Real Estate Leaders on Shaping Minnesota's Future

By MNR News posted 02-01-2024 10:54 AM

Minnesota’s real estate leaders are learning from the past, and building a solid foundation for African American prosperity
In observance of Black History Month,
The Minnesota Realtor® met with four Black leaders in the Minnesota real estate industry. Ranging from first-year Realtors® to brokers with decades of experience, they shared perspectives on important issues like the racial homeownership gap, and the need to build wealth in the state’s African American community. They also considered the importance of expanding diversity in the real estate profession and offered insights into how all Realtors® can build professionalism and grow business through lifelong learning.

Torrion Amie: Creating eclectic brilliances from teams of unlike parts
New MNR Board Member and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator at RE/MAX Results

Torrion Amie’s early years were hard. Growing up with his single mother and grandmother, the little family moved frequently, living in housing projects and low-income apartments in Phoenix. Along the way, he experienced domestic abuse, homelessness, and poverty. All that changed after they moved to Minnesota when he was 16. Although he thought he’d “arrived in the land of milk and honey,” he soon learned there were disparities and inequities. And the key to rising above it all, he realized, was education. After earning a BA in Music and Dance Education at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and an MA in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Aime went on to a career in academia that included serving as Dean of Outreach and Enrollment at Normandale Community College. Apart from his role at RE/MAX, he owns Amie Property Group LLC, a real estate development company, and provides career coaching and motivational speaking through Solution 180 LLC. 

How do you cultivate diversity and inclusion in your own business? How does embracing diversity make a difference for your business, the wider community, and the real estate industry?

“Population trends in Minnesota show that we are becoming more brown and ethnically eclectic,” Amie said. “And white people are already more ethnically and culturally eclectic than they realize. Talk to a white person who recently emigrated from Serbia and a white person who just arrived from Denmark, and you’ll find differences in worldview and culture that go far beyond language. So, if you look under the surface, this idea of a homogenous white American culture is really a myth. We’re all diverse, and that’s our strength. In all the industries I've been in, I’ve been able to put together teams of unlike parts with disparate views, but of eclectic brilliance. That is how you build a team. 

In practical terms, Amie observed, that means cultivating diversity as an essential asset instead of an organizational obligation. Otherwise, organizations miss a critical opportunity to harness the creativity and productive energy that diverse teams bring. 

“When it comes to hiring, don’t bring someone in just because they check a box for a particular race or ethnicity. You hire to the gap in what your team needs. Race and ethnicity are strong components of that, but they’re not exclusive. Ultimately, the best teams have a spectrum of people with diverse skills and experience, and ethnic and racial backgrounds. 

Henry Rucker: Going from No to a Slow Yes 

NAREB Member and Real Estate Broker at Banneker Realty 

While working in the mortgage industry, Rucker became a licensed real estate agent in 1995. Around 2008, he joined Lutheran Social Services, a non-profit organization that provides financial counseling and education. After a few years there, he served as a financial coach at the Project for Pride in Living (PPL), an organization that helps lower-income people purchase homes of their own. Eventually, he became PPL’s associate director for the homeownership and financial coaching division. During his non-profit career, Rucker became a broker at Banneker Realty, and continues his role at PPL. 

Minnesota has the fifth largest racial homeownership gap in the United States. How can you help more people of color obtain homeownership?  

We’re educating people about the importance of homeownership, and how it creates wealth and financial empowerment. It’s about so much more than having a place to live. Homeowners gain economic literacy that they pass down to their kids and grandkids. To obtain and then successfully maintain a home over decades you have to understand budgeting and credit. You have to build assets like a 401K, pension, or some other type of retirement plan. A lot of African Americans have been left out of this kind of financial empowerment, and that’s a big part of why Minnesota has such a large racial homeownership gap. 

