Property in Haywood County is selling 4 percent higher than the new values on the county’s tax books, refuting criticism that the county blanketly appraised property for more than it was worth.
There have been 215 property sales in the first five months of the year. Collectively, they sold for $36.392 million. Those same properties were assessed by county appraisers for a total of $34.97 million.
“The sales numbers speak for themselves,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger. “Property is selling for a higher price than the revaluation amounts. That would indicate to me the revaluation is accurate.”
The county’s team of appraisers relied on complex formulas to assign each home, lot and tract of land in the county a new value — values which in turn dictate how much people pay for property tax. Critics claim the depressed real estate market should have resulted in lower property values practically across the board compared to the last revaluation five years ago.
But in fact, the revaluation showed half the properties went up and half went down.
“Of course you can find random highs and random lows that sold for more or less. There’s going to be some that are up and some that are down,” said David Francis, head of the county tax department. “You are still going to have that fluctuation in the market. Just because the stock market is down one day doesn’t mean some stocks didn’t still go up that day.”
Francis said he has confidence the revaluation is accurate, and takes solace in the stats showing real estate sales — on the whole — are coming in slightly above the values pegged by the county.
“What we don’t want to see is that sales price below the tax value consistently,” Francis said.
Since property values determine taxes, when the values are too high, people end up paying more than their share of taxes.
Putting stock in comp sales
Appraisals were based on comp sales, the selling price of similar homes or lots nearby. Comp sales are epitome of market value: a cold, hard, irrefutable number of what like property actually sold for.
Critics have complained that the county’s comp sales were poorly chosen, and didn’t always compare apples to apples.
For starters, the sluggish real estate market has made for fewer comps to go by.
Horace Edwards of Cruso said appraisers lacked comp sales in his neck of the woods and so cast a wide a net looking for sales in other areas, landing on houses sold miles away for an ultimately rather subjective comparison.
“They were not at all suitable to my property,” Edwards said. “If I went out and traveled around the county in the same manner I could find houses that were the complete opposite of their revaluation.”
Meanwhile, a state of flux has kept everyone — buyers, sellers, banks, appraisers and Realtors alike — guessing what real estate might be worth one month to the next.
“They postponed it last year with the expectation it would be a stable economy this year, which was a fallacy because they didn’t get any improvement at all in the economy,” Edwards said.
Of course, comps aren’t perfect. Maybe the seller threw in the appliances or living room drapes to fetch a higher price. Or maybe they got a job somewhere else and sold for less to move in a hurry.
“That is going to happen every once in a while. We can’t do anything about that,” said Mary Ann Enloe, who sits on the board of equalization and review, her fourth time in the role.
Despite the many appeals — it will take until August to hear them all — the county’s appraised values seem mostly accurate to her.
“Of course the proof is in the pudding. Right now it is tracking really well,” Enloe said, citing the sales numbers.