OKC Real Estate Agent
Highlights: During our conversation over the phone, Krista discusses her experiences recently entering the real estate field in Oklahoma City. She shares that it has helped her learn more about the history and identity of Oklahoma City through the homes and historic neighborhoods she works with. Her journey into real estate has made her more aware of the city's history with race as she discovered many OKC homes that still stand were built with bricks imprinted with swastikas. Deeds for homes once included clauses forbidding African American people from purchasing the properties. Even though the real estate industry has a long history of aiding efforts to segregate cities, modern real estate culture remains silent on the subject, even though segregation persists in the city.
July 5, 2020
Anna: How long have you lived in Oklahoma City and what has your overall experience been like?
Krista: I've lived in Oklahoma my whole life. I moved up to Edmond when I was 8 and stayed there until I graduated high school. I've been living in Oklahoma City since 2011. Compared to Edmond, I feel like people are watched a lot more here, I would say.
Anna: Do you feel like there was a bubble burst when you moved from Edmond to OKC?
Krista: Oh, definitely. In many different ways. Even just in the options of food. Being able to find multiple mom-and-pop places that weren't franchises. Everything's different in Oklahoma City. One of the first things I noticed when I got into urban exploring was basically areas that are left behind and my mind has been consumed with things that are left behind for a while now. I would go explore abandoned buildings, and just any kind of vacant building that we could get into at the time was really fun.
Anna: Compared to these areas left behind, how is that different from Edmond?
Krista: I don't remember there really be any abandoned places [in Edmond]. There was one thing in Edmond that we all went and explored, that was the Lost Circus. There were No Trespassing signs; everybody went anyways. Whereas, in Oklahoma City, all these abandoned buildings are everywhere. They don't necessarily have No Trespassing signs, and often times, it would be unlocked. There was still this mystery of “why is this left here in this location? What's it doing?” I never experienced that in Edmond other than that one place.
Anna: You post a lot about architecture in the city. Has since becoming a real estate agent led you to learn more about the history of these areas and buildings?
Krista: Yah, absolutely. So, if I do an open house or if I have a listing, or if I'm just looking for a buyer, it's important to me to know the history of the neighborhood. Especially with historical editions here in Oklahoma City. People that can afford homes in those areas, they're in high demand and some of those can sell for $120 to $160 a square foot. People like to hear about the details and so I have definitely gone in and done some research. There was this house in Putnam Heights Annex, so it wasn't a part of the original Putnam Heights, but it lies just North of Putnam Heights. This one is North of 36th and Classen. I ended up doing some research on the neighborhood because I was doing an open house one week and—this was probably about a year ago—I ended up finding one of the original deeds and some official documents about the edition, and one of the things written in there is that you basically can't sell or rent a home to a Black person. This was in the 1930s.
Anna: Is looking at the history of these areas something a lot of other real estate agents like to do?
Krista: No, getting into real estate, it's less about helping people and more “how can I hide my commission breath?” People aren't really concerned about anything other than “how can I seem genuine when I'm not really genuine?" That's the whole business, it's weird.
Anna: You mention a lot of clients have interest in the history. Do you find that to be an authentic interest? When researching historic preservation, one of things that was critiqued is that affluent people, and people connected to gentrification, seem to have an obsession with history and they are really drawn toward these historic buildings and architecture. This obsession is challenged with the knowledge that so much history has been erased through gentrification.
Krista: I think people that are obsessed with that history, deep down, they just want to know that the price is justified. I think that's what's behind that. I had a couple of open houses in the Plaza district. So when you do open houses, you get a lot of feedback from the open market. It's buyers that come in that are interested, aren't interested. Then you get nosy neighbors. The ones that I notice that dig in, as far as, “well when was this house built? Is that the original fireplace?” I don't think they care so much that it’s original or wanting to know the genuine truth. I think they're just worried about, “Well it's listed as $145 a square foot, do we think it's worth it if that fireplace was just put in last year?”
Anna: People who are gentrifiers, I think they want to just connect to these artificial objects of history. They want to restore places, but to restore a building is not to restore a community or a culture. Real estate and land play a big part. Residential segregation laws are the reason Deep Deuce exists in the first place. Segregation is so normal to us that grew up around here that it feels like a lot of us don't even realize that segregation should not be normal. It's normal for America though.
Krista: Right. Especially by highways and rivers. I've thought about the Southside for a while since moving to Oklahoma City. Even living in Edmond, I never realized that it's not only segregated by race but also by bodies of water and transportation. Anytime I mention that, people just kinda think that it's a coincidence. But I don't think it is at all.
Anna: Was anything about segregation involved in your training to become a real estate agent?
