Our America: Lowballed was triggered by the story of how one Black family “whitewashed” their home — stripped it of family photos, artwork, even toiletries — and had a White friend stand in during an appraisal. The appraised value of their home jumped nearly $500,000 from the previous one.
ABC Owned Television Stations exposed systemic inequalities in the home appraisal process affecting Black and Latino homeowners trying to sell their homes in California and Indiana.
The new documentary, Our America: Lowballed, reveals how racial bias plays a significant role in determining the appraised value of a home.
In one case, a Black family in California, the Austins, unhappy with the appraised value of their home, filed for an on-site re-appraisal.
In the meantime, they “whitewashed” their home, removing any signs that the family was Black.
“They take down all of their family artifacts, pictures, artwork off the wall, books, hair products out of the bathroom so there is no sign that a Black family lives there,” says Julian Glover, a reporter for KGO, the ABC O&O in San Francisco. “Then they called in one of their best friends who happens to be White, to stand in for that appraisal.”
The re-appraised value of their home jump nearly $500,000 after that inspection.
“That was the first in a series of stories,” Glover says. “The facts of their story are just unbelievable.”
Glover, the race, culture and social justice reporter for KGO, executive produced the documentary. He says that story started out as a one-line blip in a local newspaper about Paul Austin’s experience, so he called him.
“When he began to tell me that story over the phone, my jaw dropped,” Glover says.
Glover’s coverage of the story went viral. “It was one of the most clicked-on stories on any of the ABC owned television stations,” he says.
“That was when the floodgates were opened.”
In the course of his investigation, Glover uncovered a disparate treatment between how White and Black people were treated in the appraisal process.
“Many White folks that I interviewed never had an appraiser come into their home,” Glover says. “All of the Black people I interviewed said the exact opposite. None said that they had a drive-by appraisal. All had someone show up to their home and enter their property.”
According to data analysis compiled by the ABC O&O’s of more than 50 million home loans, refinance applications in predominantly Black neighborhoods are nearly five times more likely to be under-appraised than in White communities.
The analysis also found home-purchase loans in Black neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to be appraised under value.
Glover says the appraisal industry has little oversight. “That is certainly one of the reasons that this has gone overlooked for so long,” Glover says. “One of our sources says that this is perhaps the Whitest profession in America.”
Reporting for Our America: Lowballed was a data journalism team drawn from the eight ABC O&O across the country.
“This is a fairly new initiative to have a dedicated data journalist in each individual station,” Glover says.
The team created the Equity Report, to measure racial equity in each of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. The team gathered and analyzed more than 10 million data points across five quality of life categories impacting residents’ everyday lives: policing, housing, education, health and environment.
The documentary will debut on the ABC Owned TV stations’ 24/7 streaming platforms, 32 connected TV apps across streaming platforms Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku and Hulu beginning Dec. 2.
Glover says streaming the documentary is an opportunity to get it in front of a different audience “that might not be watching our linear product regularly.”
The linear release is scheduled across the eight ABC stations the weekend of Dec. 5.