Portland company VP on diversifying homebuyer pool, real estate workforce

Coty Thurman, vice president at Living Room Realty, says that while the barrier to entry for new real estate agents is low, building one’s business in the first year is a huge challenge.

“Where we lose a lot of folks who don’t have a ton of savings, or have a ton of family and support that can take care of them financially, is in that first year,” she said.

Living Room Realty agents are among the top in the metro. It is the sixth largest residential real estate firm in the Portland area, with $1.54 billion in metro sales volume in 2022, according to Business Journal research.

Thurman spoke with the Business Journal about how to help diversify the industry and broaden homeownership opportunities for people of color, including one innovative solution at Living Room Realty. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You spoke on this idea not only of diversifying the profession, but also creating more opportunities for homeownership in communities of color. What are some just great ways to make that happen? It’s like the chicken or the egg situation. If you have Realtors of color in their own communities having conversations — things feel more real if you can talk to somebody about your lived experience, and they understand and then can show you, ‘Oh, but it’s still possible.’ Having more Realtors of color just in their communities, having conversations is going to increase the number of people who even know that they’re allowed to have and to buy a home.

Structurally, what are some things that the industry does really well in trying to bring more people of color into the fold, versus what are some things that the industry doesn’t do so well? The barrier of entry is low, (including) the cost to get licensed. You don’t have to go and get a four-year degree. So the education piece of it feels like something tangible that you could get, even if you’re not someone with a ton of money. That’s great.

Where we lose a lot of folks who don’t have a ton of savings, or have a ton of family and support that can take care of them financially is in that first year. It’s a tough industry: you’re building from the ground up, and it’s just like any business. If you’re just not set up through family support to get you through that, or you haven’t had a job that you’ve been able to tuck money away, it can be really hard to get off the ground.

When you’re an independent contractor trying to get your momentum and your inertia, it really benefits the folks who have help from family members, who can loan them $10,000 or however much to pay rent and have some living money. The other part of it is that you need access to a funnel of clients. If you’re coming from a low-income community, that funnel of clients — their track from where they’re at today to when they can buy a house — I don’t think it’s impossible, it’s great to have that person planted in those communities to share the journey, but it’s a lot longer before that funnel opens into some active clients.

I see a lot of agents try to hold on to second jobs in that first year, but the ones that really propel are the ones who have the freedom to put everything they’ve got into their business. And that means marketing dollars. That means time. And that just goes back to a ton of the systemic stuff we talk about in life itself. How you get ahead is just to have faith to either fail or time to build.

What else do folks need to know? Living Room actually has a program that, after three years of working with Living Room, we offer a $10,000 grant to our team members to help them buy their first home, and it is a way for people to start thinking about buying a home, who just never really thought they even had the opportunity to do it.

That is one of those opportunities I think employers do have when they’re trying to figure out ways to really support the mission of diversifying who gets homes. I think those are really great things that you can build into your benefit packages.

The List

Rank Prior Rank Name / prior rank / URL

1

1

Cascade Hasson Sotheby’s International Realty

2

2

Premiere Property Group LLC

3

3

Windermere Realty Trust

View this list

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