published Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Hamilton County property assessments prompting fewer appeals

A trend of lower property assessments for the nearly 148,000 properties in the county has triggered a significant drop in appeals coming to Property Assessor Bill Bennett's office.

Bennett said his office has heard from about 4,000 property owners seeking to appeal their 2013 assessments. That's only about one-third of the requests he received in past assessment years.

"That's a small percentage," Bennett said. "In 2009, we had around 12,000 calls, walk-ins or emails, and we had 12,017 in 2005."

On top of that, fewer than 100 actually have filed appeals with the Board of Equalization after negotiating with Bennett's office, he said.

Every four years, the assessor's office reassesses the value of all the residential, commercial and mixed-use properties in the county. Property taxes are derived from that assessed value.

Mark Blazek, president of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, said he's heard from most people that their assessment went down. For people trying to sell, that's not the best news. But for people not in the market, it means a smaller tax bill.

Since there are fewer houses on the market, Blazek said that could be a reason for fewer assessment disputes. Lower tax bills are good for pocketbooks.

"Right now, our inventory of sales for the last three months is down to 4,835. A year ago, it was 5,173, so we had basically more homes for sale," he said.

Low inventory benefits sellers, Blazek said: When buyers have fewer choices, sellers have stronger negotiating power.

The amount of time homes are lingering unsold is dropping, too -- by 6.7 percent, Blazek said.

Last year, homes were on the market for an average of 139 days. This year, that figure is down to 126 days, he said.

At the same time, the median price of homes for sale is up 5.9 percent, from $129,900 in 2012 to $137,500 this year.

On top of it all, sellers are getting most of what they are asking for.

"We're getting 95.6 percent of list price. So if the house is listed at $100,000, we're getting $95,600," Blazek said.

Mark Hite, a Realtor with Keller Williams, said the question isn't why assessment appeals are so low now, it's why they were so high in 2009.

"The reality is, in 2009, when the assessments came out, those were based on the last four years' market, which showed consistent appreciation," Hite said.

But that was right when the economy took a nose-dive. Houses weren't selling, but the owners were paying more taxes on them.

Hite says this year's assessment is based on four years of recovery after the Great Recession and assessments are mirroring lower -- but increasing -- values.

Appeals for property assessments must be returned to the assessor's office before June 14, according to the Board of Equalization website.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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