As a Black man, I’m able to share my knowledge about the financial world from both a banking standpoint and a real estate standpoint. When people in the Black community see Black loan officers and real estate agents and other people of color teaching classes and workshops, they’re seeing themselves represented in the industry. That builds a foundation of trust that hasn’t been there before. So, it can open a lot of possibilities. 

Too many times African Americans have been told no’ on a loan, but don’t understand why. Is it due to a credit score? Lack of money? Or is it something small like a collection account with a cable or phone provider? They didn't get the full picture. They just heard, ‘no,’” Rucker said. “But I tell them it’s not really a no—it’s a slow yes. It’s my job to educate them about what they need to do to turn that no into a yes. 

Cate Kuria: Embracing sustainability 

Current MNR Board Member and Broker at Express Realty 

With her deep background in the mortgage industry, Cate Kuria brings a wealth of knowledge to her role as a broker. Specializing in guiding clients through the mortgage process, she takes pride in helping first-generation homebuyers into homes of their own. Working with African Economic Development Solutions, she has shepherded many buyers through the pre-purchase homestretch. A nature lover who enjoys hiking in Minnesota’s network of state parks, she understands the fragility of the environment, and works to incorporate sustainability into her real estate practice. 

How can the real estate industry adopt and promote sustainable environmental practices?  

Sustainability in real estate involves promoting environmentally responsible practices where our entire industry can work toward reducing the negative environmental impact. This includes advocating for energy-efficient homes, promoting and using sustainable construction materials, and encouraging eco-friendly practices in our businesses, and much more.  

It is great to see growing demand for sustainable and energy-efficient homes among modern homebuyers. Many now prioritize eco-friendly features, such as energy-efficient appliances, solar panels, and environmentally conscious construction materials, even if they cost more. As this awareness grows, many companies are making sustainability part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Commercial tenants aiming to enhance their CSR image are willing to pay extra for sustainable buildings while residential tenants pay more for eco-friendly living spaces. As Realtors®, we need to be ready to understand the demand and impact on the industry. 

Abdallah Bah: Running on the Pathway to Achievement
Realtor® with the HIVE Team, Coldwell Banker

A native of Sierra Leone, Abdallah Bah moved to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota with his family when he was eight years old. After graduating from Monroe College in New York, he returned to Minnesota in 2017 where he took on a semi-pro soccer career as fullback for the Minneapolis City team. When not playing soccer, he worked in finance at companies like Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. Ultimately, sitting behind a desk just wasn’t his “strong suit.” So, with the help of some mentors and the Pathway to Achievement program, he found a home in the real  estate industry.

Why did you choose a career in real estate and how did Pathway to Achievement help you?

I love interacting with people. As someone who played soccer at a high level, I’ve always kept in touch with people and sought to maintain a good network. After college, I was coaching soccer for the Sanneh Foundation in St. Paul, a non-profit that provides kids with in-school and after-school support. Tony Sanneh, who founded the organization, helped me start thinking about new career  possibilities. Around that time, one of my previous youth soccer coaches, Tod Herskovits—who was also at the Sanneh Foundation and knew of my interest in real estate —connected me to Mya Honeywell, who heads the Hive Team at Coldwell Banker in St. Paul. She helped me get  my real estate education and license and get off to a good start in the business. Later, through Man Huynh of Edina Realty in St. Paul, I learned about Pathway  
to Achievement. 

The biggest benefit of Pathway to Achievement is that it relieves a lot of the stress that comes with starting your own real estate business. When you’re starting out as a Realtor® you don’t make a lot of money. The program takes care of all the fees and payments for you, and that brings much peace of mind.

Looking ahead, I want be in a position where I can bring in other people of color into the business. And possibly have my own brokerage. That really appeals to me. But my biggest goal is how I’m building community and working to close the racial home ownership gap. It’s about constantly doing the education piece: workshops and just giving resources to people. The investment side of real estate interests me, too.

One day, I’d like to return to Sierra Leone, buy some land, and begin developing properties there. By growing a business there, I can help create opportunities and prosperity for people in my home country. It’s a way of giving back.