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Black couple files lawsuit claiming home value was underestimated by half a million dollars because of their race

Black couple files discrimination lawsuit
Black couple says home value was underestimated by half a million dollars because of their race 04:32

Paul and Tenisha Tate-Austin have been remodeling and improving their Marin City, California, home ever since they bought it five years ago.  

When mortgage rates were low in early 2020, the couple said they jumped at the chance to refinance.

They refinanced in 2019 to take advantage of the home's higher value and generated more cash for additional improvements.

That year, it appraised at over $1.4 million but a year later, they said it was appraised at just $995,000.

When the appraisal came in lower than they expected, the couple knew something was wrong.  

"I mean, it's the financial impact, but it's the emotional impact. It's the feeling every day like, the tax of being African-American in this country, like you don't know, it's a coin toss. You're not for sure what's going to happen," Tenisha told "CBS Mornings" consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner.

The couple decided to ask a White friend of theirs to pretend to be Tenisha to see if they would get a higher appraisal. With their friend, Jan, pretending to be the homeowner, the couple removed all photos of them and their family.  

"All of our art that you see around our home. Pictures. Anything that essentially resembles that this home belongs to a Black family," said Paul.  

After doing this and with Jan's help the new appraisal came in—nearly $1.5 million dollars, more than the appraisal roughly a month before.  

"You feel a sense of relief like, 'I told you.' Then you just feel a sense of sadness, like, oh my goodness, like, I can't believe that it appraised for, we had to do what we had to do in order to have our house appraised for what it should have appraised for from the start," said Tenisha.

"It's messed up, right? Like, we shouldn't have to. I mean, it's, you might as well say it's heartbreaking," Paul added.  

The couple says their experience proves the first appraisal took race and historical demographics into account, which they said is in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

They're now suing the appraiser, who is White, claiming she used unsuitable, racially biased comparable home sales or "comps" in determining their home's worth—giving it a low market value.

They're not the only ones "white-washing" their homes, as the couple calls it, to find out if they'll get a better appraisal. Black families in Indiana and Ohio did the same, with similar results. A recent study finds homes in the nation's black neighborhoods are often undervalued by an average of $48,000.

"It left me just, with a realization that America hasn't gotten as far as it may think it has when it relates, when it relates to race," Paul said.  

"We really want people to understand that the practices of the appraisal system perpetuates Black people, people of color, from being able to build wealth in our communities. And that has to stop," said Tenisha.

CBS News reached out to the appraiser and the company for comment, but has not heard back.

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