homeowners, Ivory remains hopeful and says that “my network continues to come through for me and I know that it’s equal parts pulling myself up by my bootstraps and being grateful for the niche I have carved out.”