Home Business She made an offer on a condo. Then the saleswoman found out that she was black.

She made an offer on a condo. Then the saleswoman found out that she was black.

by SuperiorInvest

Located on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Virginia Beach condo was just what Dr. Raven Baxter wanted. It had a marble fireplace, a private foyer, and details like crown molding and wainscoting in its three bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Priced at $749,000, it was also within his budget. He offered the asking price, which was accepted, and sent a down payment. And then, when she was in escrow earlier this month, her broker called her late at night on May 17, a Friday, with bad news.

The seller wanted to back out of the deal.

Because? “You could hear the fear and disbelief in her voice,” Dr. Baxter said, recalling what the officer told her next. “He said, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but she doesn't want to sell you the house and it's because you're black.'”

The saleswoman, Jane Walker, 84, is white.

Walker did not respond to requests for comment. Bill Loftis, Dr Baxter's broker, said: “We have no comment on this as we cannot do anything that would endanger our clients.” [sic] transaction.”

The situation came to light a few hours later, when Dr. Baxter, 30, a molecular biologist and science communicator who runs the website Dr. Raven the Science Maven, shared what happened in a post on X. Her public aeration to 163,000 followers and others has drawn attention to the biases that continue to plague the housing industry and the laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination, even as Dr. Baxter took steps to continue purchasing the condo.

Two federal laws (the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the much older Civil Rights Act of 1866) make it illegal for both home sellers and their real estate agents to discriminate during the sale of a home. But more than 50 years after redlining was banned, racial discrimination remains a problem, housing advocates say. A multi-year undercover investigation by the National Fair Housing Alliance, a Washington-based coalition of nonprofit housing organizations, found that 87 percent of real estate agents engaged in racial targeting, choosing to showing his clients homes only in neighborhoods where most of the neighbors were of the same race. Agents also refused to work with black buyers and showed fewer homes to black and Latino buyers than to white buyers.

Following the recommendation of commenters on her social media post, Dr. Baxter filed a discrimination complaint with the Virginia Office of Fair Housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She also contacted an attorney for civil rights.

“If I hadn't gone on Twitter and gotten help from people who knew what they were doing, I would have been panicking all weekend,” Dr. Baxter said. “It was the first time I bought a house. I knew my civil rights were being violated. “I knew something illegal was happening, but no one knew what to do.”

Dr. Baxter, who works remotely for Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, currently shares a rented apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, with her boyfriend, Dr. Ronald Gamble Jr., 35, a theoretical astrophysicist. After divorcing her two years ago, she was eager to have a house of her own and Dr. Gamble encouraged her to look for a house near the beach, which has always been a dream of hers. She promised to split her time between her new home and Washington, DC, where she works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Baxter first saw the Virginia Beach condo listing in early May on Zillow and contacted the agent, Wayne Miller, who offered to visit and give him a tour via FaceTime.

Dr. Baxter kept the camera off while Mr. Miller, who is white, toured the house with Ms. Walker's agent as one of the guides. The virtual tour was enough for Dr. Baxter to jump in with an offer.

“It is a classic house with a lot of character. It is absolutely beautiful and you can walk to the beach. It was like a robbery,” she said. “I basically submitted an offer sight unseen.”

Two weeks later, with the house sold in escrow and the same day as a home inspection, Dr. Baxter and Dr. Gamble made the three-hour drive to Virginia Beach to see the house in person for the first time . Ms. Walker arrived as the couple was leaving, and Ms. Walker's agent, Susan Pender of Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, introduced the seller to the buyer.

Shortly after Dr. Baxter and Dr. Gamble left the house, Ms. Walker informed her agent that she was not willing to sell her house to a black person and that she wanted to cancel the sale, according to a timeline of events. compiled by Mr. Miller and shared with The New York Times by Dr. Baxter. Miller declined to comment and Pender did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

But what followed, according to Dr. Baxter and Dr. Gamble and supported by the chronology written and recounted by Mr. Miller, was a series of frantic actions by real estate agents on both sides focused on saving the deal from the living place.

