78% of revaluation appeals resulted in reductions, county says

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PITTSBORO — If you weren’t happy with the valuation of your Chatham property in the assessment done by the county’s tax office in 2021, and you appealed that valuation, there’s a good chance things went at least slightly your way.

A full 78% — 1,319 parcels out of a total of 1,694 appeals, or formal protests of revaluation — resulted in reductions in value. Those reductions came as the result either from pre-hearing agreements with the county’s tax office staff or from rulings made by the county’s board of equalization and review, the commissioner-appointed group which held a series of hearings with property owners that concluded last fall.

The net reduction in those valuations was more than $138 million, or 16.6% of the total tax value of the revaluation appeals made — saving those taxpayers a little more than $900,000 on their collective tax bills.

Right at 18.5% of hearings resulted in no change in the assessed value, but a handful — 61 parcels, to be exact — ended up having valuations increased, sometimes because property owners felt the county’s valuation was too low.

In light of all that, here’s the skinny on the 2021 revaluation and what’s next for Chatham property owners.

Revaluation? What revaluation?

North Carolina law requires all counties to reappraise all real property within the county at least once every eight years. Chatham County is on a four-year reappraisal cycle, as are most larger counties in the state. Reappraisals distribute the overall property tax burden equitably across the county based on updated fair market values.

Chatham’s commissioners used the new market values, based on a Jan. 1, 2021, “snapshot,” to set a county-only tax rate of $.67 per $100 valuation, which was then used to calculate the tax bills mailed out to property owners each summer.

Who did the revaluation, and how?

Every residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial parcel, and every other privately owned piece of land, was visited by one of the staff of appraisers from Vincent Valuations, a contractor hired by Chatham County to perform the revaluation.

In most cases, measurements were taken and any improvements — from an added structure such as a home or outbuilding to a concrete pad or new deck — were noted.

Data entry was input into the company’s computer system, and then recent sales of properties in Chatham were analyzed and valuation models and schedules were built for the appraisals to make sure valuations reflected the current market value.

All appraisals were checked again before finalized; notices with new valuations were mailed March 26, 2021, to each Chatham parcel owner.

“Market value” — what does that mean?

Market value is the most probable price a property would bring in an open and competitive market, based on the home or property and sales of comparable properties.

I rent; I don’t own a home or any land in Chatham County.

Then for you, the revaluation is largely a non-event — although it’s always good to know your county’s property rate.

What were the results of the revaluation?

Three-fourths (75.2%) of the nearly 46,000 Chatham properties assessed in the county’s state-mandated reappraisal process saw valuations increase, while 24.8% saw values go down.

Some changes were negligible — a few hundred dollars up or down — while others, particularly homes in neighborhoods with new construction and many sales, saw significant jumps in assessed value.

The totals: Chatham’s 2021’s assessed value was $13,163,036,786.

Why did numbers go up so much?

That can be tied to, in part, the high demand of people wanting to live in Chatham, with its proximity to economic centers in Greensboro, Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill — and new development built within Chatham in the past two years. As demand increased, so did prices.

Then there’s the general trend: according to the National Association of Realtors, the average price of an existing home in the U.S. jumped from about $275,000 at the end of 2019 to $358,000 in December — a 30% increase.

How did Chatham’s reappraisal numbers compare to other counties?

By comparison, other N.C. counties’ 2021 reappraisal increases ranged from lows of around 8% (Surry, Davie counties) to similar to Chatham’s (Stanly and Orange at 16%, Buncombe at 18% and Jackson at 18.07%) to the high in Union County, adjacent to Charlotte, which saw a total valuation increase of 36% — all before appeals and hearings, of course.

So what about these hearings?

The county mailed notices to property owners with the new valuation of their homes or parcels last March 26. County commissioners appoint a group — called the Board of Equalization and Review — to hear appeals from property owners who felt the new assessment valuations were too high or, in rare cases, too low.

The board’s purpose is simple: hear and review property owners’ appeals about the valuation of their real estate and personal property and sift through owner-provided evidence — then determine whether the valuation was on the mark. Members of the board of E&R are Lillian Alston, Herbert Gaines, Peter Hewitt, Saundra Nettles and Bibi Haddad; alternates are Leonard Kreisman, Dave McKay and William Euker.

Staff at the county’s tax office provide a first-level “appeal,” examining evidence presented by a property owner. Unless there’s a “consent” or agreement about the value — in those cases where the county’s tax office agreed with the property owner that the value should be reduced, for example — the appeal goes to the board of equalization and review, which is tasked with applying state laws in a consistent, uniform and non-discriminatory manner so that all property owners receive a fair and impartial hearing and an accurate assessed value.

Chatham County Tax Administrator Jenny Williams.

Did Chatham have a lot of appeal hearings?

Not really. During the revaluation, Ryan Vincent, who headed up the revaluation, told the News + Record he advised Chatham officials to anticipate a “10-10-10” reaction to a reappraisal — with 10% of parcel owners (in Chatham’s case, about 4,600 of the nearly 46,000 parcels appraised) appealing initially on at least an informal basis. About 10% of those — which in Chatham’s case would be 460, or 10% of the 4,600 expected informal or inquiries — would go the county’s board of equalization and review.

