Tim Cain has a bird’s eye view of Swain County’s real estate market, and from where he sits, the news looks good.
Cain was hired to oversee the countywide appraisal of every home, lot and tract of land in Swain County, a periodic exercise used to determine property taxes. His firm, the Raleigh-based Assessment Solutions, has visited more than 85 percent of the properties in Swain County during the past nine months. His expert assessment: property values in the county have bottomed out and are now on the rise.
“There has been a leveling off, and I am really excited to see what happens this spring,” Cain said. “It appears that they (property values) have stopped falling.”
Although the numbers are nowhere near those shown in the 2009 revaluation, property values are close to pre-recession numbers recorded during the 2005 reval — a positive sign considering the plunge the market took during the past few years.
“It has picked up, and we are feeling optimistic that is will continue,” said Kelly Stribling, president of the North Jackson County Board of Realtors, a local board that includes Swain County. “(But) It is certainly not like it was.”
Homeowners are slowly starting to buy and sell property, though many must still reduce their asking price if they want anyone to bite.
“There is a slight decrease in pricing,” Stribling said. “Some homeowners and sellers if they really want to move the property, they drop the price.”
But, people are still willing to pay a good price for a nice home, she added.
Cain agreed, saying that a nice chalet near the picturesque Nantahala Gorge or Fontana Lake will likely see an increase in value since the last approved revaluation in 2005. Meanwhile, homes in Bryson City seem to have remained steady when compared to the 2005 reval.
“If you’ve got a house in Bryson City, we really haven’t changed much,” Cain said. “The numbers that we are seeing now closely mirror the numbers we saw in 2005.”
Commercial lots will likely see an increase overall, while vacant lots, which were once destined to become subdivisions, will still lose some value.
“You’ve got a lot of subdivisions; they’ve got the infrastructure in place; (and) they are just sitting there,” Cain said.
People had bought, what were then, choice pieces of property at a premium and made plans for development. Then, the housing bubble burst, and the properties have since sat vacant, waiting.
“People are waiting out the economy,” Cain said. “They were demanding top dollar for their lots. And today, you’ve got developments that have gone bust.”
The last few years have been “a scary time” for people who need or want to sell property, Cain said.
Property owners’ hesitancy to put their lot on the market, and people’s reservations about buying have made it more difficult revaluate parcels, a process which is based partially on the sale price of adjoining properties.
Realtors and property assessors are seeing only about one-third of the transactions that they saw five years ago, Cain said.
Each property revaluation is specifically tailored to an individual county and even a specific part of the county.
“There is a specific reason that people go to Swain County,” Cain said. “It is a distinct place.”
The market value is determined by how much the property has depreciated, how much nearby properties sold for and how any improvements affect the property’s worth. A homeowner may spend $10,000 adding an in-ground pool, but the addition is essentially worthless unless it is deemed a valued amenity by homebuyers. The same is true for a $40,000 kitchen renovation. It is only as valuable as buyers in Swain County believe it to be.
Do-over of Swain’s reval a good call
Swain County commissioners seem to have made the right decision when they decided to throw out the results of its countywide property revaluation in 2009 and call for a do-over.
The 2009 revaluation captured a snapshot of Swain County real estate values during the height of a market boom — and before everything went bust.
It takes about two years to appraise every home, lot and tract of land in the county, so that 2009 appraisal largely drew on 2007 values, when the market was still hopping.
Since someone’s property value dictates how much they pay in taxes, a bunk appraisal based on no longer valid real estate values would have skewed what people legitimately should have paid in taxes.
So commissioner tossed out the results and decided to try again in a few years. That time is now here, and the appraiser leading the process said commissioners made the right call to hold off.
The 2009 reval that was tossed out would have posted a 30 percent increase to property values on average since 2005.
The do-over of the reval underway now shows instead of increasing, values are pretty much on par with where they were in 2005.
“The numbers are significantly lower than they would have been during that (2009) revaluation,” said Tim Cain, president of the Raleigh-based Assessment Solutions.