Home Renovating While Black: The Very Real Costs That Nobody Tells You About

About six weeks after she moved into her Dutch Colonial in Beekman, New York, Alyse Archer-Coité’s excitement shifted to hesitation. Her anxiety peaked when she started reaching out to contractors to start home renovating discussions. “I felt like they would come to the house with an expectation, and then I would open the door,” she recalls. Archer-Coité didn’t want word to get out that the ivy-covered brick home on the hill of a predominantly white and middle class neighborhood was owned and occupied by a single Black woman—she would often wait for cars to pass before getting the mail. “I had a fear that I was going to end up with a burning cross in my yard.”

Fifty-five years after passing the 1968 Fair Housing Act—a law preventing discriminatory practices around renting, buying, selling, or financing a home in the face of redlining—racism continues to pervade the house buying experience. But what of the BIPOC buyers, like Archer-Coité, who finally got their keys? Homeownership literacy is driven by financial resources and budgeting, experience in the field, and relationships with contractors—all of which impact the design, integrity, and longevity of a home, and are often the by-products of generational wealth and privilege. After speaking with a mix of Black homeowners, housing advocates, and real estate professionals, it’s clear that the history of undermining Black wealth indeed continues with home improvement.

While Archer-Coité does not regret buying her home, the “expectation versus reality has definitely shifted,” she says. “I underestimated my need to be dependent on an upstate network of people who are just very different from me.”

Photo courtesy of Annabel Taylor at Sotheby’s International Realty/Gabriel Zimmer

In their experience overseeing the Center for NYC Neighborhood’s Black Homeownership Project, Sabrina Bazile has witnessed how “Black homebuyers are being pushed to certain neighborhoods [where] a lower cost pool of homes just need more work.” Between plots that already require more maintenance and “Black women are not able to find trustworthy contractors,” Bazile emphasizes how there is a higher risk of home deterioration. “Systemic discriminatory practices that have existed for decades continue to keep Black homeowners from making improvements to their home that will increase its value, especially for [those] who may not have as much liquid cash in reserves as their white counterparts,” adds Blondel Pinnock, CEO of Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Both organizations are providing services that, in Pinnock’s words, respond to “the pitfalls of purchasing older homes and what they need to be prepared for as far as maintenance and upkeep,” including financial resources, homeownership preparedness counseling, home repairs, and weatherization support , along with other assistive services to sustain Black home ownership and build generational wealth. “So many of us have been conditioned in an environment where [strong financial] principles were not in practice,” says Billy Ross. As both a broker and home owner, Ross underlines that budget line items for maintenance or a sinking fund that exists solely for repairs are necessary because “we’re coming into it, we’re thin, and we don’t have the reserves or the capacity to take care of it.”

“I wouldn’t fully say I’ve even been confronted [discrimination] heads on. I’ve just avoided any chance of confirmation because I don’t want to hate my neighborhood or my house,” Archer-Coité says about this home renovation experience.

Photo courtesy of Annabel Taylor at Sotheby’s International Realty/Gabriel Zimmer

Archer-Coité has worked closely with her realtor, Annabel Taylor, to negotiate with contractors when she foresees issues.

Photo courtesy of Annabel Taylor at Sotheby’s International Realty/Gabriel Zimmer

For Debbie Wright, a realtor with more than 20 years of experience and multiple properties under her belt across Florida, Washington, DC, and New York, a big issue stems from home improvement contractors being mostly men. Wright emphasized how this directly “ties into how men are going to relate to Black women in contracting,” describing how contractors often patronize her expertise or “challenge how [she] wants to do things,” like when she built a home from scratch in Florida and knew it needed steel trusses. While more expensive material-wise, steel is less laborious and means avoiding the deterioration of wood trusses by termites. But because a contractor gets the benefit from labor costs, Wright knew the contractor would try to push toward the wood, eventually depleting the house’s value in the long run. As she further explains, “you end up spending the money just to shut them up,” because the act of changing your contractor once they’ve gotten permissions is costly and long.

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