As a REALTOR, Sarah Laaser-Webb has dedicated her time and energy to working with clients of all backgrounds, but she often works with members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
A member of the LGBTQIA+ community Laaser-Webb has experienced discrimination. But it was one particular encounter she and her wife, Jan, endured that shaped Sarah’s career as a REALTOR.
“Before I was a REALTOR, we were moving to Saint Louis for my job. We had a challenging tax situation because we lived in Illinois, Jan worked in Missouri and we had investment properties in Iowa,” she recalls. “Our REALTOR at the time recommended a CPA to us.
“A few weeks later we walked into his office and he just went off about how our relationship was unethical, our finances were unethical. It was the most blatant discrimination that I’ve ever faced. This was a REALTOR we trusted who recommended this CPA and he completely tore us down.”
While Sarah and Jan were able to resolve their taxes with their long-time CPA in Iowa at the last minute, the experience made Sarah realize when she became a REALTOR that she would do things differently.
“You have to be aware of who you are recommending people to, and how that reflects on you,” she said. “These are real things people encounter. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community encounter this all the time.”
Sarah, who lives in Ames with Jan and their four children, made the conscious decision to be more visible in her professional life so that people who need help or are in minority groups can find someone like them.
“Someone asked me once, ‘Why does it matter if you have a gay REALTOR?’ Well, it’s not that it matters in terms of doing your job well, but it matters in the terms that someone might want that, that you may understand some of the challenges they are facing.”
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a local advocate, Sarah has information that can be vitally important to prospective buyers in her area, and the knowledge to point them toward resources that can help them make informed decisions.
“When an LGBTQIA+ asks if a neighborhood is safe, they aren’t asked about crime,” Sarah said. “They want to know if they are safe to be who they are. That’s an entirely different question that not everyone understands.”
While Sarah is careful not to run afoul of Fair Housing rules, she has gathered a wealth of resources and contacts in the community to provide to clients.
“I make sure that my list includes multiple lenders, inspectors, and others,” she said. “I want to give them a choice. I want to have a list of people to recommend that will be supportive of my client base.”
The discrimination Sarah faced with the CPA wasn’t the first or last she’s encountered. She recalls a bad experience with a local lender. While renovating a commercial building, Sarah and her wife applied for a loan. The lender used an appraisal that was undervaluing the property and then completely stopped doing business with Sarah. In another situation, Sarah and Jen were adopting a child and because she wasn’t working for herself asked that the monthly stipend be considered income. The bank stopped communicating with the couple.
“I think it’s been eye-opening for me, how different lenders can shut people down for nothing that involves their financials, but without doing it directly,” she said. “It’s hard to prove discrimination, but these things are happening everyday.”
And these situations have an impact on homeowners, Sarah believes.
“It’s hard when you walk into a lender and they don’t take you seriously because of your family status,” Sarah said. “When you have one bad experience, it’s hard to get confidence up again. You start to see why homeownership levels are so much lower, because people try once and don’t want to again.”
It’s these experiences that spurred Sarah to take on more roles both locally and nationally, including in the Alliance for LBGTQIA REALTORS. She also joined a referral network for LGBTQIA+ REALTORS.
“I had one client who was moving here for work. The list of REALTORS she was given were great, but none of them were a fit for understanding her or her family,” Sarah said. “I thought, ‘I need to be better than this.’ Unless you lived it, it’s very hard to understand.”
But just because other REALTORS may not have experienced the same types of discrimination or situations Sarah has, doesn’t mean they can’t be valuable allies for their LGBTQIA+ clients.
Sarah suggested that her fellow REALTORS could take simple steps to ensure their clients don’t experience the discrimination she and Jan felt nearly two decades ago.
Courses like At Home With Diversity can provide a wealth of knowledge to REALTORS, Sarah said. The National Association of REALTORS also offers training that can help real estate professionals better understand the challenges that may arise for clients in the LGBTQIA+ community.
It’s one thing to slap a rainbow sticker on your window, but it’s another to do something to support the community, Sarah notes. Look for the people who are active in their communities, who have supported other LGBTQIA+ businesses and causes.
Know Your Community
Find others in your area who are part of the LGBTQIA+ and can provide unbiased insight to clients. Lean on community leaders who can answer questions about schools, neighborhoods, and other areas that can give perspective. Give clients actual people they can talk to to make informed decisions.
Find Trusted Referrals
Curate a list of inspectors, lenders and others who you trust and would personally do business with. Make sure this list is of people who will be supportive of your client base.