Property assessments change

New law means annual appraisals to determine fair taxes

Beaufort Drive used to be a nice, quiet street where residents stayed for decades and children played outside as long as there was daylight left. Not anymore, neighbors say.

Since one home became a meth house and degenerated into an unlivable shell, Beaufort Drive residents fear their property values have plummeted.

Under a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1, all Beaufort Drive homes -- as well as every property in Georgia -- must be re-assessed every year to determine if property owners are being taxed fairly.

"That's a good idea," said community activist Butch Palmer, one of the Harrisburg residents trying to help Beaufort Drive property owners.

In the past, a resident could challenge his property assessment, which determines how much he pays in taxes, only after it was reassessed and the value changed. And Georgia counties only assessed a portion of all properties every year.

This year, counties must reassess every property and send a notice of current assessment value to every property owner in Georgia.

It's a sweeping change in how county assessors do their jobs, said Alveno Ross, Richmond County's chief assessor.

Last year, about 33,000 assessments were done. Starting this year, the office must perform approximately 80,321 assessments.

The Board of Assessors also has a new annual job: It must provide an estimate of each property tax bill, Ross said.

"And we emphasize 'estimate'," he added.

Although Georgia valuation for taxation is set at 40 percent of the fair market value, homeowners get discounts such as the Homestead exemption and for being a senior citizen. Therefore, homes with equal value can be taxed differently, Ross said.

To set the fair market values, assessors use an assortment of formulas and tools, such as databases containing permits needed to make changes to a property, damage reports and market activity in neighborhoods, Ross said.

The public perception is that all property values are down since the crash of the real estate market, but Augusta wasn't affected like Atlanta and other hard-hit areas, he said

"There are effects, but not like people may think," Ross said.

And some homeowners may be shocked over new assessed values because a large number of properties had been significantly under-valued, he said.

Whether the new law proves good or bad for property owners will probably depend on what the new values are, said Ken Chitester, the director of communications for the Appraisal Institution, a national professional organization for appraisers.

But the values should be more accurate with annual appraisals, Chitester said. Because assessments lag behind the real estate market, they can become out of line if the market fluctuates significantly, such as the collapse following the foreclosure crisis.

Accurately reflecting the housing market is tough to do if years pass between appraisals, Chitester said.

He anticipates a lot more appeals by property owners, Chitester said.

A property owner who believes the assessed value is incorrect has 45 days to challenge the amount. It used to be 30 days.

This month, the Board of Equalizations, which hears appeals, is scheduled to hear more than 100 challenges from property owners.

Palmer, who owns 13 investment properties, has challenged assessments in the past with some success, he said. Property values in his Harrisburg neighborhood have been trampled by dilapidated houses and crime activity, such as the former meth house on Beaufort Drive, he said.

"It has a devastating effect on the neighborhood and the property values," Palmer said.

If city leaders would take the combined approach of focusing on criminal behavior down to loitering and littering, and diligently enforcing housing codes, property values would turn around, he said.

Provisions of the new rule

Starting Jan. 1, new provisions of Georgia's law governing property assessment went into effect. These are some of the changes:

  • Every county must appraise every property annually
  • Because of the annual appraisals, property owners can challenge their appraised values -- which determines the amount of property taxes due -- any year
  • Owners have a longer period of time to challenge appraisal values -- 45 days instead of 30.

Source: Georgia Department of Revenue