Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin bought their home in Marin City, California in 2016 and spent thousands of dollars on renovations in the following years. In 2020, the couple sought to refinance their mortgage and brought in a real estate appraisal firm who assessed their property to be worth $995,000. The Austins believed race played a factor in the undervaluing of the house, so they removed any evidence of their living there — from family photos to African-themed art — and had a white friend pose as the owner with photos of her own family. The second appraisal came in at nearly $1.5 million.
They subsequently filed a civil complaint in court against Janette Miller and her firm, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Developers. On Wednesday (March 8), the couple came to an agreement and settled the lawsuit.
Hiding their existence to receive an accurate valuation is an unfortunately common practice for Black property owners. “We’ve heard from a lot of Black homeowners and this is kind of a known thing,” Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California Supervising Attorney Julia Howard-Gibbon told NBC News. “We’ve been hearing that Black homeowners have been doing this for years. They know to take down their family photos and have a white friend stand in for them.”
It hurt the Austins to have to essentially conceal their Blackness in order to get a proper reading of their home’s worth. “Having to erase our identity to get a better appraisal was a wrenching experience,” she said in a statement, per NBC News. “We know of other Black families who either couldn’t get a loan because of a discriminatory appraisal and therefore either lost the opportunity to buy or sell a home, or they had to sell their home because they had an unaffordable loan.”
Their case is the latest Black homeowners’ appraisal to make headlines. A Maryland couple sued a local company in August 2022 for the same reason, while an Ohio family similarly saw their property value jump $100,000 in September 2021. With their location just five miles from San Francisco, a sub-million-dollar listing is well below the median price in costly Marin County.