Racism in real estate industry. Black couple sues appraiser for undervaluing

Racism is insidious and comes in many forms.

People must be willing to stand up for their rights whether it be police abuse, employment discrimination and bias in the cloistered real estate industry.

The couple, property owners, in Marin City in super wealthy Marin County, California are taking a strong stand to protect themselves and their land.

Excerpted from San Francisco Chronicle 12.3.2021

When Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin set out to refinance their Marin City home last January, they were shocked when an appraiser said their house was worth $995,000 — nearly half-a-million dollars less than another appraisal less than a year earlier.

Marin City, an unincorporated area wedged between affluent Sausalito and Mill Valley, grew out of the pre-World War II migration of tens of thousands of Black workers seeking employment around the local shipyard. While Marin City has become more diverse, surrounding areas, some of which remain over 90% white, often employed exclusionary policies like racially restrictive covenants to keep Black residents out prior to the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Attorneys for the couple argue in the lawsuit that “Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics.”

Marin City I 12.3.2021.jpg
Houses overlook Tam Junction in Mill Valley, Calif. Marin County is the setting for a lawsuit that alleges a Black couple’s home was undervalued in the appraisal process because of their race.

By focusing only on the small number of homes sold in the immediate Marin City area, they wrote in the lawsuit, appraisers are overly reliant on past sale prices, “which were the direct product of racial discrimination.”

The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, financial damages and a court order directing the appraisers to take action to ensure the issues in the complaint are not repeated.

The couple, who is Black, set out to get a second opinion last February. This time, they “white-washed” their home by hiding away family photos and asking a white friend to stand in for them. That appraiser valued their home at $1,482,500.

The $487,500 discrepancy between the two 2020 appraisals pushed the couple to filed a fair housing lawsuit in federal district court this week against appraiser Janette Miller, her appraisal firm Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, Inc. and national appraisal company AMC Links, LLC. It’s the latest escalation in a series of similar cases of alleged racial bias in the home appraisal process as California property owners move to reap financial gains from record home prices.

“We believe that Ms. Miller valued our house at a lower rate because of our race and because of the current and historical racial demographics of where our house is located,” Austin said in a press release. “The sales comps that the appraiser chose to use were unsuitable and were guaranteed to lower the value of our house.”

Miller’s firm and AMC Links, LLC could not be reached for comment.

Marin City II 12.3.2021.jpg