As the drive increases for society to become more inclusive, and provide sustainable and equitable support for Black communities, the real estate sector has come into the spotlight for lack of racial representation.
To date, Rod Watson, founder of The Watson Group LAVIPagent team, and Director of Sports and Entertainment at Keller Williams Beverly Hills, has sold and negotiated over $120 million in real estate during his 14 year career. He says, “I’ve learned a lot of valuable information when it comes to real estate investing. My focus has been to help as many athletes and people of color as I can to generate, and maintain generational wealth through real estate investing. That is my purpose and reason for being in this business.”
His journey began with a dream to get out of the impoverished 5th Ward community in Houston, Texas, the community which he grew up in, and make his name in sports. He did that and so much more. Today, a successful Realtor in the luxury market, Rod counts his clients as some of the most recognised names in sports and entertainment. Yet, this real estate professional is much more than a salesman.
I caught up with Rod to learn more about the switch from professional sports to real estate, and why he made a pledge to himself to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of what he, and his industry does.
From Baller to Real Estate Star Player
Growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, Rod Watson hasn’t had it easy. He saw his mother struggle to make ends meet, working two jobs, while his father was in prison. He quickly realised that he had to figure out a way to make it out of his environment. Those were the days that infused him with the motivation to chase his dreams and aspirations of becoming a professional basketball player.
Rod’s story is intriguing, and I wanted to piece together his move from sports to real estate. Rod says, “I realized when I was young, that I had a strong interest in real estate but never knew anyone that looked like me in the industry, so I never pursued it. After playing and coaching in college, and professionally overseas, I had a change of heart. I realised that I didn’t want to work for anyone, and believed that real estate would afford me the opportunity to be in control of my own financial destiny.” He adds that after doing his research on how to enter the industry and counting on his tenacity to make a success of it, he jumped in.
Starting his career in the real estate industry as an investor, Rod quickly realised there was an abundance of opportunity on the sales side of the business. He also realised that there were very few people who looked like him in the industry, and even fewer operating at the luxury end of the sector.
Today, he is one of the leaders in the luxury real estate market. His brand LAVIPagent, supports clients via a suite of services, including luxury sales, relocation and leasing packages. It hasn’t been easy road to success. There were many challenges on his journey to building a reputable brand in this space. It was in 2011 that he got his first opportunity to represent the former NBA Houston Rocket Martyn ‘Moochie’ Norris. At the time Rod says, it was just another deal, helping an athlete client to sell his home.
He recalls that “It turned out to be one of the pivotal moments in my career. It opened the door for me to begin my career as a Sports and Entertainment real estate advisor advisor. Once I learned that the athlete community was highly under-represented and uninformed when it came to building wealth through real estate investing, it became my mission to help change the narrative and perception athletes had over the years, by empowering them to take control of their own financial legacy through real estate investing.”
Statistics suggest that 78% of NFL players are either in financial distress or bankrupt, just two years into retirement. “Too often, we hear stories Black athletes going broke and these numbers are alarming” Rod said. He continued “I believe it’s time for us to have the discussion on what we can do to change this. From my experience, Black athletes have, in the past, been altogether excluded from the conversation of real estate investing and asset management.”
His mission, he says ” is to help change that narrative by creating a platform where athletes, entertainers, and others within the Black community, can learn the fundamentals, and execute successful real estate investing strategies, that focuses on building passive income and long term wealth.”
Property, Wealth Management and the Black Community
Real estate is the most tried and true way to building and sustaining wealth. Rod says “If you look at the number of wealthy families that have built sustainable wealth through real estate like the Chase Family, Rothschilds, Rockefellers and many more, it becomes apparent that the management of money and property is inextricably linked with generational wealth.”
Rod states “There are inconsistencies within the industry, on many levels when it comes to race, wealth and representation,” adding that “real estate is the cornerstone on which empires have been built.”
Developing initiatives for supporting an increase in investing, wealth and property management within the communities from when he came, was a no-brainer for Rod. His obvious forward thinking and ambitious nature kicked in, and Rod decided to build strategic partnerships to make his vision a reality.
“My motivation is simple.” he says. “The main mission of our initiatives is to inspire the next generation of young people of color, in the sports and entertainment industry and beyond. Our goal to educate, inform and empower them to generate, and sustain, long term wealth. He adds “The way Black and Brown people in this industry have been underrepresented and left out of the conversation when it comes to inclusion, voice and visibility, can no longer be the standard.”
