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The effort to diversify the field of home appraisal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Owning a house is the biggest source of wealth for many families, but homes in Black and Latino areas are often undervalued. Research finds some of this is from racial bias in home appraisals. That's drawing attention to the fact that appraisers are overwhelmingly older, white men. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports on the push to change that.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: To be an appraiser, you need at least some college and to pass a national exam. But the biggest challenge, especially for people of color, is finding a supervisor, someone to take you on and provide the required thousand hours of training in the field.

(SOUNDBITE OF LASER MEASURE BEEPING)

DEVIN MINNIS: I read 30.

LUDDEN: Devin Minnis is a trainee, using a laser measure to inspect a Baltimore row house.

MINNIS: The trim is a wood trim...

JACK SONSO: Yeah.

MINNIS: ...That appears to be also in good condition.

SONSO: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Outside, after the inspection, Minnis says he feels lucky to have a supervisor who's Black like him.

MINNIS: I knew that I was getting into a very underrepresented industry, but I did appreciate that I was coming into an industry that is supposed to operate from an impartial, unbiased, data-driven aspect.

LUDDEN: His supervisor, Jack Sonso (ph), says he makes a point of mentoring because it's tough to break into the business.

SONSO: Oftentimes with appraisers, you hear, well, why would I hire somebody just to take my business?

LUDDEN: That's why there's long been so many fathers training sons and partly why today U.S. appraisers are more than 90% white and two-thirds male. Sonso says racial bias can creep into appraisals, intended or not, and that may have devastating consequences for Black homeowners.

SONSO: It could maybe cost me not to be able to refinance my house. Well, now I can't refinance my house, I can't sell my kid to college.

AYAKO MARSH MIRANDA: I think you've heard the term location, location, location. But when it comes to appraisal bias, I think the term should be education, education, education.

LUDDEN: As a Black woman, Ayako Marsh Miranda says she represents 0.7% of all U.S. appraisers. She's glad half a dozen states now require bias training. She'd like a federal mandate. And she says white appraisers can learn more about fast-changing Black neighborhoods they may not visit much. She says deciding which nearby home sales, or comps, to include in appraisals is especially important when it comes to reducing bias.

MARSH MIRANDA: You know, a comp that I wouldn't use even 10 years ago, I may use now. So you really have to stay up to date on the changing of the neighborhood and are you holding on to those old biases that you had 10, 15, 20 years ago?

LUDDEN: The industry is trying to open up and diversify. Craig Steinley heads a professional association called the Appraisal Institute. Later this year, to help with that challenge of finding a supervisor, it will launch a way to get training hours virtually.

CRAIG STEINLEY: It's having a 3D rendering of a property in front of you, which you can walk up to and measure and various surfaces and cabinets and floor coverings you see much as you would in the real world.

LUDDEN: The institute says it's also provided scholarships for hundreds of diverse people who want to get licensed, and it's trying to recruit more, as with this new real estate appraisal class it co-sponsors at American University in Washington, D.C.

ERICKA SIMMONS: Who wants to explain the party wall easement to me?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: From the example, I remember there was a property...

LUDDEN: Instructor Ericka Simmons says having more diverse appraisers like her can help educate those already in the business. Recently, a white colleague asked her to review an appraisal. She knows he had no intention of being biased, but he'd written inner city. She suggested changing that to downtown.

SIMMONS: Just being around someone, you have different conversations you wouldn't have, right? They would have told you, oh, maybe you shouldn't use that word. This is what the connotation might be communicating to the reader. I hope that that's something we can do.

LUDDEN: This class is a pilot with plans to expand to Atlanta and its many historically Black colleges, another step Simmons hopes will eventually bring equality to the real estate industry. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAINT HARISON SONG, "HOMIES (FEAT. TIANA MAJOR9)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.