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NAREB Memphis President: Paying $1,700 in rent? ‘You can buy a home for cheaper than that’

My mother died almost five years ago, in April 2019. I never imagined I’d type these next words, but in hindsight, I’m glad she passed when she did, before COVID-19 shut down everything.

Had she lived another year, she likely would have died in the asssited living home where she was staying – without me or my brothers being able to see her before passing, or giving her a proper funeral for that matter. Thank God she didn’t leave us with those problems.

No, bless her heart, she left us with another problem. She left me and my brothers the home house we grew up in, the one she and my dad built in the 1950s. But there was no legally valid will to say who got the house. We wrangled over it for a few years, but my brothers have built lives elsewhere, and eventually deeded the house – and the responsibilities thereof – to me.

And so the question falls to me, like so many of us who have inherited property:

“What do we do with Big Mama’s House?”

That’s the big question that will be tackled during the National Association of Real Estate Brokers’ National Realtist Week 2024. As part of NAREB’s 100-City Wealth Building Tour, the Memphis chapter is hosting a week of activities aimed at increasing black wealth — more specifically, increasing black land ownership.

A week of activities culminates on Saturday, April 13, at Greater Faith COGIC with a free workshop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The featured panel, “What To Do with Big Mama’s House?” will provide tips on keeping and leveraging inherited property into generational wealth.

I spoke with Daryl Lewis, local president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers’ Memphis Chapter about NAREB’s “Building Black Wealth Tour,” aimed at arming people of color with the knowledge to build wealth. And as a owner of inherited property, I asked about Big Mama’s House. Here’s our conversation, edited for clarity and length:

Tri-State Defender: I’m eager to dive into the importance of Realtist Week, especially its focus on wealth building in our communities. Can you share why it’s crucial and its local impact?

Daryl Lewis, NAREB Memphis President: Sure. So National NAREB President Courtney Johnson Rose wanted to embark on a 100-city tour to build black wealth through real estate. We’ve discovered that real estate is a fundamental part of wealth-building portfolios, especially in the black community, where it has traditionally been a means of generational wealth.

There are no millionaires who have been created without real estate as a part of their portfolio. Especially within the black community, real estate has been one thing that was able to be passed down from generation to generation to create wealth. Memphis, as a majority minority city, we should own more real estate.

But some of our neighborhoods have been left desolate and people have moved out of the city due to economic woes. But now we are seeing it seen where if someone can afford $1,700 a month in rent, they can buy a home cheaper than that.

TSD:  Memphis seems to be a renter’s market, with investors impacting property values. How does this trend affect wealth building for those looking to buy homes to live in?

Lewis: Well, one of the things that we’re doing with the 100 City Black Wealth Tour is a workshop called “What to do with Big Mama’s House.” That’s going to be one of the segments that’s going to be taught on Saturday.

By selling off legacy property, people have sold off their family’s legacy. Some people have lost their family’s legacy by not maintaining it, paying the property taxes, keeping it up. And while investors have come in and bought it up, it’s not totally investors’ fault. We should have been wise enough to maintain our family’s legacy versus squandering it all for a few pennies.

Some people have gotten so greedy, they’re saying, “Look, let me capitalize off the market.” But what they didn’t realize is that in doing so, you actually have injured the African American community more.

TSD: “What to Do with Big Mama’s House?” That sounds intriguing, especially because I have inherited property when my mom died in 2019. What should we do with “Big Mama’s House?”

Lewis: Redevelop it. Build on it. But do not sell it. God is not making any more land and there are no people of any race, creed or color that does not have real estate in their portfolio as a wealth building tool — none. So, if you have property that you’re sitting on, and it is in an area where you can see the possible redevelopment may come, do not sell.

Even if you don’t see an opportunity where redevelopment can happen right now, do not sell. That land is valuable in some aspect. Even if you’re just using it to put a community garden on. Allow somebody to farm that particular plot of land, no matter how big or how small, or grow your own crops. Watermelons, greens or whatever the case may be. Maintain that property because it gives you ownership.

And if you needed to put a trailer on it, if the laws would provide for it, then you could put a trailer on it and have your place to live. Tiny homes have never hurt anybody — you just need shelter, right? So if you could build a tiny home for less than $50,000 to $60,000, that is still an opportunity to live cheaper than they would be paying rent. It’s still an opportunity.

TSD: I get it. But real talk: There are a lot of people out here worried about what they’re going to eat tonight. Bridging the gap between living paycheck to paycheck and adopting a wealth-building mindset can be challenging. How do you address this shift, especially among those struggling daily?

Lewis:  We won’t be able to help everybody. Even The Bible says the poor you will have with you always. It also indicates that our people perish for the lack of knowledge. But knowledge is only as good as the person that will implement that knowledge they are given.

Really, it’s up to every individual to decide that the solution is greater than the pain. We won’t convince everybody that the homeownership is the best way to generational wealth. We won’t convince everybody that they shouldn’t have the best of everything and they got to start somewhere. That they got to crawl before they walk. You won’t convince everybody of that.

But what you have to do is help those that you can with what you can while you can. If they don’t come and get the knowledge, it’s not because it wasn’t offered. And it’s not because it wasn’t free. It was because they didn’t come and get it and didn’t put it in place.

So, people just need to come get the information and find out what we can do to help them, because again, our people perish for the lack of knowledge.

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