Tiffany Malone has always had a passion for real estate in her life. Although the real estate consultant for the Alvarado Real Estate Group, located on Madison’s near west side, grew up poor and was raised by a single mom who worked two jobs to make ends meet and never was able to own a house, Malone knew that one day she would become a homeowner — and help others facing obstacles own homes, too.
“I’ve always loved real estate since I was young. I loved it when houses would go for sale. I loved the decor of the houses,” she tells Madison365. “I hustled every step of the way every single day. I came from nothing … from poverty. I think that me wanting more and surrounding myself with a diverse group of people, I was able to see different aspects of their life and I knew that I could do this and that I wanted more.”
Since becoming a realtor in Madison, first with First Weber and now with the Alvarado Real Estate Group, Malone has been deeply committed to diversity and inclusion work within the real estate industry. And there is a lot of work to do on that front: Black homeownership, in particular, at 43.4%, is nearly 30 percentage points behind the White homeownership rate of 72.1%. In Dane County, only 10% of Black families own their homes.
“A lot of our community is not educated on wealth and how real estate can be profitable, especially for intergenerational wealth you can pass on. Speaking with other Black and brown clients, they are very intimidated when they go into a financial institution and they apply for a loan,” Malone says. “And then they get denied because they don’t have enough credit or they have a couple of blemishes or they don’t have enough income.
“Instead of a person coming in and saying, ‘Hey! If you do X, Y, and Z, we can get you into a house within 6 months or a year,’ they are defeated and they walk away and they never come back,” she adds.
Just 6 percent of all of the National Association of Realtors’ 1.4 million members in 2020 identified as Black.
“Black realtors in Madison, in particular, are very scarce. Usually, when I do see a Black realtor or somebody sends me their name, 9 times out of 10, I reach out to them just to say hi and make sure to introduce myself because there aren’t a lot of Black realtors,” Malone says. “I know from experience that sometimes non-Black clients do not want to work with Black agents. That’s just the way it is. They’re not comfortable or they don’t think we’re competent enough. To even get your foot in the door to change that narrative is difficult sometimes.
“I think a big reason why there aren’t many Black realtors is because we’re 100 percent commission-based,” Malone adds. ” If we don’t sell anything, we don’t make any money. How many people can make that sacrifice … that I’m going to stick with this and not get a paycheck, no insurance, etc.?”
Another reason for the racial disparities in real estate professionals is the lack of mentors. Malone’s inspirational story lets other people know they can do it, too. But there’s not just a lack of Black realtors, there’s a lack of Black homebuyers.
That’s one of the reasons that Madison is so segregated, she adds, because of homeownership.
“We have redlining and gentrification in Madison. We have parents coming in sometimes and saying, ‘We’ll give our kids the cash.’ Even if we can afford a home, how can we compete with that?” Malone says. “Changing this is going to involve communication and education and normalization. This can be normal. We should be a melting pot. Our neighbors should all look different. A mom and dad and a family should be able to own a home.
“We have to all come together to make a change. If we don’t as a community put our money where our mouth is, we’re all a part of the problem if we don’t try to change the narrative.”
With that in mind, Malone says she is excited to be on the advisory team for “Own It: Building Black Wealth,” a new initiative in Madison designed to eliminate substantial barriers to wealth and homeownership for Black families in the greater Madison area.
“OWN IT is my free full-time job that I love doing. I love doing it because I love to share with the participants in my class my knowledge and my experience and what I have been through,” Malone says. “I like to encourage them and let them know why it’s been so hard for them, generationally, to own a home.
“Your land was stolen from you. You are held to a different standard as far as getting a loan. There are many factors that lead to these disparity numbers, but…. It can be done,” she adds. “I like to share my experiences of not only myself but people in my family. And they all get so excited and they learn so much. The program gives them the hope of owning a home.”
Earlier this week, “Own It” announced that seven Madison-area families will be receiving a $15,000 grant to put toward the purchase of their first home in 2022.
