Black couple settles lawsuit over home valuation

A Black couple has settled a lawsuit against a real estate company that appraised the value of their Marin City, Calif., home nearly half a million dollars higher when a white friend posed as the property owner.

Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin bought the home in December 2016, then made a series of renovations. When they decided to refinance their home in 2020, the appraiser estimated the home to be worth $995,000.

Three weeks later, the couple had a different appraiser evaluate the home but, this time, the couple removed all family photos and African-themed art. A white friend posed as the owner and placed pictures of his family around the home.

The home was valued at $1,482,500, according to the suit filed by the couple, claiming housing discrimination due to their race.

The lawsuit names the original appraisal firm, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisals, as well as AMC Links, which contracted with Miller and Perotti to do the appraisal.

Earlier this week, the couple announced, through their attorneys, that they had reached a settlement with the appraiser.

“Having to erase our identity to get a better appraisal was a wrenching experience,” Tenisha Tate-Austin said in a statement. “Neighborhoods of color have been historically undervalued due to deliberate racist housing policies, such as redlining. The ongoing undervaluation of homes in Black neighborhoods perpetuates the wealth gap between Black and white families.”

According to a statement, the couple settled the lawsuit with both companies for an undisclosed amount. The appraisers are also required to attend training that includes the history of segregation and real estate discrimination, and to watch a documentary, “Our America: Lowballed,” which features the Austins’ story.

“We’re glad that we can put this lawsuit behind us,” Paul Austin said in the statement. “Having to experience everything that came with receiving the lowballed appraisal was overwhelming. Being able to tell our story and knowing we had legal recourse helped.”

The Austins’ case, and their decision to get a second appraisal with a white friend posing as the owner of their home, garnered nationwide headlines, but their story also drew attention to housing discrimination still faced by minorities.

“This is a landmark case,” said Caroine Peattie, executive director of the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, which also filed the suit along with the Austins. “The Austins’ case was a dramatic example of how an unfairly low appraisal can affect your ability to access a loan with good terms and build generational wealth. Unfortunately, their experience is not unique.”

Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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