Racial Discrimination Made My First Real Estate Experience a Nightmare

Real Estate Agent with Solid Source Realty GA 320764

I will never forget my first real estate experience. On the contrary, I pray that soon experiences like mine will truly be a thing of the past. They are not yet, but may someday be.

You see, as newlyweds, my husband and I experienced first-hand the devastation, humiliation and disappointment of racial discrimination in rental housing, as we searched for our first apartment in the then-trendy Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.

We had come to know and love the area, it’s streets, housing, and ambiance, while I was an undergrad at Chatham College. Shadyside was at that time a hip little enclave with a small but thriving business district where forward-thinking young professionals and artists operated unique shops, galleries, bars and eateries, and we thought we’d fit right in, with our upwardly-mobile, college-educated, good job-holding selves.

It was the '60s, after all, the Civil Rights Bill was finally passed, and our generation was changing the world. Right?  Fair Housing is law in the United States

Being the first in our families to go to college had broadened our horizons and we had high hopes for a better tomorrow. We’d shared many good times in Shadyside with our college friends, and it was the first place we looked when we'd saved enough to move into a place of our own -- never suspecting that the property-owners and landlords in the area were a different crowd altogether, with more conservative ideas. For many property-owners, it may have been tolerable for us to hang out and spend money in the neighborhood in the company of our upscale college friends, but unthinkable for us to even consider calling Shadyside home.

The apartment of choice became suddenly "just rented" as soon as the landlady took one look at our two excited and expectant black faces. We were skeptical but decided to take her at her word. What else could we do? Knowing the area was the best choice for us in terms of quality of life and proximity to jobs, college and family, we doggedly continued our search in the area. But the same thing happened again not once, but three times. By this time, even our friends knew what was happening. We were encouraged in one case to sue, but who wants to live like that? We finally gave up on the area and settled on a townhouse in suburban Wilkinsburg, a brand new build which we had no trouble at all getting into. It was very nice.... just not our location of choice.

To this day, the memory of that first home search remains painful.

I wish I could wrap this up with some words of wisdom and a powerful lesson learned to redeem the hurtful experience, but that’s not the case. It was simply devastating and dehumanizing, and time doesn't change that. I am deeply grateful that anti-discrimination laws were soon passed, and over time are slowly taking root in our society. But I am not so naive as to think that this scenario is not being played out again and again to this day, in spite of our professional best efforts to adhere to fair housing rules. Old habits and ingrained prejudices aren't easily overcome.

I only hope that this post serves as a reminder that every effort on our part to honor fair housing rules is an important step towards finally ending all such discrimination in our industry and our country.


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Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

Elva, thank you for sharing your story, and from reading the comments, the ugly truth is discrimination continues on into the 21st century. I grew up in a color-blind family so I didn't fully understand, sadly, racism until much later in life. Since I have been in real estate luckily I have not experienced racial discrimination first-hand but I have heard stories from other Realtors® that home sellers/landlords have said to them not to sell or rent to a particular race. Unbelievable. I'm not sure what I would do if a home seller said that to me. Probably hang up, or walk out. 

Apr 27, 2014 08:48 AM #87
Greg Nino
RE/MAX Compass, formerly RE/MAX WHP - Houston, TX
Houston, Texas

Always a topic for discussion. I've had mexicans look me straight in they eye and tell me they don't want to live around Mexicans. In fact, I've had blacks, asians and middle eastern buyers say the very same things. I've had white buyers look at me and say the same thing... "They don't want to live around hispanics or blacks." Last I checked, I don't have blonde hair and blue eyes. It's incredible how people think. I don't get offended or upset. I'm so used to it, it's common place. I'm a happier person for not getting up in arms about it. Society isn't going to change. How society operates might, but racisim will unfortuantely always be part of this world.

