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Real Estate Industry Works to Change Its Ways – The New York Times



Reckoning with its historical role in promoting racism in homeownership, real estate professionals are rewriting rules and working to help increase Black homeownership.

Earlier this summer, one day before the first ever Juneteenth federal holiday in the United States, Marcia Fudge, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stood at a podium in Cleveland and made a bold pledge: By 2030, there will be 3 million new Black homeowners in the United States.

The initiative, called 3by30, is a project of the Black Homeownership Collaborative, a coalition committed to transforming the real estate industry, which for decades has been complicit in redlining, housing discrimination, and racially-motivated discrepancies in appraisals.

It’s a gambit that has been more than a year in the making. In May 2020, spurred by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the United States erupted in the largest racial justice protests since the Civil Rights movement. The real estate industry was quick to show its solidarity. Amid the sea of black Instagram squares that filled our timelines for #Blackout Tuesday last summer, were pledges of reform from brokers, bankers, appraisers and property technology executives. But while some of those good intentions have now faded away, many in the real estate industry are rolling out projects to make good on their word.

According to American Community Survey estimates, there were about 6.45 million Black homeowners in 2019, with a homeownership rate of 42 percent, significantly lower than the 73 percent for whites. The Urban Institute has calculated that adding 3 million new Black homeowners by 2030 will bring the Black homeownership rate to 57.5 percent.

Last November, Charlie Oppler, president of the National Association of Realtors, issued a public apology for the many ways that the association had contributed to housing discrimination, including initially opposing the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The apology came less than a week after the association amended its code of ethics to ban hate speech, including racist social media posts by its agents. In the months that followed, they unveiled a new Fair Housing Action Plan and a number of diversity-focused grants. And in a bid to offer local agencies concrete steps for change, they also laid out a four-point road map that serves as an instruction manual of sorts for becoming more inclusive.

Bikel Frenelle, an Atlanta-based broker, was chairwoman of the national association’s Diversity Committee in 2020 and helped write that road map. “We don’t see it as training just for white people,” she said. “It’s training for all.”

Ms. Frenelle, 51, who is Black, says that much of the momentum now being felt in the real estate industry began with Mr. Oppler’s statement. “I get a little bit emotional when I talk about it, because I was so excited for N.A.R. to just say, ‘Hey, we hear you,’” she said.

Executives from the association also sit on the steering committee for the Black Homeownership Collaborative. They share that space with representatives from the Mortgage Bankers Association; the N.A.A.C.P.; National Fair Housing Alliance; National Housing Conference, National Urban League and the Urban Institute; and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, a Black organization that was founded in 1947 because they were excluded from the N.A.R.

The National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which refers to itself as the oldest minority real estate trade association in the United States, has also partnered with Homelight, a San Francisco-based real estate referral company, on a separate project called the Black Real Estate Program.

That program will provide 10 aspiring Black real estate professionals with a $5,000 stipend for licensing, classes and marketing, as well as a personal mentor from the association.

“It’s more likely that a Black Realtor is going to be able to advise and help those in their community to become homeowners,” said Sumant Sridharan, chief executive of Homelight. “The goal is to increase Black homeownership.”

To get there, said C. Renee Wilson, the association’s interim executive director, Black brokers need support. “Mentorship is a key component to recipients’ success in understanding and learning how to provide services that are germane and unique to the Black experience,” she wrote in an email. “Increasing Blacks in the real estate industry at every level is essential to eradicate systemic racism that has plagued the housing industry for years.”

Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

Dave Jones, a Black broker in Tacoma, Wash., said the changes he has seen unfold over the past year make him “cautiously optimistic” that long-term reform is within reach.

“Last summer, it took the whole world stopping for us to even have a conversation,” he said. “But it’s going to take more than just Realtors to make this happen. It’s also going to take the lenders, the mortgage industry, the appraisers, and the relationship they all have with each other.”

In the past year, lenders and appraisers have introduced their own programs to combat racism.

JPMorgan Chase in October issued a $30 billion commitment to racial equity, including an expanded home buyer grant program for minority buyers, meant to help 40,000 Black or Latino families buy a home in the next five years. PeerStreet, an online marketplace for real estate investors, created the Evolving Neighborhood Uplift Fund, a donor-advised fund to provide property down payments for aspiring Black real estate investors.

“We have a huge network of expertise and an ability to aggregate capital, so let’s find some way to point this business to where it’s needed most,” said Brew Johnson, the chief executive of PeerStreet.

Within the appraisal industry, where nearly 97 percent of appraisers are white, leaders in the field initially refused to acknowledge bias following a series of damning reports in 2020 about racial discrimination in appraisals.

