WHILE I was an intern at R.AGE a few months ago, I started work on an article some of you may remember about rental discrimination. Funnily enough, I ended up becoming a real estate negotiator after that.
To cut a long story short, a lot of students in Malaysia (local and foreign) face mild to heavy discrimination when it comes to renting a place to stay. I thought it was my responsibility to report this, along with “Water is wet” and “The sun is hot” on Duh Daily.
This news isn’t new. The discrimination is real, and the worst part is, no one’s even bothering to cover it up. So imagine my surprise when the article comes out and I start reading all these comments defending the homeowners’ decisions. Hey, #NotAllHomeowner, am I right?
That’s true, but far from the point. No, not all homeowners are racist, but yes, a large majority of people still face discrimination based on their skin colour.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the owners I deal with as an agent now are plenty amicable.
Throughout my (admittedly brief) professional history, only three people have been adamantly racist. Most of the time, however, race comes up, but only as a passing comment. When real business shows up on their door, more pressing issues come into play, like 1. Can the prospect pay, and 2. Can they pay on time?
What a lot of people get wrong is the notion that these homeowners are inherently racist, which they are mostly not. They are businessmen. And as businessmen, they need to take into account the probability of their cost (maintenance) and profit margin (steady rental payment), based on past experience.
With a finite amount of resources (time, number of viewings, etc.), they have to make a calculated decision on whom to entrust their home to for the next year or two. So some people decide to cut some corners and eliminate an entire race (or two) altogether. For example, I dealt with a homeowner who wanted only Chinese females from the college across the street. She wanted to keep her place as safe and familiar as it could be for the girls.
Again, completely understandable. But imagine being an Indian girl and told that you are neither “safe” nor “familiar” enough to stay there. Not to mention the financial ramifications of cutting out an entire demographic of customers. That’s a lot of potential clientele you’re missing out on – not a very wise business decision.
This is where I come in.
As a negotiator, it’s my job to hold my principal’s interest above all else. Is she or he getting the best out of this deal? Is there anything else we can – ethically – milk out of it? Because I’m being paid by commission, I can’t afford to be lazy and point to a single race and say “there”.
Negotiators qualify all potential tenants before handing them to the owner. With that, real questions are being answered, like “How much do you earn per annum?”, and “Will you be able to communicate well with the other housemates?”, effectively cutting out any need for the homeowner to use race as an excuse.
I wish I could do more, but it seems that I’m stuck on the branches of an issue that is already entrenched. We realtors try our best to make the fairest deal for our principal, but it’s ultimately up to homeowners to find it within themselves (especially after a bad experience) to see past skin colour.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. The fact that we can even publish an article like this is a sign that things are on the mend. Open discussion is happening and that’s great. More people are willing to overlook race and religion in favour of actual, individual qualities. I mean, come on, it’s 2015.