Mathews County’s reassessment is moving along, and residents should expect to get notification letters concerning the value of their property sometime in November.
Mathews County Commissioner of the Revenue Ray Hunley said that, even though there has been a downturn in real estate in various parts of the country, Mathews residents shouldn’t be surprised if the current assessed value of their home is higher than the last assessment, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2005.
The current sales-to-assessment ratio seems to be running about 30 percent higher than that of the last reassessment, said Hunley. For example, he said that a typical house that was assessed for $150,000 in 2005 was undervalued at that time by around 22 percent and would have probably sold for around $185,000 at 2005 market prices. That same house today would probably sell for around $200,000, he said, or 30 percent higher than the 2005 assessment. Since state law requires that property be assessed at 100 percent of current market value, the assessment on that property would also be $200,000, he said.
While localities strive to assess at 100 percent market value, said Hunley, an assessor never achieves that goal with all properties because the real estate market is affected by such varying factors as the economy and interest rates.
Colavecchio agreed. "In this assessment, we’re trying to make up the 20 percent of value that wasn’t there before, plus any subsequent increase," he said.
Hunley said that an average increase in the sales-to-assessment ratio of 30 percent doesn’t mean that every piece of property is going to be valued 30 percent higher than in the last assessment. Some houses will be worth less, while others will have increased more in value.
Houses aren’t selling very rapidly in Mathews, he said, but the value of the homes that have been selling hasn’t declined. As an example, he said that one house that was assessed for $451,000 in 2005 recently sold for $1.25 million, or nearly three times the assessed value.
"The volume of sales has dropped off drastically," said Hunley, "but the prices haven’t dropped drastically."
Over the six-year period since the last reassessment, the sales-to-assessment ratio went as high as 50 percent, said Hunley, meaning that the assessed value of property was only half as much as the amount that homes were actually selling for.
Hunley said that the state has a formula to determine a locality’s ability to tax, and if a locality isn’t assessing properly, it will be penalized. For instance, he said, if Mathews County had $100 million worth of land but the assessment only showed a total of $50 million, "you don’t get as much money."
A ratio study is done in the summer to see what a property is selling for versus what it’s assessed for, he said. If the assessment dips below 70 percent of the value of the property, the state can require a new assessment.
Colavecchio said that some localities in Virginia are on shorter reassessment cycles than Mathews in order to keep up with changing property values. Mathews is on a six-year cycle, which is the longest a locality can go without reassessing, he said.
Hunley said that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Mathews County. It’s a bedroom community with no manufacturing and lots of retirement homes, he said, so it’s isolated from some of the factors that cause wide swings in property values.
Colavecchio said he knows he’s going to be dealing with people who think their property values have decreased and that the numbers should be going down, but he hasn’t found that to be the case in Mathews. He said he was also project supervisor for Fauquier County’s reassessment, and he found a 22-percent decrease in property values there. However, he said, that county was more heavily populated and heavily developed, plus it’s "under the D.C. influence.
"The ones with the newest development suffered some of the heaviest losses," he said.
Folks shouldn’t be too worried if their home’s value has increased, he said, as long as the increase is in line with that of their neighbors and/or other properties that are similar to theirs. If a person gets an assessment that’s way out of line with similar properties, he said, he or she needs to go before the board of equalization to get the problem fixed.
Hunley explained, "If my house is worth twice as much as your house, I should be paying twice as much in taxes."
If the board of equalization finds that properties are assessed fairly in comparison with other properties like them and property owners still aren’t satisfied, said Colavecchio, "the only remedy is a rate adjustment by the board of supervisors."
"They’ll tax according to what they need to run the county," added Hunley.
Hunley and Colavecchio said that assessments are made based on the assessor’s actual visit to each and every piece of property in the county. The assessor is required to measure each structure, then take a photo of the front and back, along with a GPS reading at the front door, said Hunley.
Colavecchio said it’s possible that an assessor might miss a hidden building on a very large property, "but it’s not likely."
Hunley said he uses building permits to constantly update the records in order to have the most accurate data possible. If there’s a lag between the time of the assessment and the time the building permit is issued, he said, a building might not be listed in the reassessment, but he will be able to change the value himself once the permit is issued. "That’s my job," he said.
Residents with questions about the assessor’s visit to their property may call the reassessment hotline at 800-213-7314 or write to Mathews Reassessment, P.O. Box 354, Mathews, Va. 23109.
For other questions about reassessment, call Hunley at 725-7168.