Valuation increases for 77% of county’s parcels, combined value of all properties goes up 18%

Posted 4/7/21

PITTSBORO — More than three-fourths of the nearly 46,000 Chatham properties assessed in the county’s state-mandated reappraisal process saw valuations increase, but so far officials say requests …

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Valuation increases for 77% of county’s parcels, combined value of all properties goes up 18%

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PITTSBORO — More than three-fourths of the nearly 46,000 Chatham properties assessed in the county’s state-mandated reappraisal process saw valuations increase, but so far officials say requests for appeals of those valuations has been “underwhelming.”

Meanwhile, Chatham County’s tax office is manning the phones and checking email to assuage concerns — and fight misinformation — arising from the revaluation notices, which were mailed out on March 26.

The total overall valuation of parcels in Chatham County, when finalized, may show an increase by as much as 18%, according to Tax Administrator Jenny Williams, with 77% of parcels having gone up in value and 23% having gone down.

But those numbers can be slightly misleading. Consider:

• the 18% figure includes valuations of “exempt” properties — those such as county- and publicly-owned properties on which property taxes aren’t assessed.

• based on anticipated appeals, Williams says she expects the final valuation increase of non-exempt properties to be closer to 14%. Even at that lower amount, it would put Chatham’s 2020 valuation of $11.237 billion within striking distance of the $13 billion mark.

• although more than three-fourths of parcels increased in value, the increases or decreases for some properties were negligible — maybe just a few hundred dollars.

Still, the increase in the total valuation of Chatham County properties was significant — something Williams says 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 year.

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%.

Some Chatham residents have complained about increases they’re seeing or errors in appraisal notices on local social media platforms, while others have welcomed the higher valuations of their homes. At the tax office, the stream of telephone calls and inquiries has slowed a bit since the first few days of the mailing, says Ryan Vincent, owner of Vincent Valuations, the company contracted to perform Chatham’s revaluation.

“What we plan for, the first two weeks, is to have a large influx of questions and appeals,” Vincent told the News + Record. “If you want my honest opinion, so far, it’s been very underwhelming versus what we planned for. Right now we have approximately 300 or so appeals. But this is a lot less phone calls and a lot less appeals than what we planned for.”

Vincent said he advises his client counties to plan for what he calls “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 percent 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. And of those cases, about 10% — fewer than 50 — would take a failed local appeal to the state tax commission.

Chatham may not follow that general rule of thumb, he said. But with the May 6 appeal deadline still four weeks away, Vincent, Williams and the county’s tax staff are still answering questions and trying to educate property owners about the revaluation process. A detailed brochure — titled “Understanding the 2021 General Reappraisal” — was included (with both English and Spanish versions) with each notice and includes answers to frequently-asked questions. Vincent and Williams are continuing to make presentations about the reappraisal to public and private groups, and, in Vincent’s words, “getting out there with as much PR (public relations) as possible.”

“The typical questions we hear are, ‘Why did I get this notice?’” Vincent said. “‘Are my taxes going to go up?’ ‘What happens if I don’t agree with this?’ Just general questions. And one of the first questions we ask is, ‘Well, do you have the pamphlet in front of you that you received in your notices?’ And what we’ll do is we’ll direct them to it because a lot of the questions we’re getting asked are answered in that pamphlet.”

For callers claiming their valuation is too high — and in the rare cases where a property owner thinks the valuation is too low — the staff is walking everyone through the same process: go to the “2021 Revaluation” portion of the county’s website, review the comparables around your property, and if you still disagree with the value and the information on your valuation is correct, file an appeal with evidence to support your argument.

Vincent and Williams emphasized the “fair market value” goal of the reappraisal, and said different portions of the county saw valuation increases higher than others.

“Well, when we talk about that, we’re bringing (all portions of) the county up to what their fair market value is,” Vincent said. “So the change may not be consistent in (each of those) areas. But that’s because the market value is changing at a different pace.”

It’s typical in a revaluation — and chatter on social media in Chatham County confirms this — for someone whose property appraisal has increased significantly to think their own property would never sell for its new valuation. If you’re one of those, Vincent says, review your property data contained in your reappraisal — such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, total square footage, etc. — to make sure it’s correct. Then, go online to compare it to recent sales where you live.

“Some people don’t necessarily follow the real estate market,” he said. “So they might not know that their neighbor’s house just sold for $250,000. They think the market in their neighborhood is $175,000. But the sales, the recent sales, are showing something different. So we would ask them to compare their property to similar properties in their area. And then if they still disagree with their value, we would ask them to go ahead and file an appeal.”

But the appeal should include evidence to support the value — a recent fee appraisal, for example, that’s fewer than two years old, or something about the property that appraisers from Vincent Valuations may not have seen during their visit, such as structural damage needing repaire.

“And in some of these rapidly changing areas, it’s important to remember that if your fee appraisal is from the first quarter of 2019, your market may have changed, even since your fee appraisal was done two years ago,” Vincent said. “So that’s what we’re seeing in that aspect. And that’s what I would tell them, again ... just review, compare and appeal.”

Countywide reappraisals “don’t happen every single day,” Vincent said, so some element of confusion is understandable.

“So there are always a lot of questions,” he said. “And not everybody’s going to be happy with their value. But we try to help them through the process, and help them understand the process the best that they can. And if someone does file an appeal, we will review all the information that’s submitted. And there is a process for that. So we may agree with their appeal. We may disagree with their appeal. But there is a process, and we try to give everybody due process.”

Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne said the reappraisal indicated the county continues to see rapid growth. And along with such growth, he said, comes the need for more services from local governments to support it.

“Estimates of revenue and expenses to bring a balanced budget to the board of commissioners are still being formulated,” he said. “That being said, we already know of a number of expenses that are needed to support this growth. The new Seaforth High School will be opening next year with an estimated operating cost of approximately $2.3 million. We have also limited the expansion of staffing over the last two years while the growth in the county has outpaced the addition of staff. Most departments have been handling the increased workload with limited resources. These and other expenses will be considered along with the projected revenues as we prepare the balanced budget.”

LaMontagne and his staff are “still early” in the 2021-22 budget process, he said, and “far from discussion about the tax rate at this time.”

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