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Real Estate Equality: From the 19th Century Until Now

Most people today recognize Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran as the leading woman real estate entrepreneur. Her fortune and fame is earned, but at one time in United States history, no woman, not even a married woman, could own real estate or conduct real estate transactions. That began to change in the 19th century.

Mississippi was the first state to enact legislation that allowed a married woman to own real estate. In 1839, the Married Women’s Property Act protected married women’s real property if debt collectors targeted their husbands. While debt collectors couldn’t force a married woman to sell her real estate to pay off her husband’s debts, if the woman wanted to sell her real estate, she still needed the consent of her husband. Other states soon followed with their own similar legislation.

Texas was still an independent republic in 1840, but that didn’t stop it from pioneering gender equality with the most expansive legislation regarding female property rights. Not only could a woman stop the sale of property she owned, but she could veto the sale of property owned solely by her husband. Later, the states of Kansas, Nevada, and Oregon ratified their initial constitutions to include property ownership rights for all women.

New York’s legislation allowed married women to earn rent and keep their earnings for themselves. It also allowed single women to retain all the property rights they obtained as single women even after they were married. That law was passed in 1848 and became the blueprint for later legislation in other states.

The 20th Century, Women and Real Estate

While there have been women working in the real estate profession almost from the beginning (the profession was established in the late 18th century), women weren’t prevalent as real esate agents until late into the 20th century. The first woman agent to become a member of the National Association of Realtors joined in 1910. In 1938, however, female real estate agents started their own association called Women’s Council of Realtors, and the organization is still active today. They have 11,500 members.

Since the 1970s, when women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers, the number of real estate agents and brokers started to climb.

Legislation has played a huge part in the advance in women in the real estate profession, but also in women’s property rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of gender. The year before, the Equal Pay Act sought to eliminate pay disparities between men and women in the workforce. While these laws didn’t end unfair employment practices overnight, they did go a long way to opening doors of opportunity for women in real estate as well as other professions and to allow women to earn more income as a result.

In 1974, Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which opened more doors for women, married or single, to enter into real estate transactions where a mortgage is used.

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court put to bed the notion that married women were subservient to their husbands with respect to real property legal rights by declaring Louisiana’s Head and Master Law, a law that gave a husband sole control of marital property, unconstitutional.

As women have seen legislation expanding their rights to own, buy, and sell real estate and their right-to-work opportunities increase, there has been a parallel increase of women real estate agents and brokers in the U.S. The National Association of Realtors claims that 62% of its member agents today are women. More than half (56%) are real estate brokers.

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Expanding Opportunities For Women in Real Estate in the 21st Century

Today, more women are working in real estate professions than ever before. Nevertheless, most of the leadership positions are still held by men. The Urban Land Institute conducted a survey of women in leadership and found that 25% of its members are women and 14% are CEOs of their organizations.

Younger women entering the real estate professions feel less inhibited than their older peers, and older women who have achieved some level of success are happier than happier than they were a decade ago. With the wage gap shrinking and more women finding success, the future is looking brighter for women at all ages who want a career in real estate.

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