Home appraisal industry continues to fight against bias and lack of diversity

Wednesday, February 23, 2022
RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When LaToya Bogan went to refinance her home this fall she was shocked by its appraised value.

"My mouth was floored. I had to read it and reread it and then reread again," the Willow Spring homeowner remembered.

The appraisal found Bogan's home was worth $25,000 more than when she purchased it but she said she believed this was an extreme underestimate. Bogan who works in real estate knew of other similar nearby homes that had been appraised for much higher.

"I did try to do my own research before it came in, which is why I was shocked at how low it came in," Bogan said.

She was able to submit an appeal and the second time around the home appraised for $75,000 more than its original value. The same appraiser used two different properties for comparison the second time around.

Without the adjusted appraisal, Bogan would have been unable to refinance the home.

Bogan said she's unsure why the first appraisal came back so low but increasing news stories regarding bias against the race of homeowners weighed on her.

"The value of my home does not depend on my skin color," said Bogan who is Black.

Bogan isn't the only one who has questioned whether her race impacted her appraisal.

The North Carolina Appraiser Board reported it started receiving several complaints related to bias over the last few years. The Board told the ABC11 I-Team it had received eight bias complaints between October 2020 and June 2021; three have already been dismissed.

"Based on this and the increased discussion nationwide, we have, of course, begun to track this information," the Board's deputy director said in an email calling the issue a "great concern."

The Board, however, declined an interview addressing these complaints.

Stacey Anfindsen who has been an appraiser in the Triangle for decades said he doesn't believe race or ethnicity has an impact on an appraisers' report.

"The reaction to bias is usually thrown out when people aren't happy with an opinion. And remember that an appraisal is an opinion of value, and it's developed in a credible manner with techniques that are decades old," Anfindsen explained.

Instead, he said it's not unusual for discrepancies between appraisals to arise and there are multiple factors that play a role in that.

"What we have done a bad job of doing as a profession is to explain that one appraised value is not the same appraiser to appraiser or same appraiser if the scope of work changes and the intended use changes. You can have a variance in what that appraised value is," Anfindsen said. He also admitted competency of the appraiser may impact the value.

He said he believes the lack of understanding of how appraisers arrive at a value can lead some to jump to the conclusion of bias.

"We come in and we look at the house and we look at what has been done what needs to be done. We look at the subdivision, we look at the macro conditions around that subdivision. We analyze supply and demand," he explained.

However, in recent years, multiple homeowners have come forward with tales of increasing the value of their homes after they hid their race. In Florida, one biracial couple hid family photos and reported a $100,000 increase in their estimated home value during the second appraisal. Another California family replaced their family photos with ones of their white friends and reported a $500,000 uptick in value.

Housing advocates aren't pointing to individual incidents but historic policies that have devalued communities of color.

Nikitra Bailey, the senior vice president of public policy at the National Fair Housing Alliance, said that racial bias often isn't a normal occurrence, but the industry faces some systematic issues.

The National Fair Housing Alliance recently released a report funded by the federal government that outlined serious bias in home appraisals and made recommendations for lawmakers and advocates.

"This type of activity is not a one-off and it's not new. The reality is that Black families and other families of color have long faced exclusion in our housing finance system and as a result of that exclusion in the nation's housing finance system. We've seen our neighborhoods consistently devalued," Bailey explained.

She pointed to a study from the Brookings Institution that estimated the cost of undervaluing homes in Black neighborhoods amounted to around $156 billion in cumulative losses a year.

If homes owned by ethnic minorities are consistently undervalued, it affects the wider issue of the racial wealth gap. Homes are often the largest assets that families own and an important component in building wealth. Lower-valued homes equal less wealth over time.

Research by Fannie Mae released last week found half of the nation's overvalued White-owned homes in majority-Black neighborhoods were found in just six states; North Carolina was one of them.

"This was mainly due to appraisers selecting comparable homes outside of the majority Black neighborhoods when the home was owned by a White household. So even here in North Carolina, this is a real issue," Bailey said.

Bailey explained structural challenges within the appraisal systems impact all homeowners.

One of the main recommendations was to ensure appraisers are diverse.

The ABC OTV Data Team analyzed U.S. Census data that estimated around 86% of appraisers nationwide are White. In North Carolina, the diversity is even less. The ABC OTV Data Team's analysis estimated 95% of appraisers are White. Only 2% of appraisers are Black despite Black residents accounting for 21% of the population, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Similarly, Hispanic appraisers make up 2% of the state's industry and Asian appraisers just 0.5%.

"Some of the major issues are barriers to entry into the profession itself. There are multiple levels of licensing and certification that the profession requires, and those barriers are really hurting the diversity of the profession," Bailey said.

Anfindsen agreed that systematic change would be needed to diversify the profession, especially when it comes to how people join and are paid.

"I've actually had a lot of the conversations with people who have taken the prelicensing classes, and I talked to them about the money, and you can just hear the disappointment," he explained. "So, we don't really have a choice from the economics of it, but that's kind of the stumbling block."

Anfindsen explained it costs around $3,500 to enter the profession and at least 1.5 years to train. Then, annual costs can add up to around $6,500.

To begin to fix this, Bailey said Historically Black Colleges and Universities could begin programs and partnerships with appraisers to create a pipeline to the profession.

"Increasing the diversity within the profession means that people from diverse neighborhoods would actually be a part of appraising communities and being able to draw the community strengths based on their appreciation of the communities' confounds," Bailey said.

The report also recommended the industry's standards clearly state discrimination is prohibited, create fair housing training courses for appraisers, and increase oversight of the industry, along with better collaboration with civil rights and consumer advocates.

"We want to make sure we are calling on the industry to really in many ways police itself and we're calling on, you know, policymakers to make needed changes it shouldn't be the responsibility of the homeowner to protect themselves from a faulty valuation," Bailey said.

For Bogan, working in the industry, she remains passionate about making sure homeowners are aware and fight for their rights.

"As long as homeowners are becoming aware of their rights, we can fight back. You can also reach out to your state appraisal board and file a complaint, but we shouldn't have to come to that. So, I feel as though if we hold appraisers accountable, then they will start to see that we know this market, we know our value, we know the worth of our home," Bogan said.
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