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March 26, 2012
Arriving in mailboxes around Pamlico County this month have been re-assessments of 17,000 pieces of property across the county. On average, says County Manager Tim Buck, those re-evaluations are about 20% higher than they were at the time of the last re-assessments which were done in 2003.
That 20% average increase we see now, Buck says, works out to about 2% a year. Buck notes that the real estate market had heated up after that last assessment, but then cooled off a few years later. “Before the bubble,” Buck says, a two-percent-a-year rise “would be considered normal growth.”The Effect of Foreclosures
Related to the real estate bubble issue is that of foreclosures and it’s one that Tim Cain of the company that did the assessments, Assessment Solutions was asked about when he appeared before the County Commission in February. In particular, what impact foreclosures in a neighborhood would have on the value for nearby residences.
Cain said that typically, when figuring out the value of a home, the evaluators take in to account the recent sale prices of other homes of its kind in the area. It’s trickier to come up with “comparables” when there was no sale per se but rather a bank taking over because the mortgage wasn’t paid.
Cain told the county commissioners that foreclosures could have “an influence on values” but couldn’t be “an indicator of values.”
According to statute, Cain said, they can’t use the foreclosures as comps, but if we’re in a neighborhood with 10 sales and 9 are foreclosures, obviously, that’s going to have an influence on values.”
“We’re not supposed to use those,” Cain continued, “but any appraiser will tell you that’s a heavy influence.”Force of Nature: Irene’s Impact On Assessments
Hurricane Irene and the damage it did to many homes complicated the assessment process, as well. Much of the walking-around-properties assessment work was done before Irene hit in August. Tim Cain of Assessment Solutions says his team went back and re-evaluated about a thousand properties post-Irene.
County Manager Tim Buck says that they took stock of what those homes looked like as of January 1, 2012. If the repairs hadn’t been made by then, that would likely lead to a lower assessment. Some homeowners, however, may have made such extensive post-Irene repairs and renovations that Buck says they may be valued higher than they had been before the hurricane.
Some county officials say that while the valuations may have gone up, the county commission may lower the tax rate so that the taxes charged to property owners stays “neutral”. That will be determined in coming months.
The county goes through this re-valuating process every 8 years. The actual work was done last year by the company, Assessment Solutions, which sent teams to the properties around the county. They drew their conclusions by what they saw on the outside of homes.Recourse If The Evaluation Doesn’t Look Right
Property owners who don’t think the valuation looks right have two courses of action.
First, for twenty days from the date on the re-evaluation notice, property owners can take part in the informal appeals process that has already started. Anticipating that some property owners may disagree with the assessments, the forms include a number to call for information on the appeal – 745-0604 – as well as the address where the written appeals are sent. (Pamlico County Tax Office, Real Property Department, PO Box 538, Bayboro, BC 28515. Although they are informal appeals they have to be put in writing.
Cain readily acknowledged that when the assessors walk around the house to size it up, they may come up with incorrect square footage. That’s one thing that the property owner can set them straight during this period of the informal appeals.
“Nobody knows your property better than you do,” Cain said at the February commissioners’ meeting. “I like to look at the informal appeals not as a an appeal process, but as a time we can iron out some wrinkles and get some records straight.”After The Informal Appeal, A More Formal One.
If after that a property owner is still not satisfied, the next step is the Board of Equalization and Review. That’s a more formal procedure. In February, County Commission Chair Paul Delamar pointed out that unlike other counties that have separate Boards of E&R, it is Pamlico’s County Commissioners who make up the E&R panel here.
Delamar said that the commissioners are supposed to go in to those more formal proceedings “fresh” and to make their decisions based on the information presented at those hearings by the property owner and by the county. The commissioners should not be given information outside of that setting, he says. As a result, Delamar says, he’s asking that residents not contact him and other commissioners on this particular subject.