Black Couple 'Whitewashed' Home, Saw Appraisal Jump

Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin are suing their California appraiser, alleging racial bias
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2021 12:05 PM CST
Updated Dec 11, 2021 7:01 AM CST
Black Couple 'Whitewashed' Home, Saw Appraisal Jump
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/pakorn sungkapukdee)

(Newser) – A couple in California suspicious that their home appraised way under value because they're Black say they put their theory to the test by effectively "erasing" themselves from the home—and that what they discovered warrants the fair-housing lawsuit they filed this week against their appraiser. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that when Paul Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin, had an appraiser come to their Marin City home in January 2020, they were "shocked" that the appraiser came up with a value of $995,000, as they'd had an appraisal the previous year that valued their home at almost $500,000 more. Also, they say the second appraiser complimented them on the $400,000 in improvements they'd made since moving in, almost doubling the home's square footage.

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"It was a slap in the face," Paul Austin told KGO earlier this year. That's when, per the Austins, they decided to have yet another appraisal conducted in February 2020—but this time with a white friend of theirs pretending to be the homeowner, and with the home "whitewashed" of any trace that a Black family lived there, with African-themed artwork and photos hidden, according to their complaint filed Thursday in San Francisco, per the Washington Post. That appraisal came in at $1,482,500, more in line with what the couple had expected, and serving as proof to them that racial bias was in play.

The Post cites a 2018 Brookings Institution study that found homes in Black neighborhoods in US metropolitan areas are undervalued by an average of $48,000, compared with those that have few or no Black residents. "Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics," attorneys for the Austins claim in their complaint. The couple seeks a jury trial and financial damages, as well as a court order that would mandate appraiser Janette Miller and her firm, Miller & Perotti, to put in place procedures that would prevent such issues from happening again. "I don't want to see my children have to deal with this," Paul Austin tells the Chronicle. (Read more discrimination stories.)

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