A Black couple who received a lowball by an appraisal on their home enlisted their white friend to “whitewash” their house by posing as the homeowner and discovered that the value of the house dramatically increased, the Washington Post reports.
Paul Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin upgraded their northern California home to the tune of $400,000. The couple invested in a new fireplace as well as a refurbished deck. To their surprise, the value of their Marin City home in the San Francisco Bay area was listed at $995,000, a lower value than their previous appraisals.
“It was a slap in the face,” Austin told KGO-TV back in February.
Three weeks later, the couple decided to seek out another appraiser but this time they asked their white friend Jan to pose as the owner of the home.
The Austins “whitewashed” their house by taking down their family photos and removing all the African-inspired after from their walls. Jan assisted by staging photos of her own family, according to the lawsuit.
Following the whitewashing, the new appraisal for their home was listed at $1.48 million, almost a half-million more than the last estimate.
When they received the new appraisal, the Austins along with the nonprofit Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California have filed a lawsuit against the appraiser Janette Miller and her company, Miller & Perotti Real Estate Appraisals in San Rafael.
According to the suit, the Austins claim that Janette Miller gave them a lowball valuation because they’re Black.
The couple is seeking financial damages and requesting the court to order the defendants to ensure they won’t discriminate when appraising houses of people of color in the future.
In October, Austin told the state reparations task force that he believes the property received such a low valuation “because we are in a Black neighborhood, and the home belonged to a Black family.”
As EBONY previously reported, home values in Black neighborhoods have been historically lower than white neighborhoods and the trend continues.
In a 2018 Brookings Institution and Gallup study, it was found that homes owned in predominantly African American neighborhoods are worth, on average, half as much as those in neighborhoods with no Black residents. Also, from 1980 to 2015, homes in white neighborhoods doubled in value as opposed to those in communities of color.
When the Austins first purchased the four-bedroom, two-bath house in 2016 for $550,000, it had 1,248 square feet. Since they renovated, the house has nearly doubled in size and they added new appliances, replaced the windows, refinished the hardwood floors, painted the inside, and more.
By May 2018, a new appraisal listed the house valued at $864,000, the lawsuit states.
In March 2019, when the Austins applied to refinance their mortgage again, the appraisal listed the house’s value at $1.45 million, according to the lawsuit.
“It was work, but it was exciting,” Austin said
Austin recalled that his grandparents migrated from the South to the Marin City area in the 1940s to find work in the shipyards in Sausalito. When they wanted to relocate to other neighborhoods, racist real estate practices would not allow them to advance. Now in 2021, he’s dealing with another version of the same racism that hounded his ancestors.
“I do want to see a change,” he told the panel, “because I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this.”