10/13/08 — Property revaluation raises questions in Duplin

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Property revaluation raises questions in Duplin

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 13, 2008 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County tax officials last week were questioned about how they determine the value of property.

At a public hearing held by the county Board of Commissioners, some property owners asked sharp questions about the methods used to arrive at property values.

Duplin is undergoing property revaluation. New values are expected to be mailed out to property owners in November.

Those who attended the hearing questioned how the county could make fair and accurate appraisals in light of the current depressed housing market.

Gary Rose of the county tax office explained that the same schedule of values is being used to value all property in the county.

"This hearing is not to do with the tax rate, or what the tax rate may be set at for next year," he said. "These are just the rates and values that we used."

The new tax values notice will include instructions on how to appeal if a property owner thinks it is too high or unfair, he said.

Commissioner L.S. Guy asked Rose if people had any recourse between last Monday's session and commissioners' planned adoption of the values in two weeks.

"If you don't want to adopt this schedule in two weeks you tell us to make changes to it," Rose said.

Guy asked for public comment.

But before anyone could respond, Commissioner David Fussell held up a large volume of the values and said, "I don't think the public understands what you said enough to make a comment yet. They do not understand this (book). I think it needs to be explained to the public."

Rose said the rates and values take a number of factors into consideration such as the square footage of a house, whether it has heating and air conditioning, the number of bathrooms, its age and whether it is a one- or two-story dwelling.

It is the value of land that has increased the most, he said. For example, a one-acre building site is valued at $15,000, but the value depends on where it is located as well, he said.

"Usually people don't appeal the scheduled values as much as they do when they get the actual value on the property," Rose said.

When questions are raised about the value, it is re-examined, he said.

"Sometimes we might have some incorrect information on it (property)," he said.

"How do we get hold of that (book)," asked one man in the audience.

Rose said the book is open for public inspection in the tax office.

"How do you arrive at the market value and how do you equate that with the value of the marketplace given the condition of the market today," asked Pamela Rau of River Landing, an upscale community near Wallace.

"It is all about sales," said appraiser Bob Pearson of Pearson Appraisals, who is working with the county on the property revaluation. "The sales that we have available to us, those are the benchmarks we use for all of the property throughout the county. The market value is the criteria. This schedule of values is a tool that we use."

Pearson said county appraisers define the quality, depreciation and land values. He called the values a "starting point."

"There are 40,000 parcels in the county, so there have to be errors," Pearson said. "But you know we don't get to go into a house. There could be a case of someone putting new windows and siding on a house that should be torn down."

"I am not so much concerned about the schedule of values as I am market conditions and lack of sales in the marketplace," Ms. Rau said. "You certainly can't go back and use old data six months to a year ago as a reflection of the current marketplace."

"We can go back a year without any problem at all," Pearson said.

"But that is not valid information," Ms. Rau said.

Pearson responded that the county is simply following state guidelines.

"I work all over the country and it is not about what is happening today versus last year," he said. This has been an eight-year time frame and when you do appraisals it has to be based on market values. You use what you have got. Any appraiser out there has got to do the same thing we are doing. You know you just cannot say the world is falling apart and we are going to discount it (property). We have to try to be realistic."

He agreed that it is a slow market with few sales.

Ms. Rau countered, "But they have to be equivalent to the type of property you are assessing."

"That is correct, but you have to make an assessment the best you can," Pearson said.

That means the county is "pulling figures out of the air," she said.

Taylor Jefferson of River Landing, who said he was a broker and appraiser who has owned real estate companies in Virginia, questioned why the revaluation is only held every eight years. The practice, he said, is "unfair."

The eight-year cycle is state law, Pearson pointed out.

Jefferson said the law could be changed and that appraisals should be based on market values that are no older than six months.

Jimmy Sauls of Warsaw, who said he has been an appraiser since 1961, called average a "misleading" word.

"It is a broad term," he said.

One person's house may increase in value, while someone else's decreases, he said.

"Land is what has really gone up," he said. "So when you look at the average and dwellings and whatever, then I don't think it will be as bad, and I hate to use that word, as it seems. The process gives you time to come down and sit down individually and go over your individual tax statement.

"If it is wrong they want to get it right. They want the opportunity to work the process."