Black Couple Settles Lawsuit Against Real Estate Company That Gave Higher Appraisal Thinking It Was White-Owned

Black Couple Settles Lawsuit Against Real Estate Company That Gave Higher Appraisal Thinking It Was White-Owned

Racism has led to a potential windfall for a Black couple in California who have settled with a real estate company after it gave a higher estimate for their home to a white friend who pretended to be the owner.

Paul Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin, filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in 2021. The defendants were appraiser Janette Miller and Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisals in San Rafael. The Austins also filed a lawsuit against AMC Links LLC, an appraisal management company in Utah.

In a written statement, Austin said, “We’re glad that we can put this lawsuit behind us. Having to experience everything that came with receiving the lowballed appraisal was overwhelming. Being able to tell our story and knowing we had legal recourse helped.”

The Marin City, California, couple said the defendants provided an appraisal that undervalued their property because they are Black. They were joined in the lawsuit by the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.

Fair Housing Advocates of Norther California executive director Caroline Peattie said the settlement came down to the stress brought to the Austins and the uncertainty of the outcome.

“Obviously we felt we had a strong case or else we wouldn’t have pursued it in the first place,” Peattie said. “Filing a lawsuit on the strength of the evidence is one thing and how a judge will rule is a separate question. You’re never assured of a particular outcome. I think everybody involved with the case was ready to move on.”

In 2020, the Austins were looking to refinance their mortgage to make renovations to their home. AMC Links commissioned Miller to appraise the Austins’ home at the request of their mortgage broker.

Miller’s estimation of the value of the home was $995,000—or $455,000 lower than the 2019 appraisal. The Austins, suspecting racism, requested a second appraisal, which they received from another person who was hired by AMC Links. This time, a white friend took their place. Any evidence that a Black family lived there was removed. This time, the appraiser valued the house at $1.48 million.

Tate-Austin said, “We missed out on a better interest rate because of the unfair appraisal we received.”

A confidential settlement was reached with AMC Links, according to Fair Housing Advocates of Norther California. The settlement amount was not disclosed and, according to the agreement, AMC Links “denied any wrongdoing.”