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She made an offer on a condo. Then the seller learned she was black.

Perched on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Virginia Beach condo was exactly 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.

At $749,000, it was also within budget. She quoted the asking price, which was accepted, and paid a deposit. And then, while she was in escrow this month, her broker called her late on the night of May 17, a Friday, to tell her some bad news.

The seller wanted to get out of the transaction.

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For what? “You could hear the fear and disbelief in his voice,” Baxter said, recalling what his broker told him 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, Baxter’s broker, said: “We have no comment on this as we cannot do anything that would jeopardize our clients’ (sic) transaction.” »

The situation came to light a few hours later, when Baxter, 30, a molecular biologist and science communicator who runs the website Dr. Raven the Science Maven, shared what happened in a post on the social platform continue to purchase the condo.

Two federal laws – the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the much older Civil Rights Act of 1866 – prohibit home sellers and their real estate agents from discriminating when selling 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 participated in racist practices, choosing to show their clients houses only in neighborhoods where most neighbors were of racial background. their 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 his social media post, Baxter filed a discrimination complaint with the Virginia Fair Housing Office and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She also contacted a civil rights attorney.

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

“I fell in my chair”

Baxter, who works remotely for Mount 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 a divorce two years ago, she was eager to own a home, and Gamble encouraged her to find a house near the beach, which had long been a dream of hers. He promised to split his time between the new home and Washington, D.C., where he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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

Baxter turned off his camera while Miller, who is white, toured the house with Walker’s agent as one of the guides. The virtual tour was enough for Baxter to make an offer.

“It’s a classic house with lots of character. It’s absolutely beautiful and you can walk to the beach. It was like a steal,” she said. “I basically made an offer sight unseen.”

Two weeks later, with the home’s sale in escrow and the same day the home was inspected, Baxter and Gamble made the three-hour drive to Virginia Beach to view the home in person for the first time. times. Walker arrived as the couple was leaving, and Walker’s agent, Susan Pender of Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, introduced the seller to the buyer.

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

But what followed, according to Baxter and Gamble and supported by the written timeline recounted by Miller, was a series of frantic actions by real estate agents on both sides aimed at saving the real estate transaction.

Walker’s agent called Miller to tell him that Walker wanted to back out of selling the house. Miller, in turn, called Loftis, who is the supervising broker for 757 Realty, where Miller is an agent, to ask for advice.

As Baxter prepared for bed at a Virginia Beach hotel later that evening, she received a phone call from Loftis.

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

“I kind of fell back into my chair,” Gamble said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Well, after the civil rights movement, after COVID, after George Floyd, you would think that society still doesn’t think that way. But in 2024, they still are.

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

They did not immediately offer advice on how Baxter could legally protect himself or file a discrimination complaint under the Fair Housing Act. Officials from HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance said that should have been their first step.

Baxter took to social media shortly after midnight Saturday. She was defiant, ending her message with: “Baby, I either buy your house or I buy YOUR BLOCK.” CHOOSE ONE.”

“We handled that.”

Hours later, Loftis wrote in an email to Baxter. “It was unfortunate that the seller took a position to involve Race (sic) in the process,” he wrote. “It looks like the seller’s children managed to straighten it out. Although this is an unfortunate issue, I hope your purchase is back on track.

Miller called Baxter, who said she was panicking about losing the house. During this conversation, he encouraged her to sign an emergency inspection removal addendum, releasing the seller from any obligation to make repairs to the home, despite the home inspection revealing a system air conditioning unit that is over 30 years old and in need of an upgrade. . Two days later, at Loftis’s direction, Miller sent 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 withdrew from the transaction. “As a company, we condemn all forms of discrimination, regardless of the source or target. All of our officers and staff are fully trained to be aware of discrimination in its many forms,” he said. He refused to answer further questions.

A spokesperson for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, the residential real estate company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, said RW Towne Realty is an independent company that solely owns and operates 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,” she added.

Shortly after The New York Times contacted Mitchell, 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. “Please be assured that this individual’s attitude is not tolerated by Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty, Susan Pender or anyone within our organization or region.”

When asked by phone why Berkshire Hathaway RW Towne Realty did not condone the seller’s actions, Wolcott said, “We handled that.” All you need to know is that it was fixed the next day,” and declined to answer further questions.

The sale of Baxter’s house is expected to close later this summer. But even if the deal is reached, her rights under the Fair Housing Act could still be violated, said Brenda Castañeda, deputy director of advocacy for HOME of VA, a nonprofit that helps Virginians who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination. Real estate agents are required by law not to discriminate, meaning they must inform sellers who persist in acting in a detrimental manner that they will not represent them, and withdraw from the sale if the seller does not. I do not consent to it. But discrimination can take other forms.

“I don’t know if you can cure the discrimination just by changing your mind and making the deal,” Castañeda said, adding that the actions of real estate agents on both sides could also constitute a violation. “This person may suffer harm because they suffered a loss of civil rights and the distress of receiving a discriminatory statement.”

She added: “Dr. Baxter suffered harm whether or not the transaction was completed. We just want this to be a wake-up call to people.

circa 2024 The New York Times Company