Race matters when it comes to homeowners selling or refinancing a property. Of course, companies that make money by assigning a value to homes say that isn’t so. Well, a couple in Jacksonville, Fla. proved it is true.
Abena and Alex Horton decided to take advantage of low home-refinance rates brought on by the covid-19 pandemic. So in June, they had their four-bedroom, four-bath ranch-style house appraised.
Homes in their neighborhood tend to sell for $350,000 to $550,000, and they had expected their home appraisal to be around $450,000. Imagine their surprise when the appraiser set its value at $330,000. Abena Horton, who is Black, felt the appraiser was discriminating against them — and their bank also felt the home was undervalued, The New York Times reported.
But before the new appraiser could arrive, Abena Horton, who is a lawyer, decided to make some changes to their home. Down came all the family photos off the mantle. In their place, she put a series of oil paintings of Alex Horton, who is white, and his grandparents that had been in storage. She even took books by Black authors Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison off the shelves. She left holiday photo cards showing white friends on display.
When the second appraiser came, Abena Horton made sure she and her 6-year-old son were out of the house. They went on a shopping trip to Target. Alex Horton was alone at home to greet the appraiser.
The new appraiser gave their home a value of $465,000 — a more than 40-percent increase from the first appraisal.
The Hortons aren’t the only homeowners who have been discriminated against by appraisers. Black homeowners have been complaining of this for years. “Even in mixed-race and predominantly white neighborhoods, Black homeowners say, their homes consistently appraise at less than those of their neighbors, stymying their path toward building equity and further perpetuating income equality in the U.S.,” The Times reported.
Although home appraisers are bound by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to not discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, or gender, they still do so. Even the threat of losing their license or the threat of prison time has not stopped discriminatory appraisals.
“My heart kind of broke,” Abena Horton said. “I know what the issue was. And I knew what we needed to do to fix it because in the Black community, it’s just common knowledge that you take your pictures down when you’re selling the house. But I didn’t think I had to worry about that with an appraisal.”
Horton shared her experiment in a Facebook post that has gone viral.
It happens to rich and famous Black homeowners too. When actor and comedian D.L. Hughley had an appraisal on his home in the upscale and mostly white Montevista Estates neighborhood of West Hills, Los Angeles, in 2000, the house was appraised for nearly what he had bought it for three years earlier — $500,000.
Hughley’s bank flagged the appraisal as suspect and ordered a new appraisal which came back $160,000 higher. Hughley sold the home for $770,000.
“They were like, this has to be some kind of mistake because in order for your house to have come in this low, it would have to be in some level of disrepair,” said Hughley, who wrote about the experience in his book, “Surrender, White People!” — a satirical look at white supremacy.
“People always tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But what if you remove the straps?” he said. “You’re invested in the American dream, you have capital, you have a chip in the game. And the fact that somebody could summarily minimize my wealth just because of a bias, it seemed crazy to me.”
In Hughley’s case, the appraiser was fired.
Abena Horton has filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A 2018 report from Gallup and the Brookings Institution revealed widespread devaluation of Black-owned property in the U.S, which was discussed in a 2019 hearing before the House Financial Services Subcommittee.
“The report found that a home in a majority-Black neighborhood is likely to be valued for 23 percent less than a near-identical home in a majority-white neighborhood. It also determined this devaluation costs Black homeowners $156 billion in cumulative losses,” The Times reported.
“The long-standing narrative in America is that the conditions of Black neighborhoods and cities are a direct result of the residents in them,” said Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities,” in an NBC News video. “People are so ahistorical that they forget there has been a policy violence leveled against Black people that comes out in the wash of research. There has been violence in practice from the nation’s appraisers, which are almost 90-percent white. You cannot discount that violence happening on paper and in communities year after year after year.”
Black homeowners also pay higher taxes on their property. In essence, it’s a “Black tax.”
Black and Hispanic homeowners pay a higher effective tax on their homes when compared to what white homeowners pay on comparable homes, according to a working paper released by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. This is because Black- and Hispanic-owned homes are assessed at higher values (relative to what these homes sell for) when it comes to accessing the amount of property tax they need to pay (even though their properties get undervalued when they are trying to sell or refinance).
Black homeowners are less likely to appeal their tax assessments than white homeowners, and less likely to be successful when they do appeal, DC Police Center reported.
Also, computerized tax assessments are not good at valuing neighborhood amenities such as good schools, access to retail or transportation. But, sale prices of homes are extremely sensitive to these hyper-localized amenities.
“If Black and Hispanic homeowners are more likely to be in neighborhoods that lack such amenities, which in turn depresses their sales value, the ratio of their assessed home value to the market value would be higher,” DC Police Center reported.
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But this might not be enough. Discrimination in appraisals has long-term effects on Black homeownership. “While the Black homeownership rate has increased since mid-2019, advocates worry that the homeownership gap will only grow, not only because the pandemic has sent Black unemployment to its highest level since the 1980s, but also because federal agencies have walked back Obama-era efforts to combat discrimination,” NBC News reported.