But the Appraisal Foundation, which sets national standards for real estate valuation, has since added its first Black member to its Appraisal Qualifications Board. They also began a number of new diversity initiatives.

Bethany Mollenkof for The New York Times

One of those initiatives is PAREA, an acronym for Practical Applications of Real Estate Appraisal — a program that could potentially help aspiring appraisers sidestep the long-held requirement that trainee appraisers find a mentor to work with.

“The vast majority of appraisers are white men, so if you put people of color in the position of having to find a white man to train them, it’s really a barrier to entry for a lot of folks,” said James Park, executive director of the Appraisal Subcommittee, the independent federal agency created in 1989 to oversee appraiser regulation.

But despite PAREA being approved nine months ago, said Mr. Park, “there have yet to be any programs in place.”

David Bunton, president of the Appraisal Foundation, said in an email that the delay lay with state governments, which had to first adopt state guidelines before the program could begin. Mr. Bunton also pointed to a number of additional new diversity programs that the foundation has undertaken, including a review of fair housing guidance and a demographic survey of appraisers.

Whether those programs will move the needle remains to be seen. In October 2020, the Appraisal Subcommittee offered the Appraisal Foundation a grant of $3 million over three years that included support for diversity outreach, as well as a review of PAREA’s efficacy. The grant was rejected.

“We were disappointed,” Mr. Park said. “The foundation has accepted grants from the subcommittee for 30 years.” (Mr. Bunton said the grant was rejected because “we were in a financially stable position during the pandemic,” adding that the foundation asked for the funds to be directed to states that were struggling financially).

Regardless of how many new initiatives make their debut, many Black brokers say the real shift will not come until the racial gap in homeownership is closed.

“The solution lies in Black leadership and homeownership,” said Lori Pace, a broker in Denver. “Real estate ownership is a form of reparations, part of the 40 acres that were not delivered.”

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

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US real estate heir Robert Durst convicted of murdering friend – Al Jazeera English



A California jury has found multimillionaire real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of murdering his longtime friend Susan Berman in 2000, the first homicide conviction for a man suspected of killing three people in three states over the past 39 years.

Durst, 78 and frail, will likely die in prison as the jury also found him guilty on Friday of the special circumstances of lying in wait and killing a witness, which carry a mandatory life sentence. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, who oversaw the trial, set a sentencing hearing for October 18.

The trial came six years after Durst’s apparent confession was aired in the HBO television documentary series The Jinx, in which Durst was caught on a hot microphone in the toilet saying to himself, “What the hell did I do? … Killed them all, of course.”

The nine-woman, three-man jury had deliberated for seven and a half hours over three days for Friday’s decision. Durst, who has been in jail for the duration of the trial, was not present for the reading of the verdict because he was in isolation after having been exposed to somebody with COVID-19.

Windham decided to have the verdict read in Durst’s absence. Speaking to lawyers for both sides later, he called the case “the most extraordinary trial that I’ve ever seen or even heard about”.

Lead prosecutor John Lewin, who had pursued Durst for years, credited The Jinx filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling for their revealing interviews with Durst, telling reporters after the verdict: “Without them having conducted the interviews, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

In closing arguments, Lewin called Durst a “narcissistic psychopath” who killed Berman in an attempt to cover up the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in New York in 1982.

Judge Windham receives the verdict from the bailiff before finding Durst guilty of murder [Genaro Molina/Pool via Reuters]

Durst was only on trial for killing Berman in California, but prosecutors argued he murdered three people: his missing wife, Berman and a neighbour in Texas who discovered his identity when Durst was hiding from the law.

Despite long being a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, a 29-year-old medical student, Durst was never charged. Prosecutors said he killed her, then decided to kill Berman 18 years later because she had told others that she helped Durst cover up the crime. Berman, 55, was shot in the back of her head inside her Beverly Hills home.

Shortly after the verdict, the McCormack family issued a statement urging prosecutors in Westchester County, New York, to prosecute Durst.

“The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family,” the statement said.

Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah reopened the case in May, shortly after taking office.

Her office issued a statement on Friday commending those involved in securing the conviction, but a spokesperson said the Westchester investigation “remains ongoing and we will have no further comment at this time”.

‘Sick old man’

Defence lawyers portrayed Durst, a cancer survivor who testified from a wheelchair wearing a baggy jail uniform, as a “sick old man”. But he withstood 15 days as a witness, nine of them under cross-examination.

