The real estate commission protection act of 2021

Dateline Oregon (MSN):

Starting in January, a real estate agent must reject any communication that would reveal the buyer’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status…

The rationale behind this new law, according to its sponsor, Rep. Mark Meek, is that home buyers have been writing letters to sellers in the hope of “making a personal connection” and thus making their offers look more attractive… and that’s racist.

“I began wondering if these letters were exacerbating disparities out there.”

…because it’s assumed that Oregonians (who are whiter than the national average) won’t want to sell to people who look different from them.

Racism does exist. In case you need some more proof of that, Reason briefly mentioned this story, and the first comment there was:

Fair housing laws are themselves discriminatory, by forcing homeowners to live near people they don’t want around.

Mortgage company bought up a few foreclosed homes from the last ghetto trash who couldn’t afford to live here. Now they’re renting those homes to ghetto trash.

I own. But now I’m forced to put up with these animals who couldn’t afford to live here, if they had to own. Goddamn animals.

Mortgage company would rather rent to better tenants and raise the rent, but fair housing means they can’t do that.

So they’re stuck and I’m stuck, unless I move. But why should I have to move, when ghetto trash shouldn’t even be here?1

…and at least some Oregonians are racist, but something smelled off to me. So I read a little more.

– – –

Most of the other Reason comments – the ones that weren’t spam, anyway –were about the restriction of speech and the obvious way to avoid the restriction (four words: “For Sale By Owner”). Meek has an answer to the first one:

“We are not impeding on their freedom of speech or written communication. We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws.”

“Not relevant.” I’ve heard of the corporate doctrine of shareholder profit maximization, but since the homeowners are the shareholders in a real estate transaction, I don’t see how it applies. Or, rather, I don’t see how forcing homeowners to act like Homo economicus could be anything but a haphazardly enforced clusterfuck.

So the obvious cynical question is: is Rep. Meek trying to claim “homeowners are racist” as a pretext for a broader restriction in speech? I’ve been around long enough to know that bad laws can serve as precedents for other bad laws…

I didn’t immediately reject the possibility, but those “For Sale By Owner” comments gave me an even more cynical idea. A lot of people view real estate agents’ services as a convenience; could this law be used to make real estate agents a necessity, thus increasing their profits? All it would take is this law plus maybe one lawsuit, and no one in Oregon would dare sell property without certified professional assistance.

The real estate industry is split on the practice.

Cambron Elsey, an agent in Charleston, South Carolina, who has been opposed to love letters for years, says taking them out of the equation is a “huge service” to the real estate profession.

But Ken Calhoon, a broker in El Dorado County, California, says legislating against the letters is unnecessary and just another example of “woke cancel culture” run amok.

OK. So there isn’t an industry-wide consensus. And MSN does mention that real estate agents can be just as racist as Rep. Meek’s hypothetical homeowner:

In 2019, Newsday published the findings of a three-year undercover investigation that exposed discriminatory home-selling practices by real estate agents that helped keep neighborhoods in Long Island, New York, segregated.

But I can’t help but think I’ve found the answer, especially since Rep. Meek is himself a real estate agent.

MSN devoted about a quarter of a sentence to this fact, and I missed it on my first reading. I first learned about Rep. Meek’s day job when I was searching for any evidence of his thoughts for or against free speech and found his LinkedIn page:

Mark Meek, CRB, CRS, GRI

Principal Broker/Owner at Avid Real Estate Executives, LLC

He wrote on that agency’s website:

I tell the story of my first home purchase and what it felt like to wake up that first morning my own home.

I love to help others feel that same joy and inspiration I felt that first morning in my own home.

And yet the haw he sponsored would remove the social component from home buying. Between that and the rise of the “virtual” home tour removing any feel for the house itself, there’s going to be about as much “joy and inspiration” in buying a home as there is in buying something from a catalog.

But someone like Mark Meek will earn a commission from the 8% of home sellers who don’t use a real estate agent, and a few other people will be able to trick themselves into thinking they’ve struck a blow against systemic racism, so it isn’t like no one benefits.

  1. The response to this comment, at time of writing, was a one-word rebuttal and two spambots, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect Reason‘s readership as a whole.

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