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What Is Redlining in Real Estate? 3 Warnings for Buyers

To ensure a fair housing market, the government has passed laws that govern lending and real estate practices. Home buyers should know about fair credit laws and a problem called redlining. Find out more and what you can do to protect yourself.

To ensure a fair housing market, the government has passed laws that govern lending and real estate practices. Home buyers should know about fair credit laws and a problem called redlining. Find out more and what you can do to protect yourself.

Homeownership is the primary source of most family's wealth in the United States, and a fair and equal housing market increases stability and prosperity for many families. Historically, however, there has been discrimination and lending practices which have hurt marginalized communities and neighborhoods.

While laws have been passed to prevent such practices, home buyers should know their rights and how to protect themselves against racial discrimination.

What is redlining?

Redlining is a term used to refer to a now-illegal practice in the mortgage lending industry. Lenders used to draw red lines around portions of a map to indicate areas of a city in which they didn't want to make loans.

Even if a credit-worthy applicant applied to buy a home in those neighborhoods, they could be denied. Reverse redlining, where a bank lends to a borrower in a redlined area but charges a premium for the loan which isn't justified by their credit-worthiness, also exists. And it can look like realtors refusing to show properties in some areas to certain types of people.

This practice was made illegal in the Fair Housing, or Equal Credit Opportunity Act. While redlining on a racial basis has been prohibited by law, lenders can still redline if a home lies on a fault line or a flood plain.

How does redlining hurt home buyers?

Discriminatory practices such as redlining hurt home buyers because they create an unfair housing market. If you're a buyer of color and you're working with an unethical realtor, they might only show you houses in traditionally black neighborhoods. You'd miss out on seeing an awesome house that could be less expensive in another part of town.

It also hurts home buyers trying to buy in a neighborhood that's been redlined. If you've found your dream home, and it's located within those red lines, you could struggle to finance your purchase even if you've been pre-approved for a mortgage. Historically, this meant that some neighborhoods remained poor and lower class and didn't receive capital investments to improve.

What are signs you might be a victim of redlining?

Identifying the practice of redlining can be hard for borrowers because they don't have insight into a bank's lending data. Studies have shown that black applicants are still being turned away for loans at significantly higher rates than white loan applicants, even when controlling for factors such as income and credit scores.

If your loan officer has continually asked for more documentation, they could be fishing for a reason to deny your application. If all other metrics, such as your income, employment, and credit score, would indicate that you could afford a home, but you're still hearing a “no,” the lender could be discriminating against you. You can file a complaint with your state's Attorney General and take your business elsewhere.

The term “steering” refers to guiding buyers either away from or towards neighborhoods, often based upon the buyer's race. If your realtor is steering you away from homes in a community, even if they meet your criteria, you could be a victim of redlining. It's also difficult to prove, and often, you could just have a gut feeling that something is wrong.

Ask your realtor to show you homes in other areas and observe how they respond. They can't flat-out refuse, and if they do, you can complain to their brokerage and report them to the National Association of Realtors. If you suspect that you might be a victim of redlining, your best option is to fire the realtor or apply with a different lending institution.

Clever Partner Agents join our network from nationally recognized brokerages and are top-rated in their offices. They adhere to the highest ethical standards and can recommend fair and ethical mortgage lenders to home buyers. To be put in touch with a Clever Partner Agent, reach out today.

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Reuven Shechter

Reuven Shechter is the Outreach Coordinator at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top real estate agents to help save on commission. He spreads the word about Clever, disseminating studies to journalists and developing relationships with media outlets. Reuven is passionate about investing in real estate and creating lasting success for families. His writing has been featured in Max Real Estate Exposure, Leverage Marketing, and more.

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