Wednesday, June 20, 2012

County property values fall again

Assessments go down for 4th straight year


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County property values went down for the fourth straight year in 2012, but county officials say property taxes are not likely to decrease for most residents.

County Assessor Valdi Pace said Monday that preliminary valuations show that Blaine County residents saw a wide range of decreases in their property values—though most did see a decrease.

Of those whose property value dropped, Pace said, "we had a range from as low as a 3 percent decrease to an 85 percent decrease."

"It ranges all over the place," she said.

The preliminary total property valuation for all property in the county dropped by 11 percent this year, down to $8.3 billion from last year's $9.3 billion. That's a far cry from the county's peak value of $12.4 billion in 2008.

"The last time we were at an $8 billion value was in 2004," Pace said.

Drops were the most profound in Bellevue and the Woodside area of Hailey, she said, with Gannett and Picabo also experiencing decreases.

The reason, she said, is the drop in market value for homes in those areas.

"The sales in Woodside and in Bellevue were foreclosure sales or short sales, mainly foreclosure sales," she said. "If you have one or two foreclosures in a neighborhood, that might not necessarily be what the market is."

Pace said not all value decreases were "drastic," as some areas on Broadford Road, some in Hailey and in the north valley—including Ketchum and Sun Valley—either remained flat or saw a slight increase.

"Not everything had a decrease," she said. "It depends where you are and what the market does."

But just because values go down doesn't mean taxes will go down, too, Pace noted.

"People whose values have gone down are maybe going to see a little bit more on their taxes," she said.

The county has a set amount of revenue that it plans on during the course of a given year. With a smaller tax base caused by dropping values, the levy rate—or the taxes weighed on each dollar of a property's value—will have to go up, even if the county does not take its allowable 3 percent property tax increase this year.

In addition, Pace said the maximum homeowner's exemption would drop from $92,040 last year to $83,974 this year. Homeowners can apply for an exemption for 50 percent of their home's value up to that number, which is determined by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Despite dropping values, real estate agents say there's reason for optimism. Property values are calculated based on sales in calendar year 2011, and according to the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, the market is bouncing back in both dollars and number of transactions.

Realtor records show that the market was up 28 percent in dollar volume for the second quarter of 2012, and the number of sales is up 48 percent from last year at this time. Currently, there are 171 properties under contract, compared with 76 properties during the second quarter of 2011.

Bob Crosby, the board's governmental affairs director, said that while there are signs of market improvement, the number of "distressed" sales—foreclosures or short sales—will likely continue to rise in 2012.

"There are still many Blaine County residents caught on an individual basis in an unforgiving scenario," Crosby said in an email. "Overall, [this is] great news, but with an unfortunate human impact side if you are one of those with a loan that exceeds current value."

Pace said she, too, is seeking signs for optimism.

"I would like to think we have hit the bottom and that it's going to level out," she said. "I believe it's going to be a slow incline. There is some activity out there now, but it's a buyer's market."

The last day to appeal property valuations is Monday, June 25. For more information, call the Assessor's Office at 788-5535.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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