Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Alarmed homeowners question county tax reappraisals

Amid slumping market, many wonder how their property's worth could be on the upswing By Clay Carey • THE TENNESSEAN • April 22, 2009 Like many other Sumner County residents, Aaron Kisner was alarmed by the new, higher value the county government has placed on his home. On the notice he received last week, Kisner's home in Hendersonville was appraised for tax purposes at $166,000 — 15 percent more than it was three years ago. During that time, he said, he's fixed up the lawn a bit but made no major improvements to the home itself. "My initial reaction was, 'I wish,' " said Kisner, 48, who works for an engineering firm. "I told them, 'If you want to buy it at that price, come on over.' " Kisner's skepticism is shared by other homeowners in Davidson and Sumner counties, where land was revalued this year as part of a routine reappraisal that will happen in every Nashville-area county over the next three years. This year, with the housing market slumping, many of those who have been notified question how their property's worth could be on the upswing, and whether the new values are setting the stage for higher taxes. Davidson County homeowners will get their new property value notices in the mail this week, and many can expect increases: In the Sylvan Park area, values went up almost 29 percent; in the neighborhoods around Belmont and Vanderbilt, they are up more than one-third. In Sumner County, property values across the board are up 14.25 percent, property assessor John Isbell said. In more rural areas, the values have increased more slowly — land values were up 12.28 percent in tiny Westmoreland in northeastern Sumner. But in faster-growing areas closer to Nashville, increases were higher. Hendersonville property values are up 19.28 percent. "I was shocked to death. I was astounded," Hendersonville retiree Bill Carney said. The value of his home in the Rolling Acres neighborhood off New Shackle Island Road rose 10 percent from $156,000 to $172,000. "That is ridiculous," Carney said. "I would have to drive no telling how far from my neighborhood to find property selling for $172,000. … I'm floored." The state requires reappraisals every four, five or six years, depending on the county. They are designed to make sure that property values used to calculate tax bills are in line with current trends. In some cases, Isbell said, homes may not be selling for what they were a few months ago, but the adjusted values represent what the land was worth on the first day of 2009. And while land values may have gone down over the past few months, they remain above the levels of three years ago, the last time the county updated its rolls. The reappraisal "has to encompass the growth of 2006 and 2007, as well as part of '08," Isbell said. Appeals are hard to win At the end of a reappraisal, the state issues counties and cities a new certified tax rate. Governments are required to adopt those rates, which are calculated to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue that the existing rate generates. The new certified rate is almost always lower than the existing rate, but that doesn't mean taxes won't go up. Metro increased the rate after each of its last four reappraisals. After Sumner's last full reappraisal in 2003, county commissioners raised the property tax from $2.14 per $100 of assessed value to $2.59. Since Sumner homeowners started getting new property value notices last week, Isbell said, his office has fielded a steady stream of callers and visitors with complaints and concerns. Dozens have already signed up to appeal their values. "We fully expected that, given the temperament," Isbell said. Appeals will be heard in June and July. There may well be more appeals this year in Sumner and elsewhere because of tough economic times, said Steve Nelson, president of Criterion Property Resources, a Brentwood property tax consulting firm. But it isn't likely that there will be more successful appeals. That is because it is hard to show with any authority exactly what the economy did to housing values last year. Hard data on sales lag behind by as much as a year, Nelson said. "You have to prove the economy has done what we know it has done. …You have to prove your case," he said. "People may be feeling pain, but you have to have data to back it up."

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