The value of all real estate and other property in Bulloch County as assessed for taxes rose a little more than 13% from Jan. 1, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022, but the assessed value of housing climbed 19% after the steepest increase in home sales prices Chief Tax Appraiser John Scott has ever seen.
Those are rough, countywide averages, and the actual increases vary across the county’s 222 neighborhoods designated by the tax assessors.
The approximate 13.25% total increase in the digest, Scott noted, includes all types of real estate and related property: commercial, industrial, agricultural, as well as residential, mobile homes, timber, plus older motor vehicles still subject to ad valorem tax and “personal property” which means machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures.
“But it’s important for people to realize, again, that their individual assessment may be up more or less than that. Residential, as an example, as a class, is up 19%,” Scott said. “So, if you’re looking at an assessment notice on a residential home and lot that says it’s up 18 to 20 percent, that’s probably going to be pretty normal in what has been an unprecedented year.”
He will have worked 39 years as of July for the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors’ office. By “unprecedented,” he means that in all the prior years going back to 1983, he never saw a real estate market, particularly for homes, with a rise in prices quite like that in 2021.
Scott said this was not unique to Bulloch County but happened around the state, from what he has heard from colleagues in tax appraisal, and in other parts of the nation. But Bulloch has seen more rapid population growth than several neighboring counties.
“That’s where the bulk of it was, in residential growth, and if you think about the way Bulloch County has grown, it has grown residentially far more than it has in commercial and certainly in industrial activity,” he said.
He noted that residential properties now make up nearly 50% of the value of Bulloch County’s tax digest.
Scott and staff sent out 32,000 assessment notices dated May 25. Now, any property owners who wish to have until July 8 to file an appeal.
Real or inflation?
Out of the more than 13% overall growth in the dollar value of the digest, “real growth,” which includes construction and also the subdividing of land, which creates new parcels for development, accounted for about 4 percentage points, Scott said. The other 9% or so was inflation on parcels and buildings that already existed.
Home builders during 2021 did add 556 new residences in Bulloch County, which was still less than in previous peak years, 2006 and 2007, “but it’s approaching those same numbers,” Scott said.
After exceeding 600 new homes completed annually in those peak years, the pace of home construction in Bulloch County fell to 143 in one year with the 2007-2008 national collapse of the housing market, he recalls.
During the latest surge in home prices, the tax office staff documented that the cost of materials to build a house in 2021 was 18% more than for an identical house in 2020.
“The combination of low inventory, high demand, low interest rates fueled what arguably is the largest boom in the residential market, certainly in the time that I’ve been doing this,” Scott said. “Sustainable? I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Some local real estate agents say they expect some easing of home prices, or at least the rate of increase, now that mortgage rates have notched upward.
Analysis of sales
The upward adjustment of home values for taxes was not based on construction prices or the sale of new homes exclusively but on analysis of almost 1,400 residential property sales that occurred in the county in 2021. These are selected to be “bona fide arm’s length transactions,” excluding situations such as sales between family members.
“I’ve told people we’ve never had more abundant or accurate data, I don’t think, to make the value decisions that we’ve made this year,” Scott said. “I mean, that’s a really good sample size for residential parcels in the county, which again indicates a very active market.”
He encourages property owners considering an appeal to call to get more information or come by the assessors’ office to talk to staff members. They can provide a sheet of “comps,” or comparable properties and their values, in the particular neighborhood or subdivision.
“Of course, if we have factual information that’s incorrect, we want to know that,” Scott said. The office’s website, www.qpublic.net/ga/bulloch, lists an “Appeals” portal in the menu under the header. This leads to a second page that includes a link to a Georgia Department of Revenue site with information on filing a property tax appeal and the Appeal of Assessment Form used by all Georgia counties.
When an appeal is filed, the first step is typically a field review by staff to make sure the data is correct, Scott said. Adjustments can then be made by the Board of Assessors, whose three members are appointed for six-year terms by the elected Bulloch County commissioners.
Any appeals not satisfied by the Board of Assessors and staff are forwarded to the Board of Equalization, with three different members appointed by a local grand jury. The assessors’ office staff and taxpayer can present evidence to the equalization board in a hearing.
Finally, taxpayers not satisfied with the outcome may appeal further to the Bulloch County Superior Court.
In addition to the 2022 property values, the notices to taxpayers include millage rates, but those are the 2021 rates. The estimates of taxes shown are also based on the 2021 millage rates, while 2022 rates have not been set yet by the various elected boards. Actual tax bills will go out this fall.
Scott furnishes the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, Bulloch County Board of Education and city governments information on “rollback” millage rates they would need to adopt to offset the inflation in values and avoid tax increase hearings.
Whether any of the elected boards adopt a rollback rate remains to be seen. Statesboro’s city officials are currently considering a millage rate increase. The county commissioners and school board are not considering millage increases at this time.