Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My home is worth what?!

Copied and Pasted by Xavier Guerrero

With property values dropping and personal budgets tightening, the new tax assessments arriving in mailboxes throughout the Washington region are drawing close scrutiny from homeowners. If early appeals are any indication, more people will be seeking to get a break by having their home valuations reduced.

However, assessors point out that a stumbling real estate market may not translate to lower property taxes.

Appeals are already up sharply in Maryland, officials said. Assessments were sent Dec. 31 to Maryland homeowners whose properties were up for reevaluation. They have until Friday to appeal for this year. Most Virginia cities and counties and the District will mail their notices by March 1, and they generally give homeowners 30 to 45 days to appeal.

Some of the most headline-grabbing real estate trends, such as the soaring foreclosure rate, only indirectly affect assessments. Assessors usually review home sales records neighborhood by neighborhood and examine pricing patterns to update individual home values. They disregard homes that were foreclosed on, sold at fire sale or otherwise traded hands under what is considered to be duress.

But such transactions tend to pull down values of sales around them, and that shows up. Assessors say they are well aware that real estate prices have been falling and have built that into their latest valuations. For instance, in Fairfax County, officials estimate that assessments for the 340,000 homes on the tax rolls will decline by 10 to 14 percent this year. In the Sterling district of once-booming Loudoun County, the value of existing homes dropped an average of 31.1 percent. There, the trend is so disturbing to homeowners that some who are trying to sell have been calling the county assessor's office, complaining their valuations are too low.

However, it's much more common for homeowners to argue that the values are inflated.

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