Mohammad-Ali Tukdi never set out to emphasize diversity in his real estate firm, but that’s exactly the way things unfolded for this broker/owner of Dash Realty. With agents in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Midland-Odessa, and Austin, the brokerage has become known as a welcoming, inclusive place for agents of all ethnic backgrounds, genders, religions, and lifestyle preferences.
Tukdi, who is from Pakistan, is humble about the fact that his brokerage is garnering attention for its diverse ways. “I never had diversity or inclusion in mind when building my company; it really just happened naturally,” says Tukdi, who has more than 180 agents in Texas and is a member of nine local REALTOR® associations.
He’s been active in the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), for which he served as treasurer at one point. “I think that played a role in getting us to where we are today,” says Tukdi.
If he had to pinpoint the secret to his diverse agent-hiring approach, Tukdi says it would come down to a simple management philosophy: Instead of wanting your agents to be like you, always encourage them to be true to themselves. “I’m open-minded, and I really don’t want my agents to be like me,” says Tukdi. “I’m always here to help them grow and succeed, but ultimately I just want them to be themselves.”
“Looking” Like the Populations We Serve
As the U.S. demographic makeup continues to become more diverse, one would assume that real estate brokerages would be morphing to “look” more like the populations that they serve. According to the latest U.S. Census numbers, for example, the population of Texas is 42% white, 39.4% Hispanic or Latino, 12.7% black or African American, 5% Asian, and 2% two or more races. That means groups considered “minority” populations now combine to total nearly 4.6 million more Texans than the white population of the state.
That’s something that Texas brokers should pay attention to, says Socar Chatmon-Thomas, broker/owner of Elegant Estates by Auction in Austin and an At Home with Diversity (AHWD) instructor. “The world is not all white, and the world is not all black,” she says. “As a nation, a state, and an industry, it’s time we realize that the world is more brown than anything else. But real estate isn’t—if it were, we wouldn’t be having these conversations.”
Calling Texas a “majority-minority state,” Chatmon-Thomas says the tides are slowly changing as more brokers integrate diversity and inclusion initiatives into their recruiting practices. In many cases, however, she says those efforts don’t have a strong effort or commitment behind them.
“I don’t think the brokerages are actively recruiting people of color, or going into high schools and telling 18-year-olds, ‘Hey, guess what? Want to make some money? How about going to real estate school, becoming somebody’s apprentice or assistant, and then branching out on your own?’” Chatmon-Thomas says. “In most cases, the thought doesn’t even cross an agent’s or broker’s mind that they’re in an office where there are no people of color.”
When Tukdi got into real estate in 2007, the market was in a pretty shaky place. Not really wanting to work on commission, he says he got his real estate license anyway and decided to give the business a shot. “I was broke at the time, and this was one of the few businesses you could start with zero investment,” Tukdi recalls. “I needed to feed my family, so I basically had to make this work.”
Tukdi worked on his own as an apartment locator for two years, then got his broker’s license in 2009 and opened his own company. “I had no agents; I just rented some space and started my business,” he says. Having endured his fair share of struggles—both financially and in life—Tukdi says when he started building his team, he immediately gravitated to individuals who were hard workers but were dealing with challenges and needed help building their businesses.
“I would meet with them and try to figure out what component they were missing and what was lacking,” says Tukdi. “Then, I’d figure out how to help them overcome their obstacles and grow their businesses.” As he grew his brokerage, Tukdi says he also sought out individuals who saw him as less of a boss and more of a coach and mentor. More important, he says, is that he took lessons from everyone he brought on board, and continues to do so today.
“I consider myself the student,” says Tukdi. That approach has not only helped this Texas broker attract a diverse agent base, but it has also kept agent turnover to a minimum. “My agents are like family to me,” says Tukdi, who doesn’t keep formal business hours. “I’m there for them and available around the clock. Even on a Sunday at 8 p.m., they know they can reach out to me for whatever they need.”
Breaking in to Commercial Real Estate
Peggy Jones always knew she wanted to run her own commercial real estate brokerage, but she wasn’t quite sure how to get there. Licensed since 2004, she became a broker two years later, earned a master’s degree, and hit the streets in search of a broker to work for. “None of them would even talk to me,” says Jones, who is now managing director at SVN/PJP Commercial Brokerage in San Marcos, “because I didn’t have enough of a background in the industry.
“I’d built campgrounds and had development experience,” she says, “but none of that really seemed to matter.” Disappointed but not deterred, Jones became a loan broker who handled commercial deals, but remained interested in commercial brokerage.
She looked at the franchises and applied for jobs at some large national brokerages without success until applying for a position at SVN/PJP in New Braunfels—a company that at the time was attempting to expand its agent diversification efforts.
“I watched one of their videos where someone talked about having more women and minorities become a part of SVN,” says Jones. “I thought, Wow, maybe I should pick up the phone and call them.” Jones makes no secret about how disheartened she was leading up to the day she picked up that phone, hoping for a different outcome this time.
She got what she was yearning for. “With your experience,” the voice on the other end of the line told her, “you should be running your own brokerage instead of working for someone else.” After the firm invited her to attend a training program and reduced its franchise fee to make it more affordable for her, Jones became managing director of the firm’s San Marcos location.
Today, Jones is two years into a five-year franchise commitment with SVN. She’s turned her own experience into an advantage in an industry that, according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2018 Commercial Member Profile, is 70% male with a median age of 60. “That’s not a good representation of the population at all,” says Jones.
Jones says she’s making incremental changes in her own company and has demonstrated a commitment to diversity and inclusion at her firm. For example, she recently hired three agents with different backgrounds.
Jones sees good training as one way to address this issue, and says it stands to reason that someone who went through the licensing and training process should be respected as a capable professional, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, gender, or lifestyle preference.
“Don’t just automatically assume that because someone doesn’t fit your profile, he or she hasn’t been adequately trained and isn’t capable of handling the business.”