My wife tells me there are certain fish she cannot put into the tank because they'll kill each other. We can arrange the bowles, change the decortatoins and even change the water. In the end the fish are still the same. It's why different races create and form their own race orginazations. Even genders and transgenders do this. You can walk into any public school cafeteria in America and you'll see volunatry self segregation. 



Apr 27, 2014 11:21 AM #88
Bob McCranie
Broker/Owner - Texas Pride Realty - Carrollton, TX
Your best advocate when buying or selling your hom

Thank you for sharing your story.  Discrimination of any kind is wrong. 

Apr 27, 2014 11:47 AM #89
Sonya Mays, MBA
Midwest Executive Realty - Milwaukee, WI
Broker/Owner, Greater Milwaukee


Thank you for sharing your story. Although it has been more than 40 years ago, there are still many challenges being faced in the real estate industry today. For instance, I attempted to schedule a showing for a buyer client a few weeks ago.  The showing was initially approved through the showing service and I met the buyer at the property. When we arrived, the owner came to the door and said the appointment was cancelled, I told her I never received a cancellation notice, she then said she never approved it. I told her they approved the request last night and called me this morning with confirmation, she then went on to say that she was sick and she wasn't going to let us in today. I told her I was sorry for bothering her and left.  

I called back a few days later to reschedule because my client was still interested in seeing the place, we got another rejected denied showing request. I then asked one of my non-African American friends to call to schedule an appointment, and the appointment was confirmed right away. My friend went and was able to get in with no difficulty.

Was it a coincidence, timing, luck? Who knows, my client believes it was racially motivated and believes that the "white lady doesn't want to sell to a black person." Whatever the case may be, I pray that sellers and their agents are fair and ethical in their real estate transactions, and that they do not violate fair housing laws. Continued education is key to help break down barriers.


Apr 27, 2014 12:13 PM #90
John Dotson
Preferred Properties of Highlands, Inc. - Highlands, NC - Highlands, NC
The experience to get you to the other side!

As Greg (#88) alluded, discrimination is a fact of life. Doesn't mean it is right, but it has been with us for thousands of years and it doesn't look like it is going away anytime soon.

Apr 27, 2014 03:10 PM #91
Cathy Wolters
Wolters Realty & Property Management Company - Cocoa, FL
Your Brevard County Property Management Expert

Elva, thanks for sharing. I was saddended by your story, but digusted when reading the comments that this type of ignorance is still going on. 

Apr 27, 2014 10:03 PM #102
Brien Berard
Remax Professionals Laurel MD - Laurel, MD
Maryland Real Estate Agents - Laurel Real Estate

Racism will always be here.  My hope is that its practice will continue to be minimized.  Also, I wd not equate the word "racist"  with "conservative".  Its better to equate "racist" with "stupid".  My life journey has exposed me to many "stupid"  conservatives and liberals alike.

Apr 27, 2014 11:49 PM #103
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

What happened was not right.  Will racism every end?  No!  It has been around sense the earliest people found that others looked a little different, acted a little different, or some other difference.  I think  you were smart to decide not to live like a victim.  

Reading comment 103 above and rereading your post.  I think equating Conservative with Racisist is a mistake and continues the same kind of thinking you are against.

Apr 28, 2014 03:44 AM #104
Tni LeBlanc, Realtor®, J.D.
Mint Properties, Lic. #01871795 - Santa Maria, CA
Tenacious Tni (805) 878-9879

Hi Elva,

Thank you for sharing your story.  These are important issues and yes illegal discrimination still takes place unfortunately.

I've experienced it personally and I've also witnessed my clients be discriminated against.  Sad little fact about our country I'm afraid.


Apr 28, 2014 04:08 AM #105
Amy Steele Realtor SRS CNE NHS
JP and Associates - North Richland Hills, TX
Live,Work,Play...North Texas Real Estate Group

I have had clients discriminated against when trying to sell their home. I believe in fact that I may have been "shopped" by HUD at open houses just to see what I would say and how I would react.  THe comments i received at the open houses were just insane and unreal and what else could it have been.  Sorry you had that happen. 

