From Wall Street to Real Estate, discover how and why NAGLREP founder Jeff Berger is encouraging real estate professionals to embrace LGBT diversity.
Join QuantumDigital’s CMO Eric Cosway as he interviews Jeff Berger, Founder of NAGLREP (National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals), a mission-driven trade organization that is part business and part advocacy group for equality, sustainable homeownership, and the wealth and stability it affords not only to the LGBT community, but to all American families.
Eric: Welcome to the podcast, Jeff. My first question is: How does a Wall Street stockbroker end up in Jupiter, Florida?
Jeff: Well, that’s a great question. The answer is to get out of the city. I grew up on Long Island in Jericho, a small town 30 minutes outside of Manhattan. After college, I got a job on Wall Street and had a great 5-year run. What I loved about Wall Street was the sky was the limit. It was a great 5 years, but what I found was there was just too much there. It was colossal. There wasn’t a lot of transparency for a guy like me at the time. There I was 23, 24, 25, 26… I wasn’t really understanding the earnings this and the quarterly that. It was a very different time on Wall Street; less regulation and you get your highs and lows. I moved out of Manhattan. I moved to Jupiter, Florida because my grandfather was out in Florida. I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, and family is super important to me. There, I fell in love with real estate. It just fascinated me, the tangible aspect of brick and mortar. The stability allowed me to see clearer than the earning reports on Wall Street, and I excelled in it. The lead generation, the relationship aspect of it; I just really loved it, and now it’s been 10 years.
Eric: So, you were a broker or agent for Coldwell Banker, correct? If you look at what you’ve learned over the last 10 years, or before real estate, what would you say would be the greatest lessons you’ve learned that have contributed to your success as the founder of NAGLREP?
Jeff: First and foremost, I’m a believer that overnight success takes 10 years. For me in 2007, when I founded NAGLREP, the real estate market was trending way down. Even more eye-opening was that real estate professionals were a lot less comfortable being out as LGBT in the workplace. One of our first missions was to include both sexual orientation and gender identity to the NAR Code of Ethics. We’re also stakeholders at HUD, which is great. Since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, that’s been a huge game changer for raising awareness and LGBT people feeling more comfortable in the workplace. The second thing that I’ve learned (and this is just a life lesson), is to not expect people to do what I want them to do. Just because I’m the leader of the organization, doesn’t solve loyalty. In real estate, there are so many choices. I’m always seeking new ways to remain relevant and bring value to the members and all our corporate partners. I like to say, “In Wall Street, you’re only as good as your last trade.” Here, you’re only as good as your last sale. I’m a firm believer that the business has already consumed what you did yesterday, and they want more.
Eric: What do you think would be your greatest accomplishments to date?
Jeff: I look back and, of course, our work with NAR and our work with HUD, are fantastic accomplishments. I know it’s a bit personal, but the inclusion by the large brands as corporate partners—for example Realogy, Berkshire Hathaway, and Engel & Volkers. These are leaders in real estate. It’s just amazing. I’ve gotten to work closely with Coldwell Banker CEO Charlie Young, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate CEO Sherry Chris, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO Gino Blefari; and Engel & Volkers CEO Anthony Hitt… fantastic leaders. They speak at our national conference each year. It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with these people. They are great thought leaders. First American Title is also very involved with NAGLREP, as well as Freddie Mac and SunTrust Bank. I think those are really big accomplishments. When I got into this 10 years ago, never thought I would be working with the CEOs of the leading brands in the industry. It’s really an honor, and it’s a pleasure.
Eric: Let’s dive a little deeper into that. You’ve had your organization for 10 years, what was the “A-ha!” moment for you that got you on this journey?
Jeff: I founded NAGLREP in 2007. Prior to that, I started an LGBT Realtor directory because marketing and lead generation was so important to my business. I saw the niche with LGBT Realtors. My website was mentioned in REALTOR® magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and a couple of others picked it up. They mentioned other organizations like the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. That was it—that was my “A-ha!” There should be a National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals advocating for LGBT home ownership. There was more of a mission, and I had my “why.” So, I formed NAGLREP as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and we approached NAR. We now work closely with NAR Diversity. It’s really amazing.
Eric: If you were to look forward, what would you say your top 3 or 4 goals are for the next couple of years?
Jeff: Like every business, we look at growth. If you don’t grow, very often in business it doesn’t look like you did anything. Growth in several ways is really on our agenda. There are presently 1,500 members of NAGLREP, and we’re growing 30% this year. We plan to build up to 5,000 members by the end of the decade. We’re also building out our local chapters. We continue to shape the way the industry, which really accepted our LGBT real estate organization so well. They grasped what we’re doing. Real Estate professionals are great—the camaraderie, the thought leadership that goes with it, representing NAGLREP—we’re constantly welcomed and that means a lot to our group. To be accepted is so important, and we intend to grow in that way. We plan to bring greater exposure for our partners within real estate and beyond by working with the other LGBT civil rights organizations. Eventually, we’re going to grow into everything-LGBT home. So, you heard that first—NAGLREP will be everything-LGBT home.
Eric: What a great goal and great vision. Let’s go back to a specific real estate transaction. Are there areas that the LGBT are most likely to experience some form of discrimination—whether it’s the lending or seller bias, or any other process or activities?
