A black couple from California are suing a real estate firm after their home went up in value by 50 per cent when they had a white friend pose as its owner. 

Paul (45) and Tenisha Austin (42) are from Marin City close to San Francisco. In January their home was appraised at $989,000 after they purchased it for $550,000 in 2016. 

They were stunned to discover that the house’s worth had increased by $500,000. They attributed the increase in home value to the couple’s actions of ‘whitewashing the house’ and having a Caucasian friend pose as Tenisha during the second viewing.

They have now filed a fair housing lawsuit against appraiser 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 was tasked to handle the valuation of the couple. They also allegedly influenced the second valuation that saw an increase in the price, as the lawsuit claims.  

Paul, 45, and Tenisha Tate Austin, 45, say they believe race was the reason their home in Marin City in the Bay Area was undervalued by a realtor

Paul Austin, 45 and Tenisha Tate Austin, 45 believe their Marin City, California home was overvalued by a realtor.

The couple are now suing  appraiser Janette Miller, pictured, her firm Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, Inc over the low-ball figure the couple first received

The couple are now suing  appraiser Janette Miller, pictured, her firm Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, Inc over the low-ball figure the couple first received

Paul and Tenisha claim that the January estate agent, Miller, was an older woman of white. She used codes phrases such as ‘Marin City’ to value the property. They believe this was race-related.

Before the couple were approved for another appraisal, their lender described it as “a slap in our faces”. 

They decided to try an experiment and had a white friend pose as their owner. 

They hidden photos and art and replaced them with friends’ pictures. 

“We spoke with one of our white friends and she told us. ‘No problem. Tenisha, I will. You can bring some photos of your family. Our home looked like hers. 

‘There are implications to our ability to create generational wealth or passing things on if our houses appraise for 50% less,’ Tenisha added.   

In the five years that followed the purchase, the couple has completed $400,000 worth of major renovations, including the construction of a new floor, which increased the space by 1,000 feet, and new appliances.

The couple bought their home in 2016 for around $890,000 but was valued at only $995,000 despite spending $400,000 on renovations

The couple purchased their house in 2016 for $890,000 and it was appraised at just $995,000. However, they had spent $400,000 renovating the home.

The couple carried out significant renovations in the five years since they had purchased the home including a brand new floor which added 1,000 sq feet of space, a fireplace, new appliances and an outdoor deck

They have done significant renovations to the home in five years. The new floor added 1000 sqft of living space and a fireplace. New appliances were also installed.

Paul believes the low figure was as a result of the color of their skin and they are now suing the real estate company who gave them the first valuation

Paul thinks the low number was due to the colour of their skin. They are now suing real estate companies who provided them with the initial valuation

When it was time to sell the property, however, it turned out that its value had increased only 10%.   

Paul thought the reason for the low number was due to their skin color. 

Tenisha, Tenisha’s wife said, “I had just read the appraisal. I saw the number and I thought, “This is amazing.””

 The couple are alleging racial bias and are seeking a jury trial and financial damages.

Austin stated that he had done his homework when he spoke to the Reparations Task Force during a discussion on October’s racial wealth gap, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  

The couple then had a white friend post as the owner and hid photographs and art work,  replacing it with their friend's photo

The couple then had a white friend post as the owner and hid photographs and art work,  replacing it with their friend’s photo

Following a second appraisal, they were shocked to find the home's value increased by a further $500,000

After a second appraisal they found that the property’s worth had increased by $500,000

The couple are alleging racial bias over their home's valuation and are seeking a jury trial and financial damages

They are claiming racial bias in the home’s value and seek financial damages and a jury trial.

'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,' the couple say

According to the couple, “We think the white lady wanted our property to be devalued because we live in a dark neighborhood and the home belonged a black family.”

When the couple's white friend, Jan, pictured, posed as the owner of their home which went up in value to $1,482,000 - almost $500,000 more

Jan, Jan’s friend of white, was posed for Jan as their owner when the home increased in value by $1,482,000, almost $500,000 more

“We believe that the white lady tried to value our property as we were in a black community and the house was owned by a black family.

Austin stated, “My stomach hurt and my head hurt because of the events we had.” Austin said, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” 

“I would like to see change.” I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this,’ he added.

Marin City is home to the Austins and it has a rich history of being a predominantly black area. 

‘There are definitely things about this complaint that are uniquely strong,’ said an attorney for the couple,  Julia Howard-Gibbon, to the Chronicle. “They basically erased themselves from their home.”  

Attorneys for Austins point out that Marin City has a history of being undervalued based upon stereotypes and redlining as well as discriminatory appraisal standards. 

Jessica Lautz is the vice president of behavioral insight and demographics at the National Association of Realtors. She said that the case of the couple was not uncommon.

She stated that discrimination exists in almost every part of the home-buying process. It is an industry issue that must be addressed.

According to Redfin, only 44% of Black Americans will own their homes in 2020. This is a significant decrease from the 74% for White Americans.

The National Association of Realtors reports that only 34% of California’s black homeowners own homes.