Get Real: Rising tide

Get Real: Rising tide

If you’re looking to put a positive spin on the recent hike in property values, try this one out: What’s arguably your largest asset—your home—is a lot more valuable today than it was last year. According to County and City assessors, properties are worth almost 16 percent more in Albemarle than they were in 2005, while in Charlottesville they’ve increased just over 14 percent.

Fat lot of good that does if you’re not planning on selling the place anytime soon. (And even if you do decide to put it on the market, who knows how long it’ll take to move.) Oh, and we’re sorry to hear you had to cancel that cruise you were planning on this spring because you need to bank the cash to pay a higher real estate tax bill.

How much higher? Well, if the value of your home in the county went up 15 percent, and now it’s worth $300,000, you’re looking at almost $300 more in taxes this year—assuming real estate tax rates don’t change.

So what’s a frustrated, overtaxed homeowner to do?

JB Anderson, for one, plans to appeal his assessment. When Anderson’s reassessment arrived in the mail at the end of January, he was stunned to discover that the value of his modest 1,200-square-foot log home on eight acres in Ivy had increased more than $120,000—in two years.

Ivy homeowner JB Anderson has appealed his skyrocketing assessment before, and he’s in the process of doing it again. "It’s kind of a rough situation," he says.

“I feel like putting up a For Sale sign,” the 81-year-old retiree says. “I’ve owned this property since 1973, when it was worth about $300 an acre.”

Instead of selling, however, Anderson called the office of the Albemarle County Assessor. It’s not the first time he’s been down this road.

“A few years ago I did the same thing, and eight or 10 people came out here and looked over the property,” Anderson recalled. “The problem is that they can come out, take a look around and say the property isn’t worth $200,000, but other similar properties are being sold for about that price and then they’ve got you. This time I’m going to ask the assessor where these comparable properties are, and then I’m going to take a look at them myself.”

While the deadlines for appealing to both the County and City assessors’ offices were February 28 and March 1, respectively, you aren’t completely out of luck. You can still appeal in writing to the Board of Equalization, a group of residents appointed annually by the Board of Supervisors to review real estate assessments. You present your side, the County or City its side, and—after reviewing the evidence—the Board can increase, decrease or retain the appraisal.

According to Albemarle County Assessor Bruce Woodzell, Board members will often visit a property that is under appeal. Since each appraiser in the county is responsible for 5,000 properties, they cannot possibly do a walk-through of every house, and mistakes are possible.

If you do decide to take your case to the Board, Woodzell strongly suggests that you do your homework. All homeowners have the right to challenge an assessment if they think a property has been incorrectly valued, but they need to have the data—such as a recent neighborhood sale an appraiser may not be aware of—to back up their claim. At any time during the process, you can also appeal to the Circuit Court.

Despite the apparent willingness of the assessor’s office to consider all appeals, Anderson says, “it’s kind of a rough situation. In 10 years, my assessment has almost tripled. Two years ago, I was sure the County made a mistake, and I wanted it corrected. But I was told ‘No, that’s how much properties are increasing where you live.’”