Rod is clear on his commitments around progressing change, in the area of diversity and inclusion, saying “I am committed to listening, learning and collecting viable tools that will not only help close the wealth gap, but also ultimately place people of color in more leadership roles and visibility is key.”
The Property Industry Must Become More Inclusive
Intrigued, and wanting to learn more about Rod, his advocacy for diverse representation, and plans to effect change within the Real Estate Sector, I asked Rod the reasons why he thinks race is an issue, and how his initiative will support people from Black communities to progress and build wealth.
“Why?” He remarks with a smile, “If Black and Brown dollars are good enough to line the pockets of wealthy white families and big corporations, then it’s time we address the lack of representation and the discriminatory practices designed to deny Black people equitable ownership. We need to ensure that the same opportunities given to others to build wealth in this country through owning and investing in real estate are extended to Black communities.”
He continued “It all comes down to education and empowerment. If we can connect with young athletes, and others within the Black community early, we can give them the tools and necessary information that will help them set up their financial futures in a more sustainable way.”
“We can inform them on the benefits of owning and managing property and educate them on the pitfalls early, so that real estate isn’t an overwhelming topic that’s too heavy a lift, but instead is something attainable and can help in ultimately closing the economic disparities that fuel the racial wealth gap.”
Staggering levels of disparities were revealed earlier this year by the Federal Reserve, show that as of Q1 2020, white households account for 80% of real estate holdings, whilst Black Americans hold $6 worth of assets for every $100 owned by their white peers. “These number are alarming, and I believe it’s time for us to have the discussion on what we can do to change this”
From my experience he continues, “Black athletes have, in the past, been largely excluded from the conversation of real estate investing and asset management altogether. That said, we are working to ensure more African Americans and people of color are given access to capital along with the opportunities to realize ownership of real estate, and to build equity within their communities. We need more Black and Brown leaders within the industry itself to help change the narrative.”
My mission, he states “is to help change that by creating a platform where athletes and entertainers, and people from Black and Brown communities, can learn the fundamentals, and execute successful real estate investing that focuses on building long term wealth through real estate.
Long Lost Progress Is A Catalyst for Change
The current climate of awareness around race, and conversations that seek to reframe racial equity, within society are not lost on Rodney. I asked him what he thought were some of the reasons why Black people are way behind their white counterparts when it comes to property investing.
“It’s a matter of miseducation,” he says” but there are also historical factors to this. He continued, “In the early 1900’s, The Greenwood district of Tusla, Oklahoma, which was dubbed the ‘Black Wall Street’ due to sheer amount of Black owned and operated businesses within the locality. The area was burned to the ground in what became known as the Tusla Race Massacre, which many Black people are just now learning about.”
With the onset of renewed conversations around the Black experience and racism that pervades society today, Rod sees his initiative, as a vehicle for rebuilding Black communities, and creating opportunities for equitable ownership. He says, “we need to create opportunities for Black and Brown people to rebuild, and this can only happy through education and equitable opportunities for all.” This can only be done, through real commitment from within the industry to provide education, develop skills and provide the resources to create opportunities within urban and under-represented communities of color.
Of a bygone era, which saw Black people investing and developing opportunities for communities, and making a positive economic impact in their communities, Rod says, “The Black Wall Street is a blue print that can be duplicated, and the real estate industry is key to supporting these initiatives and playing its part. When we say Black Lives Matter, we must really mean it, and be committed to it.”
His goal, he continues “is to use partnerships, to move the needle forward for reigniting the prosperity of Black Wall Street, on the real estate level, whilst focusing on the execution of our initiatives, and begin the process of rebuilding at highest level.”
Why Partnership is Key
Rod’s luxury property brand, LAVIPagent, has partnered with Keller Williams (KW), Beverly Hills to advance his ambitions around diversity and inclusion and to progress his thoughts around racial equity within the industry. Of the partnership he said “Choosing to partner with KW was a strategic move. After seeking partnership with others in the property space, I chose Keller Williams Beverly Hills, as I was impressed with their leadership, and the authentic support they will bring to to the initiatives I plan to execute”
Of the leadership team he advised that “Paul Morris, CEO and Operating Principle, and Josh Spitzen, Team Leader of KW, Beverly Hills are committed to launching and driving the financial literacy initiatives that we have in place. Rod has developed a board of mentors, advisors and other professionals, with over 50 years of cumulative experience in the real estate, and sports and entertainment industry.
