A HIGHER CALLING BRINGS OCTAVIUS SMILEY-HUMPHRIES BACK TO REAL ESTATE
An ADHD diagnosis in your late 20’s is not supposed to be a career enhancer, but that’s exactly what happened with NAGLREP member Octavius Smiley-Humphries. In fact, the diagnosis is what brought him back to real estate, his first love and profession.
“O” attended Georgia State University in his hometown of Atlanta twice. Yes twice! He initially went for 1 ½ years before succumbing to what he thought was laziness, procrastination and/or a need to grow up.
“I started really well,” he said. “I got good grades, but over time, I would find I didn’t have the drive to finish and would choose to do what I wanted, not what I needed to do.”
Following his first foray at college, “O” took a job as a flight attendant for Trans Air (now part of Southwest Airlines), before settling in for new homes sales at KB Homes and John Wieland Homes. It was the perfect job because it was 2006 and he loved real estate.
“My mom was a lot like other African Americans who work really hard and she became a homeowner later in life,” he said. “She was one of those real estate dreamers. She loved touring weekend open houses and new construction. Because of her I loved real estate and it certainly helped that even though there was a beginning of softness in the market, it was fairly easy to sell new homes in Atlanta back then. I was 23 and selling and closing 4 or 5 homes a month at a healthy price point. I was living the dream.”
Three years into his real estate career, the recession hit and the new home business tanked leaving him without a paycheck. He worked at a new car dealership and later became a claims analyst for Hartford Insurance before leaving Atlanta for Los Angeles, where he got a job as a diversity and inclusion officer for the Disney ABC Television Group.
“O” and his family returned to Atlanta in November 2014 and welcomed son Julian into the world that February. By September they were off to Raleigh for a new gig.
“Here I am staying at home, still trying to get my degree and wanting to stay in diversity and inclusion and the same pattern started again,” he said. “I was making the Dean’s List in the beginning and doing fine, but then saw I had trouble finishing.”
He was a father, motivated by family, mature but still distracted. Something had to be wrong. After the recommendation to seek professional help and an intensive neuropsychological evaluation, he was diagnosed with ADHD.
“Everything made sense,” he said of the diagnosis. “Let’s face it, mental health is not typically a focus in the black community. We just didn’t talk about it or identify it. I didn’t struggle in school initially, largely because I had an eidetic memory. Looking back I always did better on tasks and projects that were short rather than those that require more time and concentration.
“With my diagnosis, I now had to be intentional about my future. I had to have passion in whatever I do, knowing if I didn’t, I wouldn’t stick with it. I didn’t want to fail. I’m quite fearful of failure.”
Ironically, at that same time of the diagnosis, he was selling his current home, building a new, multi-generational home as his mother-in-law was selling her Atlanta property to join them in Raleigh.
“It was actually my agent who recognized my passion for real estate,” he said. “We had real estate all around us and our agent said I talked about it in a way that ordinary people do not. She had the epiphany that my fear of failure was unwarranted. I remember her sharing “You are a stay-at-home dad now. If you give this a shot and it doesn’t work out, you haven’t hurt anything!”
He immediately took the pre-license courses, passed the state exam, and re-entered the profession with Better Homes and Gardens Go Realty with a personal conviction.
“One of the things I learned from my previous time in real estate was that in order to be successful I had to be authentic to who I am and bring my entire self to work. I’m hard to miss. A 6-3, 200-pound Southern, black gay man. For me personally, I didn’t have a choice but to be authentic.”
“O” marketed himself heavily in the gay community largely via the LGBT centers in Raleigh and Durham before a friend mentioned that NAGLREP was holding a Lunch and Learn last March. He attended, joined and was hooked, quickly becoming a member and joined the Leadership Committee of the Greater Triangle of Raleigh chapter alongside chapter President Kevin McIntyre.
One goal of Octavius is to increase African-American engagement in NAGLREP, along with raising awareness to the challenges black LGBTs face in their desire to be homeowners. Together we can and will do better for the black community. In my opinion, homeownership is the best way to achieve stability and wealth and is vital to everyone.
“I was a bit taken back at my first NAGLREP conference because out of everyone, I counted approximately 10 African Americans in attendance,” he said. “I’m from Atlanta where I know dozens of black gay agents. Why the disconnect? It was one of those moments where I had to think. I realized that I could do more to encourage other agents like me to participate.”
“In general in the U.S. African Americans begin behind the starting line. I was the first person in my family to get into and go to college. My mom was the first to own a home. We are catching up, but it comes with a lot of extra work. And for many, even if they have an awareness that homeownership is attainable, they fear they may be discriminated against. Now add being LGBT on top of that and it is even harder.”
He believes that one step to help improve black LGBT homeownership rates that stand at 34% according to Freddie Mac, compared to 49% for the LGBT community at large and 64% for the nation, is to showcase African American LGBTs working in the business.
“In areas where there is a more concentrated African American LGBT population, there seems to be an increased percentage in homeownership,” he said. “I think that is largely due to the visibility that having a larger population provides. If folks in less diverse communities saw more visible representation in the real estate profession, it may ignite a spark for the desire to become homeowners. In the end, it is not just black LGBT agents to promote homeownership in our communities, it’s a job for all of us!”