“Who wouldn’t love a $15,000 at closing with no strings attached? Other down payment assistance programs in the Madison area, there are so many ins and outs and hoops and you can’t apply for this grant if you make X amount of money,” Malone says. “We don’t need one more thing. It should be as easy as possible.”
Malone knows that a program like “Own It: Building Black Wealth” would have been a great program back in the day for her mom, a single mother who was a hard worker, had multiple jobs but because of the lack of generational wealth, was a renter her whole life. Malone was born in Chicago and moved to Madison when she was 7 years old, eventually settling in Middleton where she attended Sauk Trail Elementary and Kromery Middle School, before graduating from Madison West High School.
‘Mom had a middle-school education and nobody taught her about wealth, credit, and things of that nature. My mom didn’t teach me how to write a check, make a budget, build my credit, or about investing,” Malone remembers. “When you are a product of your environment, it is so hard to look outside that box. It’s a mindset.”
But Malone knew at an early age that she wanted to break that cycle. “Even though I am so proud of my mom because she held two jobs her entire life and she was a hard worker, I wish somebody would have given her the tools to say, ‘Hey, Mary. You’re paying this much for rent. How about we get you in a house if you save X amount of dollars?’”
Malone attributes a lot of her success in the real estate world to her mentor Sara Alvarado, co-owner of the Alvarado Real Estate Group. “She gives it to me straight and she believes in me,” Malone says.
Malone believed in herself when she made her ambitious initial jump to the real estate field.
A graduate of Upper Iowa University with a bachelor’s degree in human services and a minor in criminal justice, Malone worked for American Family Insurance and Allstate Insurance for several years before landing a job with the state of Wisconsin. It was a nice job with good benefits, but she knew in her heart it wasn’t what she was meant to be doing.
“The message is that if you get a state job, you’re set for life … you get your 20 years, you get your pension and you get your deferred comp[ensation] and you ride off in the sunset. My dad was like, ‘Just hold on. You’re crazy if you walk away.’ But I looked around at all of my co-workers after my fourth or fifth year and I was like, ‘I cannot stay here for another 20 years with you guys.’
Although it was scary, she knew she needed to make the jump. When Malone came back from her grievance period after the death of her mother, she let people know that she wouldn’t be coming back to her state job.
“The reason that I took that jump is that I had several traumatic things going on in my life – my mom died, I was in the process of getting a divorce, and I was not happy at my state job,” Malone remembers. “I bought a four-unit building because I knew that I needed income while I was doing real estate because it’s 100 percent commission-based. I took all the savings I had and I literally lived off that for two years.
“I stuck with it and was able to do it. How many people can say that? I shocked myself,” she adds.
Today, she strives to make home buying and selling a positive experience for her clients.
“I do mostly residential but have done commercial [properties] for family and friends,” she says. “I have been doing a lot of income properties, as well. I have a lot of clients who are interested in buying duplexes and apartment buildings.”
What she loves the most, she says, is the difference she can make in a person or family’s life … and being able to see their faces when it happens.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in human services and a minor in criminal justice and the reason I went into that field and wasted all my money and have student loans because of it,” Malone says, laughing, “is because I wanted to help. So, I love the whole process of real estate. I like the initial interview with the client. I like getting to know the client. I like taking on the search for the home whether it be one home or 30. I’ve worked with clients over a year to find a home and to see their face when they actually get that accepted offer to buy that home … that’s amazing. That’s priceless. I helped one more person.
“It takes a lot for somebody to trust you … and to trust you to negotiate on their behalf … and reassuring them that you are working hard for them to get everything they want and need,” she adds.
So is she happy that she made the move?
“I’m ecstatic that I made this move. I always say, ‘Whatever you’re seeking, it’s seeking you, too.’ I’ve had plenty of nights when I cried and have been down on myself and said to myself, ‘Oh, my God. How am I going to pay for my kid to do this because I don’t have the income?’ But then things just work out,” Malone says.
“If I had given up, who knows where I’d be at? If I didn’t have the proper guidance and the proper mentors who were rooting me on, who knows where I’d be? I’m so happy that I stuck with it … because if I didn’t, I’d probably be unhappy right now.”