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New values based on hyperlocal formula

Haywood County’s property revaluation was a massive undertaking: appraisers had to lay eyes on 50,000 properties, from condos to fast-food joints to farms, and judge whether they had gone up or down in value over the past five year.

Hundreds of property sales from 2009 and 2010 set the bar for new values on the county’s property rolls. But just because a similar home across town sold for $200,000, does it mean yours would also?

In the world of real estate, location is everything, whether it’s a few blocks down or the other side of the ridge.

This year, the county developed a highly-engineered method called “neighborhood delineation.”

The formula carves the county up into nearly 1,000 neighborhoods. From there, the county essentially wrote its own computer program to calculate property values, taking dozens of variables into account. Each variable takes the value up or down a notch, but is only as good as the baseline assigned to the neighborhood.

The methodology is impressive, said Randy Siske, a Realtor and president of the Haywood County Board of Realtors.

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“The last time we had a revaluation, the biggest complaint from the real estate community was they were comparing apples and oranges,” Siske said. “I think they really made an effort to compare apples and apples.”

Before, the county was divided into just 17 townships. All of Maggie Valley was lumped together, or all of Bethel.

Now, clusters of just 30 or 40 similar properties make up a neighborhood.

David Francis, Haywood County tax collector, pointed to a map of Hazelwood where a conspicuous donut hole appears in the middle of one neighborhood. A condo unit along a residential street was carved out and made its own “neighborhood” rather than lumping it in with the houses around it.

“That’s how close and how drilled down this is,” Francis said.

When county’s appraisal team reached the final stage of revaluation — a drive-by of every property on the books to double check their formulas — they had identified some 700 neighborhoods. But during their final drive-bys they kept creating more and more.

One appraiser trolling the back roads of Fines Creek left in the morning to survey what she thought was one neighborhood and came back to the office with three: Betsy’s Gap, Price Town and Turkey Creek.

“They were finding out that some neighborhoods were a little broad so they broke them down further,” said Haywood County Tax Assessor Judy Ballard said.

And further and further apparently, until they had added another 250 neighborhoods by the time reval was done.

“Neighborhood delineation” was lot of work on the front end — entering not just the number of bedrooms, square footage and whether a home has a garage — but also the school district, proximity to town parks or mountain views.

Those appealing their property values may have a harder time making their case.

“I think it is going to be more difficult for property owners to get through the appeal process,” Siske said. “I’m not saying there aren’t properties out there that need to be appealed. But finding a property that is $100,000 off in value I think it is very much less likely.”

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