Condo Deal Falls Through Because Owner Didn’t Want To Sell To A Black Woman

Dr. Raven Baxter, a molecular biologist and science educator, thought she had found the condominium of her dreams in Virginia Beach, but after she met the seller, an 84-year-old white woman named Jane Walker, the deal was placed on ice. Baxter later found out that the elderly woman’s reservations about selling her the condo were because she was a Black woman, setting off more conversations about racism in real estate

As the New York Times reports, Baxter was informed by her broker, Bill Loftis, on the evening of May 17 that Walker was pulling out of the $749,000 deal because she had learned that Baxter was Black. 

As Baxter recalled to the paper, “You could hear the fear and disbelief in his voice. He said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but she doesn’t want to sell the home to you, and it’s because you’re Black.’”

Loftis did not issue a comment to the outlet, except to say that he did not want to jeopardize any potential transaction. “We have no comment on this as we can’t do anything to jeopardize our clients [sic] transaction.”

Baxter, however, used her X account to tell her side of the story to her 165,000 followers, which has sparked a renewed conversation about the bias in the real estate and housing industries, bias that was supposed to be eliminated through the enactment of federal laws prohibiting discrimination during the sale of a home. 

According to research from the National Fair Housing Alliance, 87% of real estate agents participated in a practice called racial steering, where real estate agents and brokers guide prospective home buyers either towards or away from certain neighborhoods because of their race. 

“Had I not gone to Twitter and received help from people who knew what they were doing, I would have been panicking the entire weekend,” Baxter said. “It was my first time buying a house. I knew my civil rights were being violated. I knew that something illegal was happening, but no one knew what to do.”

Following their advice, Baxter filed a claim of discrimination with the Virginia Fair Housing Office and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as reached out to a civil rights attorney to explore her options. 

Initially, the real estate agent working on Baxter’s behalf, a white man named Wayne Miller, virtually toured the property with Walker’s agent while Baxter had her camera turned off. Baxter put in an offer during the virtual tour, remarking to the NYT, “It’s a classic home with a ton of character. It’s absolutely gorgeous and you can walk to the beach. It was like a steal,” she said. “I basically put in an offer sight unseen.”

However, when Baxter and her boyfriend, 35-year-old Ronald Gamble, a theoretical astrophysicist at NASA, made the trip in person two weeks later, Walker allegedly remarked to her agent that she was unwilling to sell the home to a Black person after the pair had driven away. The agents, according to Baxter, Gamble, and Miller, made a series of attempts to save the deal.

Despite this, ultimately assured Baxter the sale would eventually go through. They did not, however, advise her to file a claim of discrimination using the Fair Housing Act as its basis, which representatives for HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance indicated should have happened first.

Baxter eventually received a call from Barbara Walcott, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, who is managing the sale. RW Towne Realty, the Times reports is only licensing Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices name and maintains control over all sales. 

Walcott told Baxter via email, “In light of the actions of our horribly misguided seller, I feel compelled to send you this email. Please be assured that the attitude of this individual is not something that is tolerated by Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, Susan Pender, or anyone within our organization or area.”

When the NYT asked how it was being addressed, Walcott told the publication, “We handled this. All you need to know is it was corrected the next day.”

According to Brenda Castañeda, the deputy director of HOME of VA, a non-profit that works with Virginians who believe they have been the victims of housing discrimination, Baxter’s civil rights have been violated regardless of whether or not the sale goes through, and it is scheduled to go through later this year. 

“I don’t know that you can cure discrimination just by changing your mind and going through with the deal,” Castañeda also told the NYT that the actions of real estate agents on both sides could be a potential violation. “There may be damages experienced by that person because they’ve experienced a loss of their civil rights and the distress of having a discriminatory statement said to them. Dr. Baxter has experienced harm whether the transaction goes through or not. We just want this to be a wake-up call to people.”

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