3,700 file appeals of new Caldwell County property values

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 08:25 AM

Nearly 4,000 people have asked the Caldwell County Tax Office to reconsider their property’s value since revaluations were sent out earlier this year -- and many of those appeals sprang from what some homeowners perceived as a sharp increase in value despite the crash of the national housing market during the revaluation period.

The tax office has received a total of 3,707 appeals, amounting to about 7 percent of the total of 52,000 properties, Tax Administrator Monty Woods said. That is a lower rate of appeals than after the last revaluation, in 2005, when 4,810 appeals were filed, accounting for about 10 percent of 48,000 properties.

The total increase in the assessed value of property in the county is likely to stay at about a 5 percent increase from eight years ago, even after appeals, Woods said. That percentage increase is the average across the county. Some property values increased more or less, and some decreased or stayed even.

Some homeowners question how the value of their property increased at all even though the last revaluation was in 2005 -- well before the national peak and then the crash of the housing market, said Donna Laws of Barlow & Triplett Realty in Lenoir.

“They’ll call and ask for suggestions,” Laws said, and will say things like, “You know, goodness, do you really think I could sell my house for this kind of thing? Do you think it’s worth me going out and talking to them?”

But interviews with several local real estate agents paint a complex picture -- and also explain why the housing market locally may have fared better than nationally.

Julian Baker, the head broker at Baker Realty, said he thinks about 45 percent of his company’s properties were overvalued in the new assessments, with 10 percent undervalued.

“These are properties I’m very, very familiar with,” said Baker, who appealed 12 to 15 of his own properties, with seven appeals accepted.

But it would be wrong to assume that many values across the board must have dropped because of the real estate crash that prompted the financial crisis in 2007. Simply put, the market here never had the extremes that grabbed headlines elsewhere.

“It’s Caldwell County,” Woods said. “Not Las Vegas.”

Unlike some parts of the country, where values skyrocketed by 25 and 30 percent, values here never peaked so precipitously. Glenda Wilson, an agent with Executive Edge in Lenoir, estimates there was an overall increase of about 10 percent in Caldwell County when the national real estate market was at its peak. That translated into less severe drops in value later.

“The general public, the news that they see about prices and the market was away from here,” Wilson said. “They say, ‘How could my property go up? The market’s down 30 percent.’ But not here.”

Trends can take longer to reach rural areas, too.

“I think it absolutely hurt this area, but did it happen at a different time than nationally?” said Laws, the Barlow & Triplett agent. “I think Caldwell County’s probably a little further behind than some of the metropolitan areas.”

Woods agreed.

“We are not Mecklenburg, Wake or other large counties,” Woods said. “We do not see trends quite as fast or slow as those areas. If an area sees fast growth, it takes our county more time to feel the effects over a longer period of time.”

And Caldwell County’s economy, long sustained by manufacturing, suffered differently than areas that felt the popping of the housing bubble most acutely. Prices started dropping because furniture layoffs began in 2005 and 2006, well before 2008, when the recession began and the national housing market crashed.

Even then, area real estate was cushioned by the second-home market -- buyers coming in from Florida and purchasing vacation or retirement homes, so-called “halfbacks” who moved from Northern states to Florida, then grew tired of the lifestyle there and moved halfway back to places like Caldwell County.

“You had these people coming in for bargain properties at nice prices -- and paying in cash,” Wilson said.

Agents say market values now are increasing in the area, if slowly.

“I think our bottom was 2010, when the last big wave of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae foreclosures began to hit the market,” said Diane Palmer, a broker at The Property Shop in Lenoir. “Then 2011 was, as far as our office statistics go, a little bit better. 2012 was better -- maybe not considerably better. This year has been better, and we’re seeing some of the foreclosures diminish and some prices are holding steadier.”

Some surprise at a home’s updated value may result from how long the county went between revaluations.

Caldwell County property is typically appraised every four years, but this revaluation comes eight years after the last assessment in 2005. A revaluation was scheduled in 2009 at the usual four-year mark, but the county commissioners voted to postpone it because the county was suffering economically.

A lot can happen in eight years, and Woods also thinks some county property was undervalued in 2005.

“It’s funny,” he said. “No one wants to appeal when their property is undervalued.”