Lower values, higher tempers

Falling assessments on property aren't universally welcome

March 26, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

It's an old practice in Maryland for angry homeowners to appeal rising property tax assessments, but Kristan L. Gregory of Columbia is giving it a different twist.

She's appealing a lower assessment that would cut her taxes.

Homeowners from Annapolis to Rosedale are doing the same thing, either worried that their homes are suddenly worth less, or angry that their assessments haven't dropped still further. State officials say it's not unheard of, though it is unusual.

Appeals are at low ebb this year, with 22,000 filed statewide. That is attributed to relatively stable values since the last recession and the limiting of changes in assessments to 10 percent, said Ronald W. Wineholt, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Still, most appeals are from people unhappy that their property assessments are rising, he said, though no tally of rising vs. falling assessments is kept.

Gregory was concerned that the condominium apartment she bought eight years ago is due to drop from $61,700 to $46,000 in value over three years.

"I was concerned about resale," she said, adding that she thought the assessment value is what "they thought it was worth." She learned that several foreclosures in her development had lowered the average of recent sales.

Resale worries

Joyce C. White, who bought her first home a year ago in a new section of Columbia, has the same worry. The full value of her home on her assessment notice is due to drop from $124,640 to $115,960 over the next three years.

"The value went down and I couldn't understand why. It was a drastic drop to me," she said. "If I went to sell my house, the value wouldn't be worth what I paid for it."

In Baltimore County's Rosedale neighborhood, Ossie Rebecca Blackston was stung by an assessment that would lower the full value of her home from $116,850 to $105,960 over three years.

"Keep it the way it was," she said about her assessment, worried that despite her hard work to improve the home, it might be declining in value.

Barbara N. Seely, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors, said such fears are probably unfounded. Buyers look at the tax bill for a property, she said, not the assessment. "I've never found that the assessment is tied to market value," she said.

Location is always important, but property values are going up in Howard County, and assessments often lag behind the market, she said.

Howard Levinson, supervisor of assessments in Howard, agreed. "I can understand people being concerned when the values go down, but that doesn't mean they can't sell it for more." Condominium values, he said, fluctuate more than the values of traditional homes.

Others who are appealing lower assessments aren't worried about lower property values. They want further reductions. This group includes M. C. Catterton, a retired Anne Arundel County police officer who operates a private detective agency, and Donald Warren of Ellicott City.

"Whatever they do is outrageous for me," said Catterton, of Annapolis. "I really believe it's unconstitutional anyway," he said about the property tax system.

Overvaluation fears

The cash value of his Roselawn Road home is scheduled to fall from $105,000 to $91,290 over the next three years, but Catterton is angry and wants more of a reduction and lower taxes.

A 1986 bout with frozen water pipes that burst and undermined the wooden floor of the rancher he bought in 1973 for $21,500 makes the house a liability, he said. He believes he could never sell it, even at the new, lower assessed value.

Warren said his 48-year-old Bonnie Branch Road home on 2 acres is overvalued, even though the assessment notice proposes virtually no change from the $169,000 current full value. Instead of being happy that his assessment, and thus his property taxes, won't rise, he's unhappy it won't go down.

"We love our home, except the stream comes through our front yard. One acre of our ground is no good to us," he said. A usually minor stream next to the road swells after rain and floods half the property, he said.

"I think instead of them taxing us for 2 acres, they should tax us for 1," he said.

`Everything is high

Alex Donner, 90, who lives on Stewart Avenue in Annapolis, said the values put on property now are outrageous.

That's why he feels that dropping the full value of his home from $270,040 to $250,390 doesn't go nearly far enough.

"Now I'm living on Social Security. Everything is high. This house is not worth $250,000," he said.

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