Lower Real Estate Assessment May Hit City’s Pocketbook

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by Valerie Garner

Director of Real Estate Valuation Susan Lower laid out the downward pressure on Roanoke City home values at both a council briefing and during a presentation to neighborhood groups on Monday.

“Market values of homes began to dip in 2008,” said Lower.

Scant data is available. Home sale volume is down 37% and homes on the market are not moving. Foreclosures are down for 2011 to 137 as of June compared to 483 foreclosures in 2010.

It is still a depressed market that is providing little data for comparison by appraisers. Financial institutions have tightened loan requirements and unemployment or underemployment continues to inhibit home ownership. Low consumer confidence is also subtracting from potential buyers incentive to buy a home.

“I’m not seeing much positive in the real estate market right now,” said Lower.

Roanoke is not as bad as northern Virginia where homeowners who owe more on their house then it is worth are having to “walk away from their mortgages,” she said.

The team of 12 appraisers has 35,000 residential homes to assess in the city. Each appraiser has 5000 properties. They walk about a quarter of them each year. They knock on doors and walk around the property to check for any unreported improvements. “Every now and then we’ll see a new porch, a new pool or new carport,” she said.

“All building permits come through us as well,” said Lower.

The improvement is measured and then drawn into the Geographical Information System (GIS).

Appraisers are still gathering information for January 2012. Then hearings and appeals begin and an inspector will visit the property. Assessments are only mailed out to homeowners who have had a change up or down in value.

Appeal forms were handed out at the neighborhood meeting for appeal in case they don’t receive statements but believe their property values have decreased. The next step if the homeowner is not satisfied after a hearing is an appeal to the board of equalization – a separate entity.

There could be some personal property included in the sales price that needs to be discounted from the assessed value.

“About $80 million of [real estate tax] revenue is brought into the city every year,” said Lower.

The sales comparison approach is used to assess residential properties. The team is paying closer attention to properties that are selling due to the low volume.

Three homes that sold on one street adjacent to the Countryside golf course were assessed identically at just over $200,000. One sold prior to the golf course for $225,000. After the golf course was closed the identical adjacent home sold for $192,000 and another identical one across the street sold for $173,000.

“Yes, we may need to drop assessments this year,” said Lower, though not as drastic as northern Virginia and Tidewater.