Brokerage execs condemn SCOTUS ruling, pledge to cover abortion costs

Bess Freedman assails “egregious reversal of justice” as Ryan Serhant vows “fight for equality”

From left: Howard Lorber, Bess Freedman, Ryan Serhant, Eddie Shapiro, and Robert Reffkin (Douglas Elliman, SERHANT, Compass, Getty Images, Brown Harris Stevens, iStock)
From left: Howard Lorber, Bess Freedman, Ryan Serhant, Eddie Shapiro, and Robert Reffkin (Douglas Elliman, Serhant, Compass, Getty Images, Brown Harris Stevens, iStock)

A growing number of real estate brokerages have promised financial assistance to employees seeking abortions in states that restrict access to the procedure after the Supreme Court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday.

Executives at Brown Harris Stevens, Compass and Serhant informed staff of the policy in the days following the ruling, mirroring a similar announcement from Douglas Elliman last week.

In a memo to BHS employees Monday, CEO Bess Freedman called the ruling an “egregious reversal of justice,” pledged up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursement and laid out a list of pro-choice organizations, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL, that are accepting donations.

“To date, this has been our most responded to memo,” Freedman told The Real Deal. “The response has been overwhelming and supportive.”

Freedman said the $4,000 figure could be exceeded if necessary and that she would “personally” assist brokers and employees who face legal consequences for receiving an abortion. The company will also work to relocate staff members who want to move to a state where access to abortion is protected, she said.

“As I’m having this conversation, I’m starting to get frustrated thinking about it shouldn’t be harder to get an abortion than an AR-15,” she added.

In a memo to staff at his eponymous firm Sunday, Ryan Serhant wrote that the company would reimburse all abortion-related travel expenses and vowed to “work on ways to lobby our politicians in Congress to overturn the decision.”

The brokerage will name a chief justice officer to “ensure and fight for social justice and equality” within the company and the real estate industry at large, Serhant wrote. A representative did not immediately respond to questions about the specifics of the new role or the lobbying efforts.

“I appreciate that there are differing views in our workplace, in our community and around our country,” he wrote in the memo. “I see and feel how this decision can shake not just women, but anyone who wants to ensure their girlfriends, wives, partners, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and bosses have the right to make their own decisions for their own bodies.”

Compass will reimburse employees up to $2,500 for their own travel expenses and those of a companion, according to an internal memo viewed by TRD. A spokesperson said the benefit applies only to employees, not agents, because the reimbursements will be paid by Compass’ health insurance carrier.

“We are in active discussions with our providers as we assess legal and implementation complexities,” the memo read.

Anywhere (formerly Realogy), the parent company of Coldwell Banker, Corcoran and Sotheby’s International Realty, among others, said that like Compass, it would reimburse employees — but not brokers — $2,500 for travel expenses. Earlier in the week, CEO Ryan Schneider issued a memo that affirmed the company’s support for “equal access to quality healthcare of all kinds.”

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Nest Seekers International CEO Eddie Shapiro said his company will cover all expenses for those who ask for help.

At Douglas Elliman, a company-wide memo Friday stated that the brokerage “stands firmly behind women and their reproductive rights.” The note was signed by CEO Scott Durkin and chairman Howard Lorber, who helped fund former president Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign but has maintained a pro-choice stance in public statements.

“I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” Lorber told TRD in a 2016 interview. “I don’t know why people even bother arguing about it. It’s the law of the land.” Not anymore: Trump’s election that year positioned him to install three of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

An Elliman spokesperson said the company is working out the details of its promise to “reimburse agents and staff who may be forced to travel out of state to obtain reproductive care” with its insurance carrier and finance and human resources departments.

A representative for The Agency and Triplemint, which merged last month, said staffers will be “reimbursed for needed travel and medical care if it’s not locally accessible.”

Other real estate companies offering travel expense reimbursements include Airbnb, Redfin and Zillow, which said it would provide up to $7,500, according to the New York Times.

Others, such as Keller Williams, were finalizing their policies at the time that TRD contacted them and unable to comment.

None of the firms has gone as far as to suggest the ruling will affect its business strategies.

“We do not mix business with politics,” Nest Seekers’ Shapiro wrote in an email. “We are a service industry and we are here to service our clients no matter what their political positions are.”

Freedman said Brown Harris Stevens will not pull out of markets or avoid future expansions based on the Supreme Court’s decision. She also said she doesn’t anticipate that real estate will be heavily affected by the ruling, although she qualified that by saying “history is a study of surprises.”

“People tend to move more for issues that affect them economically,” she said. “People who have money, they can always fly around. Who this is going to impact, as we know, is going to be our most vulnerable.”

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