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Buying A Home Whilst Being POC

Buying a house is a rite of passage. Unlike rented accommodation, a house provides a liberating experience in self-reflection and independence. We see our hard work mirrored into a place we can call our own, and decorate it to suit us. But millennials and Gen Z’s are often confined to their childhood bedroom, cramming in our COVID bought house plants and Mattise-esque artwork into just four walls and pondering basic rights whilst struggling to perch upon the property ladder.

Recently, the Metro published some shocking facts; according to the Pushed to the Margins report, by Runnymede Trust and CLASS, only 35% of people of colour (POC) own their own homes in London. For white British people, it almost doubles at 62%. 

The Metro article dives into the brutal truth of gentrification (where the character of a neighbourhood is uprooted to provide a space for wealthier people and dislodging native occupants in the process) and shines a light into some truly alarming statistics.

In areas created to provide places of affordable housing – and where a majority of POC live in London, especially in Southwark, are known as “Opportunity Areas”. Ironic, really, as these areas are where gentrification rates are shown to be 9-13% higher. 

This scheme was introduced in 2004, under Ken Livingston, the then Mayor of London, and not even 20 years later, they’re being snatched from right under us. It’s safe to say, when buying a new home in London, POC are often dismissed.

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Photo By Francesca Grima

It’s undeniable buying a house seems more realistic in your dreams, unless you’re super rich or have financial support from parents/partners. But if you’ve saved up and buying a home is within your grasp, for POC the experience of buying a house is just as off putting as the housing prices themselves. 

Mikalea Johnson*, a POC business owner, experienced bouts of ageism and sexism. She was 28 years old when she bought her flat in Bromley, South East London – and faced hurdles every step of the way. 

“It was a chain-free sale but it took far longer than it should have. The estate agent recommended a conveyancer and a particular company, which I went with – part of the start of my problems. It turned out the seller had lied about the lease in the listing- which the estate agent is supposed to check. The seller had lied about several things including boiler certificates in the documentation for the house sale, he put that the certificate was enclosed – it wasn’t. 

“My solicitor didn’t pick up on this until I said something about it – turns out the boiler was faulty and would have led to carbon monoxide poisoning, had it been left. I instructed my solicitor to pursue that and get the other side to pay for it to be brought up to regulations. They waited two weeks to do anything. Instead of instructing the seller’s solicitor as I’d asked them to, they called the estate agent and them with my solicitor and the other side’s estate agent, tried to pressure me into buying the place without a valid boiler certificate.”

Instead of fixing the boiler, which alldayPA has found the generic cost is around £8,000- £18,000 to replace, Johnson’s estate agent, solicitor and the seller’s estate agent recommended she pay £100 for an insurance. In the event of her death, her mother would  receive financial compensation. Johnson was adamant the boiler would be fixed before she moved in, but was left annoyed by the people who were supposed to “back her up.”

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Image by Ethan Wilkinson

Three years after buying the London flat, Johnson still faces trouble with the freeholder (as she bought it leasehold – where you buy the right to occupy the building for a certain length of time), and with a neighbour (who has right of way from her garden). Sexism and ageism is still strongly apparent even after she bought her flat; “(they) both have basically admitted that with me being a young woman they think they can just do whatever they want, they treat my house like they own it.”

During our talk, I asked her what she would differently, her reply saddened me; “what I probably do is just get a man and from the beginning to be perfectly honest.” Why? Well, she mentions: “I’ve had to make my mom call a friend of hers to get her husband to come down to my house to talk to builders and the freeholder because everyone just ignores whatever I say… I just seemed to think they could say to me as a woman “don’t worry about it, you’re just being a bit fussy, aren’t you?””

Johnson persisted with the sale because the flat fit her needs; “I’m disabled and I was living with my mother in an upstairs flat for several years. I have mobility problems so there were often times when I wasn’t able to leave the house because of the stairs. I managed to find somewhere that was literally down the road from my mum (who’s Johnson’s carer) and on the ground floor. That’s the only reason I went through with it.” 

I also spoke to Naomii Frances*, a 24 year old who bought her first house in Birmingham in 2020. Being black, young and with a white partner, Frances was weary of how she would be perceived, and put precautions in place to ensure her race would not be a reason they wouldn’t get a house: “My experience of buying a house was quite a long process. It was quite stressful and I think being POC added to that, because some of the things I was worried about my partner wasn’t.

“I was cautious of how people would perceive me during home viewings – I didn’t go and view a house without my partner at all.  I just felt like people would be more comfortable if he took the lead – but I did absolutely everything over the phone or over emails…there’s like a whole bunch of maybe negative stereotypes that come with being a person of colour and I didn’t want them to base selling a house, or not selling their house on that solely.”

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Image by Christian Stahl

Even when viewing homes with her parents, and her partner, Frances found all the attention shifted to her partner instead: “you could just tell the vibe in the room when the person opened the door for us. My partner standing in the back. It wasn’t well received, didn’t feel welcoming and when myself or my mom asked a question, he directed his answers back at my partner, and not towards us at all…I had a couple of experiences where that happened.” 

This isn’t a recent phenomenon, it’s been something silently simmering beneath the surface for a while. Many POC find themselves in uncomfortable positions when buying a home, and other external factors are still working against them, such as age and gender.  

Although there have been personal articles dedicated to sharing POC experiences in buying a home, such as Kia Abdullah’s article in inews, it seems the more people share their experiences, the more we’re ignored. Not only do POC Gen Z and millennials need to be worried about how they’re going to afford a house, but it seems like we’re going to need to deal with racism whilst buying a home too. As a collective, we need to make our voice heard because something needs to change.