Residents hear from county tax assessors

District 1 County Commissioner Karen Bentley speaks to residents about the 2011 revaluation during a packed community meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, at Cornelius Town Hall.

Revaluations will vary greatly

by Andrew Batten

CORNELIUS – North Mecklenburg residents didn’t get a peek at their homes’ new assessed values during a Tuesday, Jan. 18 community meeting, on the county’s 2011 revaluation. But they did get a lesson in how the real estate market has changed over the last eight years.

The meeting, hosted by District 1 County Commissioner Karen Bentley, included market sales data in presentations by Garrett Alexander, the county’s tax assessor, and Chuck Hicks, an appraiser for the assessor’s office.

The county’s tax assessor’s office is finishing a year-long study of the area’s property values. The state requires the assessor’s office to perform a revaluation every eight years to realign assessed values with how homes are actually selling. The county initially planned its revaluation two years ago but postponed the operation during the recession.

While market prices are lower than they were three years ago, which would signal lower assessed values, they are still higher than what homes were selling for in 2003 during the last revaluation, Hicks told residents.

In the area around Lake Norman, the median sale price has increased 26 percent from 2003 to 2009.

But that hasn’t been the case everywhere. For example, the Highland Creek area hasn’t seen a significant increase or decrease in median home sales. That means they may not see a big change in their assessment. In the Birkdale area of Huntersville, however, the median sales prices are 20 percent greater than they were in 2003.

The graph above shows the amount of appreciation in real estate values since 1992. The red line indicates the first quarter of 2007, when the housing bubble began to burst.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Northwoods area of Mountain Island has seen the median sales price dip below 2003 levels.

The assessor’s office has compiled 2010 sales data across the county to arrive at new values, but unlike past revaluations, appraisers are taking the area’s foreclosure crisis into account.

“Since the events of 2007 when the great recession really began and the housing bubble burst and values have fallen, more and more distressed sales have entered the market. The more prevalent in the market they have become, the more a part of the market they have become,” Hicks said.

In neighborhoods where 15 percent of the homes are or have been foreclosed, the effect of those sales will be a factor in those homes’ assessed values.

Overall, property owners will mostly likely see an increase in their property values, Alexander said, and the county can expect a 6 to 7 percent increase in its tax base. But each neighborhood will see a different change.

Swings in the real estate market won’t necessarily translate to property owner’s tax bill since the tax assessor doesn’t set property taxes. That’s up to county, city and town boards to make those decisions. Some elected officials have said their boards will look into setting a revenue neutral tax rate, but Bentley made no promises Tuesday night.

“That rate will be lower, assuming a higher overall value, than what it is now, to bring in the same revenue that we have now in the county,” she said. “Our board, through the budget process, will determine our priorities and what that revenue needs to be.”

The assessor’s office expects to send notices of new values in the first week of February to approximately 275,000 residential property owners in the county. After property owners receive their new values, they will be able to log in to reval.charmeck.org and enter their address to see how their home compares with other homes in their neighborhood as well as what sales data the county used to come to the new appraised value.

Those owners will have 30 days to appeal their new values and ask the assessor’s office for an informal review. Alexander asked that residents include as much information about why they feel the appraisal is wrong when sending their appeals in.

“We need information and we need to get it into the hands of those who can use it best,” Alexander said. “If there has been a lot of unsold property in your neighborhood, we need to know about it.”

If those owners are not satisfied with the office’s findings, they can then appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization and Review, which will hear appeals from April 1 to May 1.

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