Agents of Change: Raising the ethical bar for agents in NYC
Agent Heather McDonough Domi co-founded NYRAC with a mission “to elevate the ethical standards of our profession" through advocacy and collaboration.
Editor's note: Across the country, agents are giving back to their communities and their industry. Here, we shine a light on people creating positive change and inspiring others to look for ways they can make a difference as well.
Watch enough TV, and it's easy to find stories of cutthroat competition and sleazy real estate agents willing to cheat their own mothers to boost their commission in New York City. Heather McDonough Domi is on a mission to change that perception.
"So many agents in our city are very frustrated with that image that's been portrayed," she says.
As a co-founder and co-chairperson of the New York Residential Agent Continuum (NYRAC), McDonough Domi is a fierce advocate for residential real estate agents in a market like no other. Improving the image — and raising the standards — for New York agents is just one of NYRAC's goals.
NYRAC describes itself as "an organization of civically-minded residential real estate professionals" with a mission "to elevate the ethical standards of our profession, advocate on behalf of agents and consumers, and collaborate with industry leaders to ensure the health and future of New York City."
Fighting for agent representation
NYRAC was conceived in 2018 when five agents, including McDonough Domi, met to discuss their frustrations around the lack of an organization that fully represented them.
The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the city's long-established real estate trade association, represents not just residential but commercial real estate, landlords and developers. Individual broker/agents have no voting seats on its Residential Board, despite paying "the lion's share" of residential fees to REBNY, McDonough Domi says.
NYRAC won two non-voting seats on the board, but without the ability to vote, agents still wouldn't have true representation — so McDonough Domi resigned from REBNY this year in protest. She researched boards and associations in other states and found plenty of precedent for equal representation by agents. "Why is it that the rest of the country manages to do this and we can't?"
Her resignation isn't the end of the story, she says. "We're not done fighting for agent representation at REBNY. We believe that we can contribute to REBNY in a way that is going to make it successful for many years to come."
In the meantime, McDonough Domi and NYRAC aren't just waiting to gain voting seats at the REBNY table. NYRAC is actively lobbying state and city officials. "We're focusing on issues that relate to our profession," she says. That includes fighting a pied-a-terre tax, speaking out on zoning changes and simply developing relationships with the mayor's office.
Lawmakers in the state capital have been very enthusiastic about hearing from the residential real estate community, she says. "When we went to Albany, we heard, 'Where have you been all of this time?' That was super powerful."
A focus on education, diversity and equity
NYRAC also offers free continuing education opportunities through sponsor New York Real Estate Center. "Instead of the Kaplan–based CE that's super broad, this platform is great because it's specific to our market," she said.
Diversity and equity are also top issues NYRAC is looking to address in a more meaningful way. "We have to do fair housing training but they don't really give the history of where and how this happened," she says. "That makes it more impactful to really understand why fair housing laws are in place."
In keeping with that commitment, NYRAC is dropping its production requirements for prospective members. "As we have evolved over the years, we have found that diversity, equity and inclusion are key components to our organization," she says. "The production requirement goes against these principles."
With about 250 members currently, NYRAC is looking to grow — but they won't simply take anyone with a real estate license and the willingness to pony up dues. Applicants have to agree to a code of ethics and be recommended by two current members who will vouch for their ethical practices.
"We want the younger generation to participate … we want to pay it forward," she says. "Help them see there's a right way to do business. If you're going to be in this business for a long time, you're going to cross paths with people you'll see again."
Dropping the production requirement should also help with the perception that NYRAC is little more than a club for top-producers.
"It was never meant to be a club," she says. "It's meant to elevate the status and ethics of real estate professionals."