A Black couple from Northern California are suing an appraisal company for wildly undervaluing their home by nearly half a million dollars. The North Bay Business Journal reports Paul and Tenisha Tate-Austin bought their home in Marin City in 2016 for $550,000. The lawsuit states that they spent $400,000 over the next two years in home improvements.
During a refinance in 2020, the Austins got a valuation for $995,000 by Janette Miller of Miller & Perotti appraisers. The family thought the appraisal seemed low. According to the Washington Post, the couple enlisted a white friend, Jan, who agreed to pretend to be the homeowner for a different appraiser three weeks later. The Austins took down family photos and removed African-themed artwork. Jan brought in photos of her own family, the lawsuit states.
After the “whitewashing,” the second company’s estimate came in at $1.48 million, which is in line with the median home value for a single-family home in Marin County.
The Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of the Austins. Paul Austin said in a statement, “We believe that Ms. Miller valued our house at a lower rate because of our race and because of the current and historical racial demographics of where our house is located.”
The lawsuit states that the defendants’ actions violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, enacted in 1959 to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on a person’s race, religion, national origin and ancestry. The plaintiffs, which include the advocacy group, seek unspecified damages.
The Washington Post reports similar situations with other Black homeowners. “The value of a woman’s Indiana home more than doubled between appraisals last year after she stripped it of all evidence that it was owned by a Black person and a White family friend stood in as the homeowner. Earlier this year, a Black family in Ohio removed family photos, artwork and their 6-year-old daughter’s superhero pictures, replacing them with belongings their White neighbors offered up. The appraised value of their house went from $465,000 to about $560,000.”