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A spoonful of reality helps Macon property values go down

fr maconrevalIt’s been two weeks since new property values hit the mailboxes in Macon County, but there’s nary a line to be seen at the county property appraisal office.

Only 400 appeals have trickled in so far. The last property revaluation in Macon County saw a whopping 4,000 appeals.

Ask Richard Lightner how they managed all those appeals, and the answer is simple.

“Worked a lot,” said Lightner, Macon’s tax administrator who oversees the property revaluation.

The huge volume of appeals during the 2007 revaluation, and far smaller number this time, is a sign of the real estate times.

In 2007, property values went through the roof — they went up 69 percent on average — and people were fretting over what that would do to their property tax bill.

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Fast forward to 2015, and this time real estate values have gone down by 15 percent on average. 

Nonetheless, appeals are still coming in. But instead of being upset by how much their property went up, they’re confused why it didn’t go down more. Especially those with vacant house lots in stalled or sputtering subdivisions, Lightner said.

Lightner said foreclosures and short sales are giving people a false sense of what property is worth. Those bargain basement sale prices aren’t considered the going market price of real estate, so don’t expect your property to be valued on par with those distressed sales, Lightner said.

But it’s hard to explain that, he said.

“They are looking at it and saying, ‘It sold for $3,000, so why do we have it valued at $20,000?’” Lightner said. “They got a good deal and that’s what they think it should be worth. But that was a foreclosure, so it is not recognized.”

A countywide property appraisal has one purpose: to figure up what everyone should pay in property taxes. 

Some people appeal their property value every revaluation, no matter what, just to see if they can talk the county into lowering the appraised value, and thus lower their taxes.

“Whatever they get it reduced by, it is their idea of winning,” Lightner said.

Some who appeal have legitimate issues, however. The county’s appraisal team tries to peg the going market value of 44,000 parcels and 27,000 buildings. And so there are obviously going to be things the appraisers miss.

“Some people come in and say, ‘I don’t have a completed basement. It is just a crawl space,’ or someone has built a two-story house and didn’t finish the upstairs,” Lightner said. “Some of those things you can’t tell unless someone actually brings it to your attention.”

Nearby, Haywood was one of the first counties in the mountains to tackle a reval after the real estate crash. Haywood saw just as many appeals in the post-crash reval of 2011 as it had during its 2006 reval, according to Haywood Tax Administrator David Francis. The 2011 appeals mostly came from people who thought their property should have gone down more than it did.

While Haywood saw roughly the same number of appeals in its reval after the bust, it didn’t see the same spike in appeals as Macon back during the real estate boom.

In Macon, about 10 percent of all the parcels landed on the appeals desk in 2007. In Haywood, it was about 5 percent.

Given how high Macon’s was last time, the appeal rate is bound to be lower this time.

New this reval is an online appeal form. Macon is one of the few counties in the state that offer online appeals, something Lightner is proud of, even though making it easier to appeal could lead more people to do so.

Lightner’s office is the first stop for property owners appealing their value. The appraisal team decides whether there’s good reason to adjust the value. If the property owner doesn’t like the answer they get, the next stop is the so-called Board of Equalization and Review. A panel of Realtors and local appraisers hears the appeals and decides on their merit. The next stop after that is a state review board.

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