In late 2020, Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin, a Black couple from Northern California, sought to refinance their mortgage. They hired Janette Miller and her firm, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, to assess their Marin City home. However, the appraised value came in at $995,000, nearly $500,000 less than what the couple expected.
The couple suspected that their race played a role in the low appraisal. In an effort to test their hypothesis, they removed any evidence of their racial identity from the home, including family photos and African-themed art, and had a white friend pose as the homeowner for a second appraisal.
The second appraisal, made to the decoy white homeowner several weeks later, came in at $1,482,500, a staggering difference from the initial appraisal. The couple believed that this confirmed their suspicion of racial bias in the real estate industry.
This incident highlights the pervasive issue of housing discrimination that still exists, decades after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was enacted. According to Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California Supervising Attorney Julia Howard-Gibbon, this is a well-known tactic within African American real estate circles. Black homeowners are aware of the discriminatory practices that exist in the industry and have had to resort to these tactics to get a fair appraisal.
The settlement agreement reached between the couple and the real estate company included an undisclosed monetary amount, as well as mandatory participation in a training session regarding the history of racial discrimination in real estate. Additionally, the defendants agreed to watch a documentary, “Our America: Lowballed,” and promised not to discriminate in the future.
The experience of having to erase their racial identity to get a better appraisal was a wrenching one for the couple. It is a reminder of the barriers that Black families face when trying to buy or sell a home, and the lengths they must go to in order to receive fair treatment.
Furthermore, the incident has shed light on the need for more diversity in the real estate industry. As Howard-Gibbon stated, “It’s not just about the appraisal process, it’s also about who’s in the industry, who’s making decisions about who gets loans, who gets to buy homes, and who gets to sell homes.”
This story serves as a wake-up call for the real estate industry and the larger society to recognize and address the systemic issues of racial bias that still exist in our society. It is time to take action and ensure that everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, has equal access to housing opportunities.