Jeff: There is. First, we did a LGBT home buyer and seller survey just a couple of years ago, and 70% of LGBT homebuyers, sellers, and renters were greatly concerned about discrimination in housing. There have been great strides made within the LGBT community. Marriage equality was just one step. Going through the process of homebuying, selling and even renting is hard and can be an exhausting emotional roller-coaster. For much of your life, being LGBT, you might be judged. Our country is very polarized. The simple fact is that in America today the LGBT community does not have protection in Federal Fair Housing. It’s very concerning. What’s also concerning to business professionals such as ourselves is that the LGBT community has 1 trillion dollars in buying power. That’s something we have to grasp, we have to understand, and we really have to embrace it.
Eric: NAGLREP has had a recent policy summit, and you’re very active. I believe you’ve got some legislative processes you’re working on. Is that correct?
Jeff: Yes, it is. As I mentioned earlier, Federal Fair Housing law does not presently include LGBT protections. We feel that’s going to change in the future. I would also like to share, just last week U.S. Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, introduced the Equality Act which would add LGBT protections to current civil rights law and of course, would encompass housing. We’re also excited about another bill by Republican Congressman from Virginia, Scott Taylor; so there you have bipartisan. He recently introduced the Fair & Equal Housing Act to include specifically LGBT protections to Federal Fair Housing law. This past March, NAGLREP hosted our LGBT Housing Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. We had the pleasure of both of these congressmen speaking at our event. Soon after, we engaged our membership at NAR and asked for support of the bills. We reached out to NAR President Bill Brown and NAR leadership, and they have just endorsed the Fair and Equal Housing Act. So, we’re presently waiting for NAR to decide to endorse the Equality Act, but that was just introduced this week. Overall, I would say the administration doesn’t seem to be too active in protecting LGBT concerns, but we are moving in the right direction. It’s going to happen.
Eric: You mentioned that the LGBT community has a disposable income of nearly a trillion dollars. What do you see are the keys to leverage the potential economic contribution of the community?
Jeff: I think it’s simple. As real estate professionals, if someone in your office identifies as LGBT, that we encourage them to join NAGLREP. They can learn and help your company embrace the community. If you’re in real estate and see that 1 trillion dollar figure, that’s a lot of potential clients. So, get involved with NAGLREP because the loyalty within the LGBT community is off the charts! We’ve got to think as brokers and real estate professionals about recruiting and retention. You get involved and show your loyalty to the LGBT community, and that’s some sticky glue. So, I think that’s really important to embrace. Also, naglrep.com for example gets 75,000 unique visitors a month from LGBT homebuyers and sellers. The LGBT community is actively searching online for an LGBT Realtor. So, it’s not just about supporting it in an advocacy way, it’s business too. NAGLREP means business, and we’re going after that 1 trillion dollar buying power. That’s what we’re here for. Join and be a part of it because your marketing plan may not necessarily know where to start in the LGBT community—do you buy ads, do you do this, do you do that? You can learn from our organization and attend our conference. For example, we’ll host the National LGBT Real Estate Conference in Palm Springs October 17th through the 19th. That’s a fantastic opportunity to network with the LGBT community of Realtors. We’ll have about 700 attending.
Eric: As a market segment, what makes the LGBT community unique?
Jeff: There’s the buying trends and marketing channels. The LGBT community is very loyal, and they’re actively seeking LGBT and allies—it’s very important to say “allies.” You don’t have to be LGBT to embrace and work with the LGBT community. You just want to be allied, also known as “gay friendly.” In today’s era of polarity in the political process, LGBTs know that not everyone supports them in general. We’re talking about people that strongly oppose LGBT people. To me, it’s overwhelming, but the reality is it’s out there. If you show your support to the LGBT community, they will embrace you and want to do business with you and continue to do business with you. The fact is it’s been proven through studies that if you’re supportive of the LGBT community, their family and friends will also look upon your brand very highly.
Eric: As you look down the road, what inspires you to work every day and continue this vision that you’ve been on for a number of years? What’s really your inspiration?
Jeff: The Federal Fair Housing law is very concerning. That keeps me up at night. It’s something that I just want to scratch off the list. But growth of the organization is really our goal and become everything LGBT home—where NAGLREP is really embraced throughout the civil rights LGBT organizations. We can be a portal to help LGBT people buy and sell—to give advice, whether it’s mortgage, whether it’s title (not legal advice of course)—to help them through the process. It’s so important. Homeownership is at historical lows now, and affordability is a concern. But moving forward, really LGBT homes is our focus.
Eric: You mentioned something interesting a couple of days ago, in terms of the LGBT community—62% of them want to have a family. Is that impacting the real estate needs as well?
Jeff: Absolutely, yes—great point. We studied LGBT millennials in our survey that I mentioned earlier. 62% of respondents want to have children within the next 5 years. That’s what they said on our survey, and it’s happening. Family formation is really huge now in the LGBT community. Years ago, the LGBT community was moving into areas and schools weren’t a concern. Now, more and more LGBT people are seeking to have families. As we look to reasons why people are moving from homes and changing their housing needs, it’s important to understand their needs and serve them. It’s a great growth opportunity.
Eric: This has been a real pleasure. It’s always really fascinating to talk to a founder of an organization—someone who started out as a Wall Street broker in the pressure-cooker of New York and now in Florida doing advocacy and running a real business. It’s been a real pleasure. Jeff, personally I want to thank you for your time today. Good luck with the balance of 2017 and your upcoming events!
Jeff: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to be on your show.