Potter smiles to herself, understanding she’s an anomaly in her industry. Ninety-eight percent of home appraisers are white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As far as Potter is concerned, the lack of people of color in the industry is at the very root of home appraisal bias, which a Brookings Institution report last year said created a 23 percent devaluation of homes in Black neighborhoods, adding up to $156 billion in lost equity.
“I don’t doubt that biased appraisals happen because there are bad apples in every industry,” said Potter, who appraises homes in the Atlanta area. “There’s a lot of reform that needs to be done, for sure.”
The White House and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have heard the arresting stories of Black people’s homes’ being underappraised by up to $500,000 and Black homeowners’ being encouraged to remove family photos or ethnic art from the walls to “neutralize” the homes to make them more marketable for potential non-Black buyers.
The Biden administration “has decided that they are going to take on this challenge, and it is a big one,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said last week at the announcement of the Property Appraisal Valuation Equity, or PAVE, report, the result of a task force President Joe Biden launched on the centennial of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Massacre in 1921, when white mobs destroyed and burned down homes and businesses in the thriving all-Black Greenwood community.
Last month, The Washington Post reported about a Black couple’s home in a wealthy, majority-Black community in Maryland that was appraised for a half-million dollars less than expected and $300,000 less than what they initially paid for the house six years before. Another Black family, in Marin County, California, sued an appraiser in federal court after she valued their home at $100,000 more than what they paid — after they had spent $400,000 on renovations. A second appraisal valued their home $500,000 higher than the initial valuation after the couple removed any clues that they were Black and asked their white friends to pose as the sellers.
Such stories, showing disparities even at higher ends of the housing market, illustrate the bias that has hurt Black families’ opportunities for generational wealth.
The PAVE report and research by Brookings confirmed that homes in mostly Black and majority Latino neighborhoods are almost twice as likely to be undervalued than homes in other neighborhoods. Because of that, Black and Latino homeowners often pay more for mortgages, get less when they sell their homes and find it difficult to acquire home equity loans, equating to losses estimated at $48,000 per home.
The PAVE Action Plan, which would be enforced by a collection of organizations in the housing and real estate industries, calls for accountability among home appraisers to make the industry more diverse and inclusive, provide more information and help for homeowners and encourage homeowners to report all cases of perceived bias. A group of housing and real estate leaders and Black homeowners met with Fudge last week at HUD headquarters in Washington to begin building out methods to create change.
Lydia Pope, the president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which produced the recent report the State of Housing in Black America, which uncovered findings similar to those of PAVE and Brookings, said: “The devaluation of homeownership and ownership by Black folks have been historically a challenge for us. When you’re appraising properties, you understand neighborhoods. But if you don’t know the neighborhood, you don’t understand it is more to appraisals that meet the eye. So a major issue is that we definitely have to hire more Black appraisers.”
Which are Potter’s thoughts exactly. Since her son Jaelen was 8, she took him along on her jobs, and he gradually learned the business. Now, at 20, he’s among the youngest certified appraisers in Georgia.
“We’re underrepresented in appraising like every other industry in this country,” she said. “I’m glad the Biden administration is taking a comprehensive approach. But in all of that, we have to get the numbers up.”
To that end, Potter not only has trained her son, but she also has, for years, mentored young Blacks in appraising, taking them through a two-year apprenticeship that she finances, she said. After the apprenticeship, they can become certified appraisers.
“My phone is steadily ringing, because people have heard the horror stories, and they sometimes want a Black appraiser to feel more comfortable,” she said. “Also, every week, I get a call from a bright young person that is gung-ho about this industry and they can’t find a mentor. Or if they get over the hurdle of getting a degree, they can’t get over the second hurdle, which is finding a certified appraiser to work under for two years. So it’s a tough situation.”
Rules allow Potter to take no more than three candidates under her tutelage at a time. And in a bustling Atlanta-area market, she’s among the few certified appraisers, if not the only one, purposefully working to diversify the industry by shaping more Black appraisers.
“Appraisers are humans who are looking at location as a factor of accessing properties,” said real estate agent Gayle Bickham, who works primarily south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “Yes, much of it is about race when you see these gross differences in prices. But also, it’s about location. A brand new house valued at, say, $400,000 in South Fulton [County], in a mostly Black community, could be sold for $515,000 north of the city, where there are not as many Blacks. And we are talking about the same house, same builder, same square footage. So one of the big problems goes beyond the appraiser. It’s about how our communities are devalued.”
Andre W. Perry, a senior fellow at Brookings, wrote in his book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and the Property in America’s Black Cities”: “When you really get down to it, many comparisons of Blacks to whites are consciously or unconsciously asking these questions: Why can’t you be more like white people? Why can’t you get married and act like ‘normal,’ middle-class white families—without that leg up that federal policies that have been given to white people over decades? Why can’t you achieve academically like white people?
“When white people are considered the norm or the standard, everyone else is deemed abnormal,” he continued. “There certainly are plenty of Black folks who know they have value. … By accounting for racism, researchers can better examine true home value. … Communities need researchers … so leaders and families can challenge governments and markets that devalue, dehumanize and demean us for economic gain.”
Pope said the meeting at HUD allowed participants, including Black homeowners, to share experiences in appraisal biases to learn the scope of the problem and the path to end the devaluation of Black homeownership.
“It was very interesting to hear what’s going on from around the table,” Pope said. “It’s a conversation that’s being heard and taken seriously by people who want to make change, to create some major solutions that we can get done about this whole disparity on appraisals. It’s not necessarily going to be easy. But the commitment is there."