Krista: No. We do have different types of training that we are obligated to do. First of all, whenever we take the class, you have to really study the laws of being a real estate agent, like Fair Housing Act, and all that kinda stuff. Your code of ethics. Whenever you get into the actual licensing, not only being licensed by the state of Oklahoma but also the Association of Realtors. That's when it gets tricky because you sign an oath of code of ethics, but the oath, if you read it thoroughly, it focuses more on basically liable and slander toward other real estate professionals, than it does about your duties to uphold fair housing laws. In the classes, they'll give you examples for fair housing like this: “Ok if you have a Vietnamese client, and if your client asks you 'where do all the Vietnamese people live in OKC?' You legally can't say, 'Oh check out the Asian district! I love that area.' That you could get in trouble for." It's cool that they mention that, but that hasn't happened to me yet. But I have had clients say, “Oh that house?...That's on the Eastside, we don't want to be in that area.” But they don't ever bring that up in training or address how to respond to that. First of all, you're working for the client, so if they don't want a certain area, they don't want a certain area. But at the same time, if it is fueled by prejudice, there has to be something that we can do, or even ask why. They don't even bring that up in training. It's a lot of liability stuff so “don't talk bad about another brokerage. Don't talk bad about another agent. Don't talk bad about people in the industry.” It's not just an unspoken rule, it's something that you sign your name to as well.
On social media, there is a huge group called Oklahoma City Real Estate Professionals. It has two admins; it's been around since 2017 and it has over 3,000 members that are real estate professionals. These are inspectors, builders...the Facebook group is huge. I've only seen one post about racial injustice. Someone had shared a post of a home inspector's employee that is basically like a Confederate apologist. Their profile is all about the Confederate flag, in support of it. She had shared it to the group and said, “I'm not going to support this anymore.” And she got backlash from the moment she posted it. Her post ended up getting censored and she got blocked from the group. There wasn't any discussion about it, the admin just came on and said, “this has nothing to do with real estate, take this down.” She said, “How does this not have to do with real estate?” And then she got blocked.
Anna: That's a great example of that language of erasure. “This has nothing to do with us.” This has everything to do with real estate. Real estate played a massive role in creating and furthering segregation.
Krista: It was so frustrating to read this discussion. I went through the group rules and there's nothing about political posts but the last rule does state, “please share your experiences. We want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly—here's the kicker—Who's your favorite lender, home inspector, builder, etc? Who should we avoid if possible? We can all serve our clients better with collaboration.” And yet, the first time this is brought up in this group, it gets smacked down within 20 minutes.
Anna: That's a great example of the shallowness of industries and companies that make these vague statements like, “we welcome open conversation. We stand against racial injustice.” And then, the moment something racially sensitive gets brought up, it gets shut down immediately and things are said like, “that doesn't have a place here.” They say they want to know the good and the bad...it's very obvious that when they say, “that has nothing to do with us,” that they're only talking about racial topics.
Krista: Oh yah, I've been in this group a long time. People will be like, "I can't believe what this inspector did, you guys hate this guy or what?" And then there will be 100 comments about how everyone hates this home inspector. Next post down will be like, "I can't believe Cindy at this title company didn't respond to my email in 12 minutes. Do you guys ever have trouble getting her to answer emails? I'm not using her anymore." There's this whole back and forth about realtors having the leverage because they can influence people's money. I can influence the vendors my clients use because the average person doesn't know a good roofer or a good contractor, they just know a lot of bad ones, right? So, part of what I'm wanting to do is come up with a vendor list that is Black-owned, and minority-owned, and influence people's money that way. If we have the power to influence people's money with good intentions, like squashing white supremacy, why wouldn't we do that? What I found is that no one so far wants to tackle this with me. I ended up writing a comment, "why did that girl get blocked? Maybe we should just have a no political post rule?" I got blocked for that. I didn't even say which side I was on. I messaged admin and asked them to call me. He didn't want to call me. We had this back and forth and he basically said I can only come back in the group if I realized what I did wrong.
I've opened up my mouth a couple of different times. I brought up "just wait until people in Oklahoma City remember that their historical homes have Nazi symbols still laid in brick."
Anna: Can you tell me more about that?
Krista: Yah, it's on this really liberal realtor's Facebook profile. He's really outspoken about everything, he calls people out all the time. I didn't even know I was going to ruffle his feathers by saying this. It's a Facebook comment. It all stemmed from John Legend calling on all realtors across the country to do their part and fix structural racism and he's quoted as saying, "They need to show Black people all of the properties for which they qualify." This guy is making fun of it saying realtors just care about money, they're not worried about that anymore. Basically, I said what I just told you [about the Nazi symbols in bricks] and he was like, "I personally don't know anyone that would care. I'd gladly sell it to a Jewish buyer if they want it and I'd probably hang around and help him rip it out." I was like, “Well would you gladly sell it to a White supremacist that wanted to keep it?” It all gets tricky and I don't know the solution myself, but the swastika bricks have intrigued me ever since I went to [Oklahoma City University]. All these people were wondering where [the swastika bricks are]. Well there's tons of them around. People started saying, "the swastika has been used over time for many things other than Nazis." I did some research. The homes in Putnam Heights—which is one of the neighborhoods where these are found—all those dudes were White bankers, none of those people were Native. So, if that's what they were thinking, that's not true. In the 20's and 30's, which is when most of these historic homes were built with swastikas, that's right whenever pro-fascism was starting to pop up in the U.S. in the form of grassroots movements. The conversation about this on Facebook never really went anywhere. I thought I was going to be able to get at least one person to be like, "wow that is really messed up" but in fact, it was just resistance on all fronts from all people that I thought were open-minded.
