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The real estate industry is overwhelmingly white; the Spire program hopes to change that

National Association of REALTORS

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is rolling out a new program aimed at diversifying the real estate industry.

According to the 2020 NAR Member Profile report, Black individuals made up just 6% of NAR membership, with Hispanics not far ahead at 10%; 80% of NAR’s membership in 2020 was white.

Peoria Area Association of Realtors (PAAR) President Robin Simpson has a potential reason on why this disparity is so large.

“I think they haven't had access to the information on how you go through the process. So, we're trying to change that. We want a diverse, healthy family of Realtors that can help all of our population around our country, and especially in our local community. We have a great local community, and we need more wonderful professionals to do it,” said Simpson.

While couldn’t think of any specific past practices that would have created a barrier of entry for these minority groups, Simpson said she believes the specific numbers in the Greater Peoria area would likely reflect the national statistics.

And that needs to change.

“So we really are trying to make sure there's access and information out there to all of our community,” Simpson said.

Robin Simpson is the President of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors
Jody Holtz
Robin Simpson is the President of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors

One way that’s being done is through NAR’s new Spire program, which is aimed at increasing the number of multicultural, minority communities represented within the real estate industry by providing them with the education, tools and resources needed to be successful.

The four-month program requires an application, and those selected will be paired with a seasoned real estate professional who will serve as a mentor to guide mentees through the process.

“So, it goes June through September. You'll spend four to eight hours a month with your mentor, but it also opens up online platforms,” Simpson explained. “So, it gives you opportunities to take some classes to find out, is this really what I'm interested in? Or maybe I want to look at a different part of real estate. Is there another part that fits me better? So, they'll adapt it to the person so that we can get you the information to help get you started.”

No license or prior experience in the real estate industry is necessary. Simpson emphasized that while most people think of those who sell houses when they hear the term “Realtor”, there’s a variety of other career paths within the industry. And many people may just not know how to get started.

“But there are professions with appraisers, with investment Realtors, with people that help others lease property,” noted Simpson. “So, commercial real estate can be anywhere from industrial, agricultural. You think of shopping malls, you think of small apartments, all of those things play into real estate,” she said.

The Spire program is voluntary — for mentors and mentees. The mentors reside across the nation, and Simpson said a lot of thought goes into both the application and the pairing process.

“We want to make sure it's somebody that would be in a similar market, right? Real estate is very, very local. So somebody that sells in a very different market wouldn't necessarily be a good match,” she explained.

While Simpson said it’s possible that an applicant from Greater Peoria could be paired with a mentor that’s local, most likely these interactions will take place over Zoom with opportunity for state, regional and national meet-ups.

Since one of the desired outcomes of the program is to diversify the industry, Simpson said the next step after completing the program would be to go through the formal education process to acquire a license, if the mentee is still interested in joining the industry.

“You can take a live class, an online class, or a hybrid…but it is 75 hours of coursework that's required. Once you've completed the coursework, then you apply to take your state licensing exam,” said Simpson.

If financial constraints are a concern, Simpson said scholarships for this next step are available, especially for minorities, through the Real Estate Educational Foundation (REEF).

Another desired outcome for the program is to help mentees understand how to build generational wealth through property ownership. Simpson said while there isn’t anything wrong with renting a property, you’re paying somebody else’s mortgage when you do so.

“When you own, you pay your own mortgage. So, that is personal wealth that can be handed down through generations. The more property you can own, the more personal wealth that you acquire…it's a way to just gain your own independence and freedom,” Simpson said.


While the Spire program is a step forward on the path toward inclusivity, it’s clear there’s a long road ahead. Right now, Simpson said PAAR’s focus is on educating its own agents on implicit bias and the importance of diversity, as well as continuing to be a source of information for those considering a career in real estate, especially young people.

“Commitment to excellence is a big push through the National Association of Realtors that we have brought here locally to make sure we're doing the best job going out to job fairs at our local high schools and community colleges,” said Simpson. “You can be a licensed real estate agent at the age of 18. So, it's getting that information out to our young people as this is an avenue for you.”

Overall, Simpson hopes to be adding some new faces to Peoria’s Realtor family soon.

“We want our Realtor family to be extremely diverse and to show the diversity in our community,” she said. “We have great people from all races, all different minority groups, and we want to see them in our Realtor family as well.”

The application deadline for NAR’s Spire program is May 31. Those interested can fill out an application here. For more help on determining which path of real estate might be right for you, visit NAR’s career path assessment.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.