Paul, 45, and Tenisha Tate Austin, 42, who are black and from Marin City near San Francisco had their home valued at $989,000 in January.
They purchased it in 2016 for $550,000.
But they said they got a different agency to check the value of the house only to find the home’s value increased by a further $500,000 after they removed all signs of their identity, and asked a white friend to pose as the owner.
Paul, and Tenisha Tate Austin, believe race was the reason their home in Marin City was undervalued.
The couple have now filed a fair housing lawsuit against agent, Janette Miller, her firm Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, Inc. and national appraisal company AMC Links, LLC in the $487,500 discrepancy over the two valuations they received.
AMC were tasked with handling the couple’s home valuation, and were also behind the second valuation which saw a dramatic increase in price, the lawsuit alleges.
The couple say the January estate agent was an older white woman – Miller – who used coded phrases like ‘Marin City is a distinct area’ when she valued the property which they believe was race-related.
For the second appraisal, the pair decided to run an experiment to see if their suspicions were right and got a white friend to pose as the owner.
They hid photographs and art work and replaced it with their friend’s photos.
‘We had a conversation with one of our white friends, and she said. ‘No problem. I’ll be Tenisha. I’ll bring over some pictures of my family’. She made our home look like it belonged to her.’
‘There are implications to our ability to create generational wealth or passing things on if our houses appraise for 50% less,’ Tenisha added.
The couple say they carried out $400,000 worth of significant renovations in the five years since buying the home including a brand new floor which added 1,000 sq feet of space, a fireplace, new appliances and an outdoor deck.
‘I read the appraisal, I looked at the number I was like, ‘This is unbelievable”, wife, Tenisha said to ABC7.
‘We did our homework,’ Austin told the Reparations Task Force in a panel on the racial wealth gap in October, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
‘We believe the white lady wanted to devalue our property because we are in a black neighborhood, and the home belonged to a black family.
‘My stomach hurt, my head hurt, just because of what we went through,’ Austin said. ‘I don’t wish that on anybody.
‘I want to see a change. I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this,’ he added.
Marin City, where the Austins live, is a historically black community.
‘There are definitely things about this complaint that are uniquely strong,’ said an attorney for the couple, Julia Howard-Gibbon, to the Chronicle. ‘They erased themselves from the home, essentially.’
‘Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics.’
Jessica Lautz, from the National Association of Realtors’ vice president of demographics and behavioral insights, said the couple’s case was not unusual.
‘We know discrimination is in nearly every aspect of that home buying process,’ she said. ‘We need to be addressing it as an industry.’
In the US, only 44 percent of black Americans owned their home in 2020 compared to 74 percent for white Americans according to areal estate firm Redfin.