During a 58-day trial spread over a year and a half, including a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Durst testified that he discovered Berman’s murdered body when he went to visit her but did not call the police.

The prosecution also delved into the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, who was Durst’s neighbour in Galveston, Texas. A Galveston jury acquitted Durst of murder, even though Durst admitted he chopped up Black’s body and dumped it in Galveston Bay.

Durst said Black pulled a gun on him and was shot accidentally when the two men wrestled over the firearm.

Black’s death marked the second time Durst had a dead body at his feet, according to his testimony.

In both cases, Durst said he at first tried to call the 911 emergency number, but later decided against it, fearing nobody would believe he was not guilty.

Besides The Jinx audio, two other pieces of evidence appeared to damage Durst’s defence. One was the recorded 2017 testimony of Nick Chavin, a mutual friend who said Durst admitted to him in 2014 that he had killed Berman.

“It was her or me. I had no choice,” Chavin recounted Durst telling him.

Durst also admitted he authored a handwritten letter to Beverly Hills police with the word “cadaver” and Berman’s address, directing them to her undiscovered body. Durst had denied writing the note for 20 years.

Durst is the grandson of the founder of The Durst Organization, one of New York City’s premier real estate companies.

He long ago left the company, now run by his estranged brother Douglas Durst, who testified at trial and said of his sibling: “He’d like to murder me.”

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Detached home in Toronto is attainable for $700,000 says real estate agent – NOW Toronto



The two-bedroom listing at 15 Beechwood is appealing to renovators and first-time home buyers

A detached home listed for just under $700,000 sounds too good to be true in the Toronto real estate market. The average price for a home in the city is at $1,000,008, the lowest it’s been since February, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB). Meanwhile the average for detached homes in the city is still hovering around $1.7 million, a full six figures more than the listed $699,900 price for 15 Beechwood in the Jane and Eglinton area.

According to WE Realty broker of record Odeen Eccleston that price may actually be attainable, even though similar lots on the street sold between $865,000 and $880,000 over the summer.

 “We don’t have enough information yet about the condition inside the home,” says Eccleston. She adds that any potential buyers should consider booking a home inspector, especially since the listing is marketed to investors and renovators along with first-time buyers without providing any photos of the interior.

Listing agent Lino Arci of Re/MAX Hallmark Lino Arci Group Realty told NOW that the home is currently being rented, which is why photos of the interior have not been made available. He understands that the tenants will be moving out in a couple of weeks. He also adds that the house has been priced fairly, and is not purposefully priced hundreds of thousands below its value to spark a bidding war, a practice that buyers have been wary of in this heated market.

“If we get the asking price, they’ll probably sell it,” says Arci. “I always like to price it right on the money so we sell it quickly.”

The two-bedroom bungalow with a mutual driveway was already listed earlier in the summer, sitting on the market for 48 days before being taken off the market, which Eccleston says bodes well for buyers. Arci explains that the sellers were not happy with their previous real estate agent.

“These are older people,” says Arci. “Sometime a seller expects their agent to be there when they call them and take them through step-by-step. We’re a small team. We can do that.”

Eccleston adds that the bungalow resembles other common listings on the Toronto real estate market, where a home that has been in the family for nearly a century is finally being sold by the family or estate.

Several listings in the Toronto real estate market appeal to builders to tear down old dwellings and build modern new homes. But Eccleston warns buyers to do their math before considering such a venture. Building prices have risen to between $250 to $350 per square foot. On the lower end of the spectrum, a 2,000-square-foot home could cost $500,000 plus soft costs such as municipal permits, surveys and architectural plans, which could add up to upwards of $1.2 million when you add the purchase price. For comparison’s sake, a newly renovated home on the street sold in 2020 for $1.1 million.

But Eccleston says this house could appeal to buyers who have no interest to tear down and build anew, and instead just choose to buy the property cheaply and spend less to renovate the interior.

“Some people are paying more than that for 600-square-foot condos,” says Eccleston. “So they may be willing to put up the money to renovate a detached home that frees them up from paying condo fees.”

“Anyone thinking of getting into the marketplace, they should,” says Arci. “Rates are good. Just jump in.”


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Special Feature: Safety net invaluable in current real estate market – Canadian Lawyer Magazine



Real estate has always been considered a high-risk area of practice, and in 2020, real estate reached its highest recorded portion of claims in the market. Running a successful law practice that deals in real estate comes with unique challenges and competition.

Lawyers must ensure that all internal processes are properly adhered to, but it’s not uncommon for experienced lawyers to accidentally overlook details.

This special feature from FCT highlights the benefits of E&O products in real estate practice.

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