Mercer County Realtors President Aims to Promote Diversity

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Fontineese Green recognizes that there are very few people of color in the real estate business.

Changing that is a goal she’ll pursue as this year’s president of the Greater Mercer County Association of Realtors.

Green, who previously owned a franchise cleaning business, works for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices the Preferred Realty in New Castle, Pa. The Farrell native entered the real estate field about four years ago.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” she says. She was attracted to real estate because of her desire to help people with what is often the largest purchase of their life: buying a home. Being able to help them make that dream come true is “pretty awesome,” she remarks.

“A lot of people say they would get into real estate because you can make money,” she says. “That’s the last thing you think about when you’re in the dead heat of a transaction that you don’t think is going to go through and you have two families that could possibly be displaced because something isn’t right.”

Green’s predecessor as association president was Julie Cylenica, manager and associate broker for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in Hermitage. Green also worked for Cylenica for about a year, Cylenica says.

“She’s doing well,” Cylenica says of her successor.

The association is on track to meet its requirements and is planning for events and fundraisers later the year. It now is conducting ethics training and observing Fair Housing Month.

Green is the first person of color to head the Mercer County organization. She is also one of the few Black real estate agents in the county.

The situation isn’t unique to Mercer County. Of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors’ 34,000 members, just 3% are Black, Christopher Raad, president of the association, reports.

According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau figures, Black residents represent about 12% of Pennsylvania’s population.

“We could definitely be doing better,” he acknowledges.

“That’s the one thing, being president of the association this year, that I would love to put a voice to, that people of color aren’t represented in any area of the real estate transaction,” Green says. “You don’t see people of color anywhere, especially in our county.”

Because the real estate business is largely based on commission, beginning a career can be a challenge, Raad, a third-generation broker who grew up in the business, acknowledges. He pursued it part-time for a couple of years until he felt he “could get [his] feet under [him] to make that leap” into the business full time.

“This business is difficult,” Raad says. “It’s tough to get started in because you’re not paid on a weekly or monthly basis a lot of times.”

The lack of representation isn’t limited to real estate agents and brokers, Green says. There are few if any people of color among loan and mortgage writers, inspectors or appraisers, says.

When she speaks with people, she attempts to educate them about the field and encourages them to consider the possibilities. She points out that brokers offer classes and attempts to network them with professionals in real estate and related fields.

“I want the communities that I grew up in to know that this is possible,” she says. “You could change the whole trajectory of your last name with learning real estate, learning the fundamentals of it. … There are so many different avenues that are possible.”

The state association also is pursuing efforts to promote diversity in the industry as part of an initiative launched under last year’s president, including implementing some things in the organization’s strategic plan, Raad says. Those would include developing relationships with multicultural real estate organizations and looking at ways to increase diversity within the association’s leadership and committees.

“We’re definitely working toward this. Our goal is to build thriving and inclusive communities,” he says. “We’re all striving to be as diverse and really inclusive as possible.”

The challenge over the past year has been the limitations on in-person events because of the coronavirus pandemic, though the association conducts webinars and other informational programs.

Green acknowledges she also had to adapt because of the pandemic. Many of her initial contacts with clients are via Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms. Even so, 2020 turned out to be one of her best years in real estate, exceeding her 2019 results.

“We really had to pivot and really use social media as our main outlet, because sitting at the table then was just not going to happen,” she says. Showings were done either by pre-recorded video or touring houses while Facetiming with the client.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.