The actual numbers: 1,716 (less than half of Vincent’s expectation) parcels had appeals initiated, and the board of E&R actually heard 435 appeals — very close to Vincent’s projection of 460.

I meant to appeal but didn’t. What can I do now?

You have until April 25th to appeal your valuation for 2022. It won’t impact your 2021 tax bill, which was due Jan. 5, but it can help you out with your 2022 tax bill.

I saw on Facebook that a lot of property owners were upset about the revaluation.

What you may have seen was the Facebook page called “Chatham County Real Estate and 2021 Tax Assessment.” It was created by Katie Hicks, a Siler City real estate agent who works for eXp Realty of the Triangle Region, which has offices in Raleigh and Greensboro.

Hicks, who has been a real estate professional since 2002 and has also worked in banking, set up the page to help Chatham residents understand the revaluation process and how best to appeal revaluations. The page has 98 members; she told the News + Record she helped about 20 residents by doing a market analysis on their homes as they considered making appeals.

She says she’s not necessarily upset about the valuations, but rather hopes that county’s revaluation and tax rates “justify the means” — and hopes county commissioners and county leaders spend tax dollars wisely and pursue growth wisely, as well.

“Once you bring up the tax value, they never bring it down,” she said.

Hicks also said it’s difficult in rural areas like Chatham County to find good comparables to make an accurate valuation. Her research and documentation helped a few homeowners get reductions, she said.

Meanwhile, she remains concerned about the lack of affordable housing in Chatham and also worries about another real estate bubble; she said she sees some signs similar to those preceding the 2008 crisis, which sent home values crashing.

As for her own home? Hicks and her partner purchased a “fixer-upper” near Siler City Country Club and recently added about 900 square feet to it. In that part of the county, valuations didn’t increase so much.

“I didn’t dispute my revaluation,” she said. “If anything, it was too low.”

Jenny Williams, Chatham’s tax administrator, said she and her staff monitored the discussion on the page. She pointed out one person who posted there about the valuation of their home increasing by $143,000 since 2020.

“Well, it’s not since 2020,” Williams said. “It’s since the previous appraisal [in 2017], right? And I’m sure you’re aware there’s been a lot of sales of property since then.”

My home’s tax value skyrocketed. Can I sell it for what the county tells me it’s worth?

It’s more complicated than that, because it depends on so many factors — not to mention your buyer. But in a seller’s market — which we’re in right now, and have been for a while — “market value” is a good place to start. Part of what drove up valuations in Chatham County was that so many homes have sold for far more than their prior assessed market valuation.

Property is valued based on the market value in the area, Williams points. Market value is not determined by the tax office; it is determined by the activity in the local market. “Market value is based on what potential buyers and sellers believe property is worth,” she said. “Sale prices of property directly reflect the property’s worth.”

I still don’t understand all this.

Go to the “Tax Administration” section of the county’s website to get more information.

I think I remember getting a tax bill. When are taxes due?

Property taxes were due Sept. 1; the deadline to pay taxes was Jan. 5, so if you haven’t paid yet, you’re late. Interest of 2% was added on Jan. 6th; interest of .75% will be added each month the tax bill isn’t paid.

At this point, Williams says about 95% of billed property taxes have been collected.

Thinking about not paying? Good luck with that. Non-payers could have tax refunds reduced by the amount of taxes owed, have wages garnished or show up in a list of property owners who haven’t paid taxes that the county will publish in the News + Record sometime in between March and June.

And don’t forget one other deadline that’s passed: county property listings were due Jan. 31; if you received a listing query from the county and haven’t returned it, it’s now late.

I’m curious about recent property sales. How can I check out property sales data?

The Chatham County Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department has launched the Comparable Sales application, an interactive mapping application which can be used to explore recent property sales data within Chatham County. Residents may enhance understanding of their property’s tax appraisal value by examining sales of properties similar to their own.

Are there any tax relief programs available?

Williams, in the county’s tax office, actively encourages taxpayers who are elderly or disabled and qualify to apply for exclusions. This program excludes from property taxes, the greater of $25,000 or 50% of the appraised value of a permanent residence owned and occupied by a qualifying owner.

To be eligible for this exclusion, you must be a permanent resident of Chatham County, age 65 or older, with an income not exceeding $31,900 or a permanent resident of Chatham County, totally and permanently disabled, with an income not exceeding $31,900. The disabled veteran exclusion program excludes the first $45,000 of the appraised value of a permanent residence owned and occupied by a Chatham County resident, who is either an honorably discharged disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of an honorably discharged veteran who has not remarried. Form NCDVA-9 must be completed by the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs. The completed NCDVA-9 form and application must be filed at the Tax Office by June 1.

Residents may go to the County's tax relief webpage  and click on the property tax assistance evaluator to check qualifications for a tax relief program.

More questions?

Questions about the reappraisal process may be directed to the tax office at 919-542-8211 or by the tax office email.

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