ONEChicago leaders know how to serve the South Side: 'We’ve been through it'
La'Dweena Smith, CEO of Keller Williams ONEChicago, understands the importance of being hyperlocal, serving clients in their "comfort zone."
- The new South Side office, opening early this year, will be backed and led by Smith and three other influential agents.
- Having experienced steering as a buyer, Smith can relate to many of her clients' experiences — and knows "this is not how it’s supposed to be."
- The expansion into the South Side reflect KW's 2020 addition of “Equity” to its Belief System.
It wasn't a clear act of discrimination. But it was enough for La'Dweena Smith to carry it with her to this day.
Years ago, she was looking at a property with a real estate agent who, time and again, suggested Smith look elsewhere.
"They kept attempting to steer me into other neighborhoods," Smith recalled. "I would be looking at houses and they would say, 'How about this one? You would feel more comfortable here.'
"I wondered if this is what other people were going through."
That experience has informed much of her work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams, which recently named Smith as the CEO of Keller Williams ONEChicago. Smith is one of four agents investing in a new office on the South Side of Chicago, opening early this year.
Smith, who has been with Keller Williams since 2008, became a Productivity Coach in 2016 and has been involved in several KW office launches.
But this one has special meaning for her, based on her experience and the experiences of the three other award-winning agents — Nate Thompson, Jerome Harper and Rashauna Scott — who will lead the new office, team and operations.
"These core leaders showcase our enduring commitment to the growth of our diverse associates into key leadership positions across our brand," Julia Lashay Israel, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Keller Williams, said in a statement.
The expansion into the South Side is part of Keller Williams' 2020 addition of "Equity" to its Belief System, which includes creating more opportunities for agents of color and ensuring the company offers resources to support people in all areas and from all backgrounds.
Smith sees it this way: "We have all experienced a situation like the one I did," Smith said. "And because we have, it helps to create a deeper understanding of the situation and it helps to create empathy. Because we know. We know. We've lived it, we've felt it before at some point in time."
That makes her team uniquely equipped to assist clients in overcoming any sort of discrimination — real estate, financial or otherwise.
"You have clients who just don't want to deal with it, and they would like to take the simpler way out," Smith said. "It helps that we've been through it to say, 'We can get you through it. You don't deserve this and this is not how it's supposed to be.'
"And it doesn't have to be a dream," she said. "This can be their reality."
The new office is committed to working with underserved communities, not just by being present, but by hosting seminars for home buyers and sellers.
It's important to offer those services that are in a client's "comfort zone," Smith said. "A lot of times they don't want to go out of their community if they don't have to."
Neither do many of the real estate professionals, who pride themselves on their hyperlocal focus.
"Chicago is extremely unique," she said. "Chicago is a very neighborhood-oriented city, the markets are hyperlocal, even to the extent where it's block-by-block. So it's very important to have people who are not only passionate about real estate, but the areas they are serving.
"And I believe that we have that in myself, and in Jerome and Rashauna," she said. "We have that dynamic group of leaders that not only know Chicago, but the areas we are serving."
Smith remembered attending a training with an agent from Texas who said she would drive 90 minutes for a listing.
"All of the Chicago agents were flabbergasted," she said, because Chicago is a place where territories can be highly concentrated.
"We're vertical," Smith explained. "And when we're dealing with these huge condo buildings, four blocks could be your whole entire database. You go out a mile, you're in foreign territory. There are agents in Chicago who don't have cars!"
In an effort to promote business development within the community, KW is also providing free pre-licensing courses for prospective agents. One of Smith's partners at ONEChicago, Jerome Harper, noted the importance of representation as a "catalyst for change," adding that the educational programs are a step toward "helping people build wealth and achieve their professional goals."
For Smith, the new role and office reflect professional goals of her own.
"I am grateful that Keller Williams has decided to go in this direction, that Keller Williams has taken a stand and decided to change the belief system of the whole organization, adding on equity opportunities for all and standing behind that.
"We are taking charge to make sure there are equitable opportunities across the globe."