But when that appraisal got suspiciously low, the Hortons made a second one – this time removing any material that might lead the appraiser to suspect the house was inhabited by an African American. Sure enough, the second appraisal came in at $465,000, which is $115,000 more than before the house was “whitewashed”.

I read this story with interest, but also with some sad gratitude. As a black person, I pay close attention to race issues. And, as a real estate agent with over 30 years of experience (technically a former agent, since I retired last year), I’m all too aware of the myriad ways in which industry is riddled with biases and built-in trappings for owners of color.

I worked for most of my career in a suburb of a gentrifying Washington DC, where most buyers and sellers of single-family homes were high-income white families. But when the sellers have been people of color, the advice I gave them was simple: before you sell your house, “deethnicize it.”

If you’re a black homeowner, you need to clear your shelves of family reunion photos and remove Afrocentric art from the walls. And I once told an Indian couple that Ganesh statues should come down from the mantle, at least until their house sale closes.

I nodded again in familiar recognition recently when I read about another – even more egregious – case involving a black couple in Maryland. They sued after their home went up $300,000 after a white couple replaced them.
And then there was the black woman in Indianapolis last year who found the appraised value of her home had doubled when a white friend replaced it. The list is lengthened increasingly.

Now, in all honesty, even if the sellers are white, real estate agents sometimes tell them to remove family photos and other personal effects: A home seller wants people to be able to imagine themselves in the house. You don’t want to remind them of the family that lives there now.

But what we see with black and other families of color is the historic, ingrained racism that permeates the industry. The history of this type of discrimination is long and deep. And it’s conspired to make black people swim upstream when it comes to accumulating wealth, because home ownership is the primary way for most people to achieve that goal.

It’s always a little awkward to tell a family to clean up all evidence of their cultural or racial background when they put their house up for sale. But unfortunately, negative associations seem to attach themselves to the house in the minds of some potential buyers if it belongs to a family of color – so much so that it can lead to a substantial drop in property value.

Black couple are suing after claiming the value of the house increased by nearly $300,000 when it was shown by a white colleague

I’ve tried to be as open as possible with my clients: I let them know people have their stereotypes and biases — and let them. This shouldn’t stop my clients from getting as much money as they can, regardless of the conscious or unconscious biases of the potential buyer.

Unfortunately, discrepancies in the valuation process are just one of myriad ways the real estate industry has historically been very hostile to blacks and browns. It is well known that the benefits of the GI Bill that made home ownership possible, giving many white Americans a foothold in financial stability and later generational wealth to pass on to their heirs, were denied to black veterans. , because banks did not offer loans for homes in black communities. And, of course, future black homeowners couldn’t buy homes in white suburbs because of discrimination.
Historically, homes in black neighborhoods also fetch less. A 2018 study by the Brookings Institution determined that homes in black neighborhoods were priced 23% less than homes in comparable white neighborhoods. Another study last year by Redfin found that homes in black neighborhoods are priced an average of $46,000 less than homes in similar white neighborhoods. As the Brookings researchers put it, “Our findings are generally consistent with the widespread presence of anti-black bias.”
And if they are able to buy a home, black homeowners often find it harder to refinance for more favorable interest rates. According to a report commissioned by the National Association of Realtors (NAREB) in 2021, the surge in real estate refinances led to “about $5.8 billion in savings on future mortgage payments. Of that amount, only $198 million dollars were captured by black homeowners.”
Are you a black landlord who has been discriminated against while navigating the housing market?
So, in the context of real estate’s dismal history vis-a-vis blacks, low valuations are more of the same deeply troubling pattern. But evaluators aren’t supposed to wear their biases on their sleeves. In fact, the law forbids them to do so.

And while it’s true that home value can be somewhat subjective (depending on how a home has been maintained or improved, for example), the metrics for home value assessment are pretty clear. : Appraisers are expected to examine what recently sold homes in the neighborhood or in a nearby comparable neighborhood, taking into account the condition of the refinanced home.

Based on this, there is simply no room to explain the wildly divergent home valuations when looking at black-owned versus white-owned homes. What devalues ​​these houses is the simple fact that black and brown bodies have inhabited them. It’s not that far off, when you think about it, from the idea that blacks and whites don’t have to swim in the same waters at the pool, or can’t drink from the same water fountain. This is the very definition of racism.

What continues to surprise me is that many white people, even real estate professionals, seem surprised when they learn of this differential treatment that African Americans are subjected to in their dealings with industry. But in my experience, black home sellers are rarely surprised. We’ve all gotten the memo about the need to whitewash our homes.

Abena Horton certainly did, telling The New York Times after the shockingly low appraisal of her Florida home: “In the black community, it’s well known that you take your pictures down when you sell the house. But I didn’t think that I had to worry about for an evaluation.”

So what can be done to stem the problem of racism in evaluations? The industry can start by hiring more color assessors and making sure everyone has the training they need to be able to identify and eradicate discriminatory practices.

According to The Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest professional association for real estate appraisers, more than 85% of appraisers are white. There needs to be more diversity in an industry — any industry — that has so much power to hurt or help people of color.
Remote reviews could also help in many cases: it would completely eliminate the potential for human bias, in addition to helping solve the problem of the shortage of reviewers, which has only worsened due to the pandemic. of Covid-19. The White House also said it’s aware of how low ratings hurt people of color and formed a task force to look into it.

And if none of these solutions do the trick, then there’s another proven one that just might be a lawsuit. In at least a few of the high-profile cases, the families in question have filed lawsuits against the appraisers. If enough lawsuits are filed against what appears to be an industry unable to resolve its bias problem, I suspect the rating companies will take notice and clean up their act.