Black couple suing appraiser for undervaluing their home

Homeowners in California “whitewashed” their residence after low-ball estimate and then saw it valued at 50% more.

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Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin
(ABC7)

A Black couple are suing 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.

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. 

However, when they contacted the appraisal company, they were shocked when the appraiser who was sent to their home said the property was worth no more than $995,000. Not only did that reflect zero capital appreciated over the time they had owned the house, it was lower than previous appraisals in 2018 and 2019.

The valuation enraged the Austins.

“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. Shockingly, the house was now valued 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 people in the future.

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