This is the first in a series of columns I will be writing to focus on the issues facing Mecklenburg County residents in 2011. This year, we will be faced with perhaps the most challenging county budget on record, the redrawing of Commission district lines and the revaluation of all property in Mecklenburg County. The first article in my series will focus on the revaluation of property where I will attempt to bring clarity to the process as well as provide information regarding timelines and the appeals process.
The 2011 revaluation is the process of estimating the fair market value of all properties in the county, equalizing property types and neighborhoods that have seen different rates of change since the last revaluation in 2003. North Carolina requires a reappraisal of all real property at least once every eight years. Many counties reappraise on a shorter cycle, typically every four years. Mecklenburg County was one of those counties. However, in 2004, following the last reappraisal, the county made the decision to improve the reappraisal processes in preparation for shortening the cycle to two years so that assessments would be maintained closer to market levels between revaluations. The long cycles between reappraisals create inequity. A shorter cycle ensures more uniformity and equity.
In order to meet this goal, improvements in the appraisal process began with the acquisition of new technologies and additional personnel. A team of seven appraisers was identified for the new revaluation group. This group is dedicated solely to the revaluation. The new technologies have significantly improved the accuracy and equity in real property valuation. The original plan was to delay the four-year cycle following 2003 for two additional years so that all the improvements could be made. The revaluation would have occurred Jan. 1, 2009. During 2008 serious financial problems developed affecting our national and local economies, and real property markets began to deteriorate. The Board of County Commissioners delayed the 2009 reappraisal to allow the market decline resulting from the economic crisis to be taken into consideration before values were set again.
Dramatic changes have occurred in the real estate market since 2003. From late 2002 until mid-2006 low interest rates spurred a housing boom that became an asset bubble. Once rates began to rise, the market made a dramatic correction. Some neighborhoods were hit hard by foreclosures and falling prices. Other areas remained largely impervious to the changes in the market.
Generally speaking, most residential neighborhoods in northern Mecklenburg will see some appreciation in assessed value since 2003. While many may feel that property values should fall, most will see an increase in value. However, the increase in market prices has been significantly moderated by the correction that occurred in the market beginning in late 2007.
Neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosure and bank sale activity will see either little change or even falling values compared to the previous 2003 assessment. Other neighborhoods will see increases as dictated by rising sales prices. The Assessor’s Office has a qualified staff of veteran appraisers and a full-time sales analyst who, equipped with the latest mass appraisal technologies and software, are constantly reviewing the latest sales data and making adjustments to property assessments right up to the final date before notices are sent.
The effective date of the revaluation will be Jan. 1, 2011. Notices for residential properties will be mailed later in January or early February, and notices for commercial and industrial properties will follow in late February or early March. By law, the revaluation must reflect the fair market value of properties as of that date. Regardless of what the county’s budget needs are, the Assessor must estimate market value. The assessment staff does not have a “target” amount of value to aim for. Where prices rise and where they fall must be reflected by the new assessments. This process ensures that all property owners are assessed equitably for property tax purposes.
After notices are sent property owners who feel their value is in error may return a tear-off sheet attached to their notice to appeal the property value. The two primary reasons for a valid appeal are:
1) There is an error in the listing of the property (e.g. wrong square footage) that needs correcting, or
2) Sales of similar properties in the neighborhood indicate a value substantially different from the county’s assessment.
Residents with access to a computer are encouraged to look at the Assessor’s Office Revaluation website for more information about the upcoming 2011 Revaluation: reval.charmeck.org
Karen Bentley is the District 1 representative on the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners. The Republican Bentley is serving her second term of the board. She is a mother of two teenaged daughters.