A Black couple in Northern California is rightfully suing the shit out of an appraisal company after getting a low-ball price for their property.
Since buying their four-bedroom, two-bath house in Marin City, a neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay area, in 2016 for $550,000, Paul Austin, 45, and his wife Tenisha Tate-Austin, 42, have made nearly $400,000 worth of renovations—which the obviously biased appraiser noted when visiting the house.
The Austins have added a new fireplace, a separate unit with its own kitchen and bathroom, a deck, refinished the floors, painted, added new fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms, added a new foundation and retaining wall, replaced all of the windows, and doubled the square footage from its original 1,248 square feet.
So when the appraiser fixed the price of the house at $995,000, which was lower than previous appraisals in 2018 and 2019, the Austins were pissed.
“It was a slap in the face,” Paul Austin told KGO-TV in February.
“I read the appraisal, I looked at the number I was like, 'This is unbelievable,’” Tenisha Tate-Austin told ABC-7.
So the Austins opted for a second opinion—only this time, they had their white friend Jan help them out. Jan pretended to be the owner while the Austins “white-washed” their house, according to the lawsuit. They removed family photos, replacing them with photos of Jan’s family, and removed all the Africa-themed artwork from the walls—in a very real way, erasing themselves from their own home in the hopes of leveling the playing field.
The house was appraised three weeks later by a new appraiser, and guess what? The house was now pegged at $1.48 million—almost $500,000 more than the first appraisal done by Janette “Karen” Miller and her company, Miller & Perotti Real Estate Appraisals in San Rafael.
Now Miller and her company are being sued by the Austins and the nonprofit Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California for damages and demanding that the defendants not discriminate against Black folks in the future.
Austin told the California Reparations Task Force he believes the house was undervalued because the couple is Black and because the house is in a traditionally Black neighborhood.
The history of Black homeowners being forced to deal with racist appraisal companies isn’t new.
In November, a Maryland realtors' association began investigating after homeowners in a majority Black community reported multiple cases of alleged appraisal discrimination, leaving home values in the area thousands of dollars lower than what similar properties in nearby communities are worth.
These are just some of the multiple incidents reported over the years in which Black homeowners are discriminated against and given significantly lower appraisals than their white counterparts.
Studies have found that homes in neighborhoods where there is a higher population of Black people are valued at about half the price of neighborhoods with no Black residents, according to Brookings Institution.
"It's almost when people see Black neighborhoods, they see twice as much crime than there actually is. They see worse education than there actually is," said Andre Perry, a senior fellow for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. "I think this is what's happening when appraisers, lenders, real estate agents see Blackness. They devalue the asset. They devalue the property."