Apr 28, 2014 06:40 AM #106
Shantée Haynes
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty - Washington, DC
Your Congress Heights Resident Agent

Unfortunately, this is something that still plagues BOTH sides of a real estate transaction. I think there should be more education and informing and often for agents.

Apr 29, 2014 12:22 AM #107
Elva Branson-Lee
Solid Source Realty GA - Atlanta, GA
CDPE - Atlanta Real Estate & Short Sale Agent

I am just in tears and overwhelmed by the responses to this post. Thank you all for reading my story, and for your comments. Yes, things are changing. You are the proof, and perhaps part of the reason. 

Apr 29, 2014 12:23 PM #108
Dora Griffin
D A Griffin Financial.LLC - Fort Thomas, KY
NMLS 6380

Elva, I often call on my first experience  in trying to get financing for my first home. I actually had a banker in 1980 sitting across a huge mahogony desk tell me "no matter who you know on our board as a single woman with a child you will NEVER get a loan at our bank".  Ultimately I went down the street a few blocks after being encouraged by my boss to not give up. That loan officer nearly fell out of his chair laughing at the first old geezer. Discrimination is alive and well even today; but eons better than the 60's 70's 80's. It is important to not give up.  Those who are discriminated against need to know not everyone is like that. 

Apr 30, 2014 02:10 AM #109
Marshall Brown
Mid America Inspection Services, LLC - Fargo, ND

Racial discrimination obviously still exists but not in isolation. As a former co-chair of a local PFLAG I have seen discrimination against the LBGT community and as a child of the thirties have experienced age discrimination.

The real sad part is I know fellow elders who hate gays, gays who dislike those of color and blacks who blame white people of today for mistreatment from a century and a half ago.

I sometimes think that if we all woke up tomorrow exactly alike we would figure out a reason by noon to discriminate against each other, but we can hope and work at it and hopefully we will.

May 29, 2014 10:12 PM #110
Elva Branson-Lee
Solid Source Realty GA - Atlanta, GA
CDPE - Atlanta Real Estate & Short Sale Agent

Marshall, you may be right. But as Maya Angelou said, we are all more alike than we are different. 

Jun 03, 2014 04:35 AM #111
Ed Silva
RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

Elva, the 60's were a tumultuous time and for so many different reasons. You trouble was just another part of the growing pains of our country and it is getting better but still a long way to go.

Jun 18, 2014 11:33 AM #112
Harrice Moore

My family and I lived in Penn Hills during the mid nineties. Shadyside was one of the best places to live in Pittsburgh. However, we had the same issue. Ironically, I had a friend who's son played for the Steelers was able to buy in Shadyside, however it was the clout that got him in. Hopefully, some things have changed.

Jun 30, 2014 12:25 AM #113
Elva Branson-Lee
Solid Source Realty GA - Atlanta, GA
CDPE - Atlanta Real Estate & Short Sale Agent

Ed, a long, long way.

Harrice, I didn't realize you ever were a 'Burgher (Penn Hills is still the 'Burgh). Shadyside is not what it used to be. 

Jun 30, 2014 02:53 AM #114
Mike Wong
Keller Williams Realty Southwest - Sugar Land, TX
Realtor: Commercial, Residential, Leasing, Invest

Elva sorry to hear about your first experience. It's troubling to know that this still occurs today in our industry. Stories like this are why I advocate and join various community organizations to help people in the community. I think the greatest thing we can do from experiences like this is to help others overcome and break the cycle. 

Jul 08, 2014 07:24 AM #115
Elva Branson-Lee
Solid Source Realty GA - Atlanta, GA
CDPE - Atlanta Real Estate & Short Sale Agent

Mike, I agree, that's why I shared my story with this AR community.

Jul 10, 2014 10:37 PM #116
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Elva Branson-Lee

CDPE - Atlanta Real Estate & Short Sale Agent
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