Anna: Do you ever hear real estate agents say anything about segregation?
Krista: The go-to answer, if somebody asks you about—they do training about this—if someone asks you, "hey is this area safe? Is this a ghetto area?" the way that you're supposed to respond to those kinds of inquiries is to say, "here's a website, you can go look at crime rates." That's our official response to someone with prejudice, most likely, asking about the state of the neighborhood. You can go look at crime rates anywhere. That is something that they teach us locally, that's the only thing that we're supposed to say, which doesn't really solve the problem at the forefront, which is that our buyer is afraid of living in this area because of stereotypes and things that they've been told...we should be able to point out the dangers of a buyer even asking that. Squashing it in its step. Or asking them, "why are you asking this? Because we've seen a lot houses in the Paseo, which isn't crime free, and you haven't asked me that. So, why when I show you something in Lincoln Terrace, why are you wondering about the crime there?"...I will say, I've worked with a lot of Edmond clients as well, and they never ask me "what's the crime in this area?" I haven't had one person in Edmond express any sort of fear about the neighborhood, or say anything like "oh, this is the good part of Edmond." There's a reason for that. People aren't afraid. They know Edmond is all White, they know Edmond doesn't have a lot of diversity at the moment. With people like that, it's going to be really hard to change their minds. We're seeing that right now with what's going on in the world. It's the people that don't have to think about it that don't. Same with realtors. If you don't have any diverse clients then why would you even worry about speaking up because you're not going to lose any clients, right?
Anna: What does it mean to historically preserve an area beyond the objects in it?
Krista: Right, like beyond the actual physicality of a house. Regarding gentrification, I haven't really delved into that yet, but it’s something I have to confront within myself. Because I love Oklahoma City, I love seeing growth, but at the same time, I do see this root of just greed that drives the growth. It's kind of a conundrum seeing the Plaza district do well, but at the same time, pushing others out as well. I don't really know how to reconcile that. I'm not really worried about my business, but more so with myself.
Anna: I made one post on the Nextdoor app while living in the Gatewood neighborhood, complaining that because of the Plaza, there’s constantly crowds of people parking throughout the neighborhood and taking up a lot of street space, and making it difficult for the people actually living there. I was attacked so quickly by residents of the area for saying anything negative about the Plaza area. People saying the Plaza has driven the values of their homes up, and how the Plaza used to be nothing and now it's thriving. What do you say to those people making that argument?
Krista: Anytime someone responds with, "but money," it negates the issue. It's cool seeing an old house get remodeled. It's cool seeing someone put their own spin on it 100 years later. It's also fun seeing buyers like it too, but as far as pushing poor people out, that way rich people can buy a plot half a mile from downtown and feel like they're cool, I don't know how to reconcile that as far as being in the real estate industry. I still don't. If you are in the real estate industry, you can see the trends before they happen. Metro Park has already been bought up. We're already onto Linwood Boulevard. The places that are selling right now, we won't even see renovations for another 14-15 months. So, the people starting to see gentrification, they don't know it's been in the works sometimes up to 2 years before. When all the wholesalers start buying houses for cash. When the investors come out of the wood works and have 16 houses in one edition. That tends to spark growth in an area. It tends to spark renovations and a lot of times it’s not homeowners getting pushed out of an area, a lot of times it's renters. They don't have a say in the matter, they just have been renting in that area for so long. They might have been there 10 or 15 years, all the sudden they get a notice to vacate and they’re showing their house to random investors. There's a bigger issue and I have no idea what the solution is.
Anna: What I'm noticing happening more in the Plaza is the demolition of historic homes and putting up the same trendy, farmhouse style home, and you see that happen over and over again. What bothers me is there was a lot of individuality in those homes and they're being replaced with something that seems like a trend in the moment, without a lot of thought for longevity.
Krista: Oh yah, and even with the houses that are still standing, people will completely change the inside. Right now, what's really big is open space, so if you renovate a home, most of the time you are taking out beams that were there 100 years ago. They're really beautiful pieces of wood. And it's just for the sake of making the space look bigger. It is interesting how they've been doing that in the Plaza. I appreciate modern architecture. I also appreciate someone's right to do whatever they want if they own the land. So, if a developer owns the space, they can do anything, they can tear it down. But it is so vastly different from the architecture around it. It begs the question, why? If the reason why is because there's still buyers around that will buy those modern houses, then what's their motivation for wanting to stand out like that?
Anna: Thank you for your time, that's all the questions I have!