“The benefits of our partnership, he adds “is to use our collective experience to launch a series of masterclasses, designed to provide information, though expert knowledge to sports and entertainment personalities, as well as people from marginalised Black and Brown communities” The partnership, he continues, “above all else, puts me in a primed position to leverage the support necessary, as well as world class knowledge, on an intimate and ongoing level.”
When asked about the partnership, Paul Morris, CEO of Keller Williams, Beverly Hills said “Rod has a unique ability to draw talent towards him, and share his vision and knowledge to benefit his clients. We are grateful to be in business with him, and support his vision, and we are excited to be a part of his efforts to bring all of our communities together” He added, “There is no better way forward that through an added value relationship, that benefits all involved.”
Keller Williams Realty, founded in 1983, with headquarters in Austin, Texas, is a truly global business. With a strong legacy in performance and innovation, the technologically informed real estate franchise is operational internationally, with a network of top producing agents and advisors.
Rod states “KW is at the forefront of technology. It is the largest real estate company in the world by agent count and in volume. It (KW) has a proven foundation, and because of that brand identity, when partnered with my insights and relationships with key leaders, I have access to opportunity and to information, that will lead to creating real and authentic change, in the industry I serve.
Increasing Social Equality Through Real Estate
Developing social equity is key to developing sound initiatives. Asked about social equality, as it relates to the program, Rod states that “working toward the development of social equity is an overarching part of initiative objectives. Social equity is crucially important if the industry is to be more representative of the communities from which their clients come.” Rod is clear on his mission. “It is important that the real estate industry becomes more diverse and representative of currently under-represented communities.”
I asked Rod, to tell me more about how his partnership with Keller Williams will support diversity and inclusion. He said “Since partnering with Keller Williams, I have taken on the role of Social Equity Ambassador, working intimately, on both a regional and national level. It is the goal of the social equality ambassadors, to focus on supporting Black and minority agents into leadership positions. We exist to help address racial bias, and discriminatory practices that exist in our industry.”
Rod adds, “I’m focused on helping to create initiatives through the partnership, that will help ensure equity and inclusion, and eradicate racism, bigotry and discrimination from within our industry, as a whole.” He continues, “By using my platform and position to bring about change from within, it is hoped that we will bring about change across the industry to support racially equitable inclusion.”
I asked Rod what people would get out of the initiative from day one, and how the partnership intends to support those who choose to enter the mentoring program. He answers with clear commitment “One of the things we plan to do is show our commitment and dedication to providing access to education on the principles of building wealth through real estate investing.
We will do this by sponsoring young African American men and women, and people of color to get their Real Estate licenses, offering internships, mentorship programs, and scholarships to ensure their commitment, whilst firmly display our own. We are then become invested in them, and what they bring to the table.”
Creating Wealth and Property Investment Awareness
Rod is certainly well connected. From selling high end real estate to sports and entertainment stars, to working on a community level, he is a man of his word. Part of the initiative is the Legacy First Advisory Board. He created this board, he says, “to address the racial bias and discriminatory practices that exist within the real estate industry when it comes to informing, educating and empowering people of color around how to build wealth through real estate investing.”
This independent board, is a group of like-minded individuals, from across various industries, including finance, legal, wealth management and real estate, all working together to improve financial literacy. Included on the board is Senior Wealth Advisor Isaac Richard III of Morgan Stanley, who aims to raise financial literacy within Black communities. The aim is to educate young African American men and women and people of color on building wealth strategies.
Rod informs me that he and Isaac, will “work jointly to really drill down on these initiatives that will, teach financial literacy and instil confidence within the Black community around real estate investing and financial awareness.”
This, he adds “will also help to guide career paths directly into the wealth management or real estate field. Isaac, Rod informs, is one of the younger, more successful Black wealth managers in the country, and that’s the type of inspiration that we want to see promoted within communities of color. We want to see this replicated within the real estate industry as well.”
Starting with The End in Mind
Rod Watson clearly has a plan. The focus of the Keller Williams and LAVIPagent partnership for career and wealth building initiatives, is aimed at levelling the playing field for marginalised communities. It rests around how to properly invest in the real estate market, and how to build generational wealth that benefits African Americans and people of color.
With his intellect, determination and expertise within the real estate market market, I hazard a guess that this Baller, turned real estate industry leader, alongside his partnership at KW Beverly Hills, intend to make a difference when it comes to Real estate investing and building generational wealth within Black and Brown communities.
I’m watching this space. I have a feeling that I will have to catch up with Rod Watson in the future. Beverly Hills, intend to make a difference to property investing within Black communities. I’m watching this space. I’m intending to catch up with Rod Watson in the future.