Ms. Walker's agent called Mr. Miller to tell him that Ms. Walker wanted to withdraw from the sale of the house. Miller, in turn, called Loftis, who is the supervising broker at 757 Realty, where Miller is an agent, for guidance.

As Dr. Baxter was preparing to go to sleep at a Virginia Beach hotel that same night, she received the phone call from Mr. Loftis.

He put the phone on speaker so that Dr. Gamble, who was working on his research in the hotel room at the time of the call, could hear the conversation.

“I fell back in my chair,” Dr. Gamble said. “I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Long after the civil rights movement, after Covid, after George Floyd, you would think that society still doesn't think this way. But in 2024, they still will be.”

In a flurry of emails and calls over the next 24 hours, which were received and recorded by Dr. Baxter and reviewed by The New York Times, Mr. Miller and Mr. Loftis expressed shock at the turn of events. events and sympathy for Dr. Baxter. . They also assured him that the sale of the house would go ahead despite the seller's wishes.

They did not immediately offer guidance on how Dr. Baxter could legally protect herself or file a discrimination complaint under the Fair Housing Act. Representatives from both HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance reported that this should have been her first step.

Dr Baxter took to social media shortly after midnight on Saturday. She was defiant and ended her post with: “Honey, I either buy your house or I buy YOUR BLOCK. CHOOSE ONE.”

Hours later, Loftis wrote an email to Dr. Baxter. “It was unfortunate that the saleswoman took her position to bring Race [sic] in the process,” he wrote. “It seems that the seller's children were able to turn it around. While it was an unfortunate issue, we hope to get your purchase back on track.”

Mr. Miller called Dr. Baxter, who told him he was terrified of losing the house. In that conversation, he encouraged her to sign an inspection contingency elimination addendum, releasing the seller from all obligations to make repairs to the home, even though the home inspection revealed an air conditioning system that had more 30 years old and needed to be updated. . Two days later, at Mr. Loftis's instructions, Mr. Miller sent Dr. Baxter an email with a link to Virginia's fair housing complaint form.

In an email, Jay Mitchell, supervising broker at Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, wrote that neither party had backed out of the transaction. “As a company, we condemn any type of discrimination regardless of origin or recipient. “All of our agents and staff are fully trained to be aware of discrimination in its many forms,” he said. He declined to answer any further questions.

A spokeswoman for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, the residential real estate company owned by Warren E. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy, said RW Towne Realty was an independently owned and operated company that only licensed the Berkshire Hathaway name.

“Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and its parent company, HomeServices of America, strictly adhere to the Fair Housing Act and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” he added.

Shortly after The New York Times contacted Mitchell, Dr. Baxter received an email from Barbara Wolcott, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty.

“In light of the actions of our horribly misguided seller, I feel compelled to send you this email,” she wrote. “Rest assured, this individual's attitude is not something that Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, Susan Pender, or anyone within our organization or area will tolerate.”

When contacted by phone and asked how Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty was not condoning the seller's actions, Ms. Wolcott said, “We took care of this. All you need to know is that she corrected herself the next day,” and she declined to answer any further questions.

The sale of Dr. Baxter's home will still close later this summer. But even if the deal goes through, their rights under the Fair Housing Act could still have been violated, said Brenda Castañeda, deputy advocacy director for HOME of VA, a nonprofit that helps Virginians who believe they have experienced discrimination. in housing matters. Real estate agents are required by law not to discriminate, meaning they must inform sellers who insist on acting with bias that they will not represent them, and remove themselves from a sale if the seller does not agree. But there are other ways in which discrimination can develop.

“I don't know if you can cure discrimination by just changing your mind and moving forward with the deal,” Ms. Castañeda said, adding that the actions of real estate agents on both sides could also be a violation. “That person may experience harm because he or she has experienced a loss of civil rights and the distress of being told a discriminatory statement.”

He added: “Dr. Baxter has suffered damages whether the transaction goes through or not. “We just want this to be a wake-up call for people.”

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