Don’t Give Big Mamma’s House Away: Four Tips for Keeping Inherited Property in the Family.

Usually, the topic of wealth transfer focuses on the amount of money that baby boomers are going to transfer from retirement accounts, real estate, and other investment accounts to their children. Cerulli Associates estimates that as much as $68 trillion will move between generations within 25 years. The overall estimates range from $30 trillion to $68 trillion. When I see these numbers, I think about my family. I think about how this will impact African — American families. In parallel, various articles state that the average net worth of African American families will decline to “0” by 2053. Considering the trends of the size of the wealth transfer market and the decline of African American family net worth poses some interesting, if not alarming, questions: Are African-Americans not part of that great wealth transfer? Are we not participating? Do we not have wealth to transfer? Or are we transferring our wealth/assets outside of our community from retirement accounts, real estate, and other investment accounts when they could stay in the community?

African — Americans are transferring wealth outside of their own families via real estate. We all know about gentrification, but what if we looked at it through the lens of African-Americans transferring our wealth outside of our communities. I grew up in Cincinnati, lived in Washington D.C. for a few years, and have now settled in San Francisco. One common theme I see in all of these cities is African-Americans transferring wealth via selling real estate via grandmas or Big Mommas house outside the community. Living in San Francisco from 2014 to today, I have seen in the Bay Area or heard about communities greatly impacted by gentrification. The neighborhoods affected in the Bay Area include the Fillmore District in San Francisco, Hunters Point (which has renamed Bayview), Oakland, and subtly Richmond in the East Bay. As a non-native I have watched this happen over the last 4–5 years, sitting on the sidelines wondering should I buy someone else’s Big Mommas house, should I ignore the problem and pray it goes away, or should I retreat to the suburbs via my “do no harm” approach to life. At the moment, I have done nothing, unfortunately, besides watching helplessly on the sidelines, wondering what I could do to help my people. This was my approach until Christmas 2019 when I went back home to Cincinnati.

I knew that the neighborhood that I grew up in, Madisonville, was being gentrified. It did not hit home until this past Christmas. I witnessed gentrification firsthand. I had a very emotional reaction to seeing that someone tore down pieces of my childhood. If you drive down Madison Road, you will notice that someone has gutted the entire Madison and Whetsel area. New high-end apartments are going up. I was shocked. Gentrification finally hit close to home literally. I visited my grandma, who I believe purchased her home back in the 1960s. She scrimped and saved to buy that house, and she worked even harder to pay it off, raising my dad as a single mother. Now she, as well as other little old ladies or grandmas in what was once a predominantly black community, are receiving mailers from all sorts of companies — the large real estate firms proclaiming how much value she can earn from selling her home. I was even more appalled at the low ball offer that she said she has received. In addition to mailers, my grandmother has received letters (YES LETTERS) asking her to sell her home. I have asked my grandmother to send me these letters and keep copies of them as she receives them. I am taking this personally, as this is my grandmother. But where do real estate agents or investors think she should go if she sells her house? What do they propose grandma should do with the proceeds from the sale of her home?

The icing on the cake during my short trip back to Ohio was waking up one morning and seeing a group of predominantly white people on the street where I grew up. Now mind you, my senses probably would not have been so heightened had I not known that my parents are also receiving “GREAT OFFER” letters to sell their home. Also, on my short visit to Cincinnati, my dad and I sat on the porch as the group of “investors,” shall we call them, scoped out the home directly across the street where I grew up since the age of 5. It was a triggering event. At that moment, gentrification became much less of an academic debate about the events occurring to the people in the Fillmore District, Hunters Point, and Oakland. It became about my grandma, my parents, my family, and the community I grew up in as I watched the agents of change walking up and down my street. There is a house on my childhood street that is going for $275k. I know $275k is not a lot of money compared to a high cost of living city like San Francisco or Washington D.C. However, this is extremely high for my childhood neighborhood. There were more triggers while I was home from seeing non-black folks running in the community to a microbrewery. Some of the old buildings had been completely knocked down, and my preschool Sunday School teacher her house completely gone and one of my aunts — gone.

You never know how gentrification will impact you until it is knocking on your door. Watching it happen in real-time to my family and my community, I feel compelled to do something rather than sit and watch grandma’s house, so I am digging in my heels to fight for my family to keep their homes. We already lost one to fire and taxes (I will save that story for another day, but it seems like a cautionary tale that others could tell).

Here are four tips for keeping Big Mammas House in the family:

  1. Get a family plan in place for real estate. Too often, estate planning is taboo in black communities, and it is part of how or why we are transferring wealth out of our communities.
  2. Understand community plans for grandma’s hood. Are major corporations moving in? Is an organic grocer on the way? These are telltale signs of gentrification. If yes, go back to step 1 to come up with a plan to stay in the neighborhood.
  3. Pay attention to property tax assessments. Many grandmas may get placed out of Or lose homes due to increased tax bills. If this happens to your grandma, the family should have a plan to help grandma with the tax bill. More to come on African-Americans and property taxes.

Bonus: If property tax or maintenance on the house becomes too high and you sell Big Mammas house, have a plan for the money you receive from the sale of the house.

The above references an opinion and is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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Joy Mbanugo

Joy Mbanugo

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Joy Mbanugo is a California based Finance professional with over 19 years of finance experience. Find out more at www.joymbanugo.com.