City assessments level out…for some

Well, assessments are out once again, though this year, city and county residents may not need their real estate-related defibrillators. Assessments have finally caught up with the market, rising only 4.2 percent in the city and less than 1 percent in the county—three county districts actually saw assessments fall. All of this comes after years of double-digit assessment increases and as local real estate markets continue to remain, at best, sluggish.

According to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR)
[pdf], home sales in the city and surrounding counties on average dropped 19 percent from last year—a 20 percent drop in Albemarle County and an 18 percent drop in Charlottesville. Median sales prices in Albemarle also dropped to $310,000 from $320,000, after four years of steady increases. Flattening assessments in the county reflect this.

“[Assessments] were pretty much right where we expected,” says Dave Phillips, CEO of CAAR. “The market had shown that the median price of homes that had sold in Charlottesville had risen, and that Albemarle’s had declined. And that is pretty much what bared out in the assessments.”

But while assessments reflect this across all six of the county’s districts—there was no increase or decrease larger than 1.5 percent—assessment growth in the city showed a less democratic increase. The median sales price for homes actually rose $40,000 in the city to $280,000. Charlottesville City Assessor Roosevelt Barbour, Jr. says that the more pricey city neighborhoods such as North Downtown, North Avenue and Meadowbrook Hills saw healthy sales but little to no increase in assessments.

However, neighborhoods like Belmont and Ridge Street—places in the city where housing is a little more affordable—are likely to see jumps in assessments between 8 and 14 percent. “The reason for that is they are the most affordable houses, so they’re selling,” says Barbour. “You get more sales, and those sales are escalating, and thus the assessments follow suit.”

So while city residents in certain neighborhoods may be breathing a sigh of relief that their property taxes have finally leveled off, others aren’t so lucky.

And the rises in assessments in affordable neighborhoods contrasted with relatively stagnate assessments in wealthier ones begs a question: Is the bottom of the Charlottesville real estate market—you know, the affordable part—coming up to meet its pricier middle, pricing lower-income residents out in the process? Barbour can’t say.

“I don’t know,” he says. “We don’t have a crystal ball, and we’re just here to interpret what the market’s doing.”

Barbour says that the market has caught up with the most expensive homes in the city, as seen in the flat increase in assessments. If the rise in assessments and in median prices are any indication, the markets in more affordable neighborhoods such as Belmont aren’t done rising. And if that’s true, then a stock of housing for lower-income or first-time homebuyers within a city with a shortage of affordable housing is in danger of further shrinking.

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