Black designer shares unexpected hurdle black homeowners face when selling


Photo credit: jhorrocks – Getty Images

Kelly Finley is a designer, founder of Joy Street Design and Joy Street Initiative, and a member of Beautiful House Inaugural Advisory Council. Here she describes a particular hurdle faced by black homeowners looking to sell.

“Hello Kelly, I don’t know how to say this, but there you go: you might want to remove some of your art before we list ownership …”

The phone call ended and I stared at my husband. I’m not the type to remain speechless, but at that point conflicting thoughts and emotions left me stunned. Outrage. Sadness. Concern. Confusion.

“What did she say?” He asked.

“She said we should think about removing our art.”

“Our art? “

“Those who show that we are black.”

“Oh.”

Yes. Oh. Unfortunately, I knew who she was talking about. Our 1940s home, which we completely gutted, remodeled and designed over two long years, included artwork depicting a black woman, statues from Asia, and a few fabric designs with a tribal twist.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need to remove personal effects when selling a home. We took our family photos and deleted anything that appeared to have been inhabited by someone else. I also don’t blame our agent for delivering this message. She wanted us to get the best price for our house, and that’s what experience has taught her in the market.

Yet… when I heard that we should remove anything that could show that we are not white, I felt like a punch in the stomach. At first, I did not understand why cultural and historical objects were a symbol of “otherness”. To see these pieces and to assume that we are black is imperfect; some people collect works of art and artefacts from all over the world. Additionally, the Bay Area is celebrated for its diversity. Couldn’t our house be owned by someone of any race?

My next thought was, “Wait a second– what does being black have to do with the value of our house? Not only was this unfounded discrimination, it was a professionally designed house that received national attention. Why should I delete his character? Should I take a stand? What example would I set for my daughter if I didn’t?

Of course, once the initial emotions have passed, logic sets in with its hard numbers. While we have not had evidence that removing the artwork would impact our sale price, discrimination against Blacks in home appraisals is well documented (with some devaluations as high as $ 90,000 ), inasmuch as New York Times article unveiled last year. The assessments are subjective. With just a pen and an opinion, wealth can be taken away from black Americans effortlessly. If this is you and your home is your biggest investment, that’s terrifying.

With these warring thoughts in our minds, my husband and I had a difficult choice to make.

If dismantling our personal belongings could make the difference between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000, we were not prepared to take the risk. It was the health of our family. It was our future at stake.

We have dismantled the art.

I don’t know if it made a difference, but I know my heart was heavy doing it. I still wonder what would have happened if we had left it. But that’s in the past now. I just hope that by sharing our story – yes, even though it’s anecdotal and there is no evidence – more people will realize this secret burden that black Americans and other minorities share. Most of all, I hope we can have these difficult conversations with respect and community, because whether you are black or not, inequalities deeply affect everyone in society. We all deserve to live in joy, not in fear.

Fortunately, our story has a happy ending. One day after listing our home in Oakland, we sold it to another great Bay Area family. We already have a positive relationship with the new owners, and they even asked us if we could sell them some of our bold and cheerful furniture!

Oh, yes, we can.

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