Finding a new way forward
A year after he bought his home, Ballard earned his real estate license and joined Edina Realty’s brokerage at Lyndale and 53rd in Minneapolis. There, he was taken under the wing of Jamar Hardy, managing broker and founder of the House Brothers brand, a marketing concept that pushed back against prejudice by fully embracing and celebrating Black identity. Hardy, who was also director of Edina Realty’s Diversity and Inclusion Team (DIT), encouraged Ballard to apply for Minnesota Realtor’s® (MNR) new Pathway to Achievement (PTA) program. Designed to promote diversity within the state’s Realtor® membership, the program helps those outside of Minnesota’s racial majority build more successful real estate careers. One of PTA’s central components is mentorship.
“As another person of African descent, Jamar understands the struggles and obstacles I have to overcome as a new Realtor®. His insights are invaluable to me,” Ballard said. “He provides constant motivation and helps me see how skills I learned in the non-profit sector transfer to real estate. He challenges me, too.”
Soon after joining Edina Realty, Hardy asked Ballard to lead a professional-skills-development workshop for new Realtors®. Attendance was anemic with barely two or three agents coming to each bi-weekly session. He thought Ballard could breathe new life into it.
“Being a new agent myself, I didn’t think I was too qualified,” Ballard said. “But I believe that when somebody gives you an opportunity, you don’t say no—even if you feel unsure of yourself.”
So, Ballard thought about all the things that he as a new Realtor® wanted to know more about: title processes, insurance, lending, closing, and other areas. Then, drawing on the networking skills he gained in the non-profit world, he reached out to experts inside and outside the brokerage. Attracted by the rotating cast of knowledgeable guest speakers, attendance for the sessions began to grow.
“So, while I’m facilitating these new agent workshops every other week, I’m learning these things hand in hand, side by side with the other new agents. And that transformed how I serve my clients directly. It was super instrumental in the success I had in my first year.”
Drawing from his non-profit experiences helping families find housing, Ballard began facilitating home buyer’s workshops for those who need down payment assistance to purchase their own homes.
“Jamar helped me understand I wasn’t starting all over again or starting from scratch; that my experiences could be directly applied to my new profession,” Ballard said. “Through the Pathway to Achievement Program, he encouraged me to engage in different aspects of the industry that I wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, one of the requirements is to join a committee. Even though I come from a background of getting engaged and involved, I don’t think I would have joined the Government Affairs Committee within my first six months.”
Changing the narrative
From the beginning of his time as a Realtor®, Ballard encountered some entrenched and unchallenged attitudes about the potential for more Black people to own homes.
“It’s this idea that ‘Black people are getting in their own way.’ I don’t think anyone is intentionally operating from this narrative, but it’s the underlying assumption. I believed it, too. So, a lot of the conversations are about: How do we get people credit ready? How do we get people to save money? And all these things, as if they’re not already doing them. In a way, we’re blaming the Black community for the disparity gap. When I came into this business, the story was that most buyers are white or of European descent. So, you don’t really expect to build your business from Black clients. But a year into this, almost all my transactions have been with people of African descent. The statistics don’t support what I’m experiencing. So, are the statistics telling the whole story? What does it take to begin shifting the narrative?”
Ballard says it’s not an accident that his growing clientele comes from the Black community.
“On a superficial level, people want to connect with people they can resonate with and who look like them,” Ballard said. “But on a deeper level, I’m conscious of their needs, and approach them with integrity and dignity. I’m an educator, and I’m all about helping people see their goal and get over the finish line. I think this has resonated with my community and they’re drawn to me.”
In the future, Ballard wants to continue advancing Black homeownership by connecting with some of the non-profit organizations he worked with in the past, like Nexus Community Partners, a St. Paul-based group dedicated to building wealth and revitalizing communities of color.
“I want to build partnerships with organizations that don’t necessarily have direct connections to people in the real estate industry but know how to help families and communities. Working together, we can help expand access to homeownership, and create a better life for a whole lot of people.”
*As of 2019, only 25.3% of Minnesota’s Black residents owned homes versus 76.9% of whites.
Editor’s Note: This article is from the September/October edition of The Minnesota Realtor® Magazine. You can access the entire issue here.