By Fern Gillespie
Recently, the New York Times published “Selling Houses While Black,” an overview of problems facing Black real estate agents. According to the National Association of Realtors, which didn’t permit Black members until 1961, approximately 6 percent of real estate agents and brokers in the United States are Black. In addition, white real estate agents make almost three times as much as their Black peers. Since 1947, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (N.A.R.E.B) has been an alternative for Black agents and brokers. Our Time Press reached out to three Black women realtors for their insights on the unique challenges facing Brooklyn’s Black Realtors in the era of gentrification.
Joyce Turner is a second-generation realtor. Her family’s company Cross Boro Services was established in Bed Stuy 60 years ago by her father, William Turner. She is a past president of the Bedford Stuyvesant Real Estate Board and is the former treasurer of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the African American realtor organization.
OTP: What impact has gentrification had on Black homeowners?
JT: The prices started going up. Everybody is interested in the brownstones, and the neighborhood is changing. Now that prices are higher, many of my elderly clients say, “It is a big windfall for us now.” Because they bought the houses for so much less, they say, “I can sell and go to another area where life is a little easier.”
OTP: Do white homeowners retain you to sell their property in Brooklyn?
JT: We are now selling the property to white buyers. There’s no problem with that because they want the property. And like it at a reasonable price. The turnover that we had before is not happening now. The white buyers, when they sell, are not hiring us to sell it. Very few, if any, white sellers have signed us up to sell their houses. I might get renting the apartments.
OTP: Realtors have been preying on Black elders to sell their family homes. How do you work with elderly homeowners?
JT: I speak to the elderly constantly. I tell them to hire me as their appraiser, so they can know what’s going on in the market. Because they are taking advantage of some elderly people, there are problems for the elderly, like it’s cold in the brownstones and they can’t shovel the snow. I tell them to consider the sale because it’ll be tough for them to return to the same area they were living in. After all, their house was sold.
Gloria D. Sandiford is president of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Real Estate Board, Inc. Brooklyn Chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, Inc
OTP: The NY Times article says that older white sellers and buyers are cautious about using Black realtors. Did you experience this?
GS: I can see why some black real estate professionals might experience this because racism certainly does exist. However, this has not been my experience. Perhaps that’s partly due to most mature sellers being Black people who have lived in this community for many years. Many of whom I have a relationship with that goes back several generations. Those same mature people are selling and moving out of the community for various reasons. However, I would mostly say that it’s due to affordability and many other systemic factors that push or entice people out of a community. Also, the reason that I have not had any Caucasian sellers, I believe, is primarily because they are not the bulk of the people who are selling in this community but instead, they are the people buying. Now, if you were to ask me if I have had a caucasian buyer, the answer would be yes. In this market, I experience more diversity on the buyer side.
OTP: Does the increasing value of Brooklyn homes impact historically Black neighborhoods?
GS: The increasing property values impact historically Black neighborhoods. Without a doubt. That’s one of the systemic ways to push people out of a community and bring in and revitalize a community with younger people and higher wage earners. So there are pros and cons to everything as we know. Some of the older Black people who may have wanted to leave took advantage of the higher prices they were being offered for their properties which in turn made that same property unaffordable to maybe a younger person of color who may have wanted to buy in the community. However, there are still people of color buying property in this community. Perhaps not at the same rate as other ethnicities, but I am happy to say that they are still buying, and I hope more will.
Bessie Edwards has been a Brooklyn realtor for 20 years. She’s worked as a corporate executive and in special events management.
OTP: Bed Stuy is becoming gentrified. Do you deal with many Black buyers?
BE: When I have a brownstone for sale, I have to look for Black people to consider buying that property because they can’t afford it. Although their income may allow them to buy a home, banks are also very partial to African-American customers who want to purchase homes. So they might not be able to get a mortgage for the price of the home. When I have a house for sale or a co-op for sale, I get more white buyers than Blacks.
OTP: Where are Black homeowners who sell their houses relocating?
BE: People say, ‘I can buy a house in the south and move to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and get a house for a third the price down there.’ But, even though those markets are going up.
OTP: What advice do you give Black first-time home buyers who want a home in Brooklyn?
BE: For Black people looking to buy a home in Brooklyn, mainly if they were first-time homebuyers; they’re not looking for a property that’s $1.5 million. They are looking for a home that’s under $1 million. I always advise first-time home buyers to look into areas that have not evolved yet. Where are homes in a smaller neighborhood that are not so trendy? Then, when you get your bearings in a few years, you can upgrade to your ideal home. Canarsie is more affordable for African-Americans with lower budgets.