The first Annual Notice of Assessment was mailed by the Bulloch County Board of Assessors last week detailing the estimated 2011 tax for each parcel of property in the county.
A majority of the 29,012 notices reflected an "across-the-board" devaluation from the previous year in fair market value.
"It is definitely a big shift," said John Scott, chief appraiser for the county. "The overall tax digest for the county is down 3.67 percent from the 2010 digest. We have seen the biggest decline in value on residential and commercial properties. We did not have a significant number of downward revaluations on agricultural property."
Forty percent of fair market value is the net taxable value of each parcel. The millage rate of each taxing authority is applied to the net taxable value yielding an estimated tax. For the first time, each notice will reflect all taxing authorities: state, county, school, school bond and city.
The Notice of Assessment was mandated by Senate Bill 346 which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2010 becoming effective this year.
"Every owner of real property will receive this notice for each parcel they own as required by the new state law," Scott said. "The notices will reflect property that has seen changes such as ownership change, new construction, additions, division of land and other typical changes as well as the 2011 values as established by the Assessors office whether changed from 2010 or not. In the past, we would send out a notice like this every three years, unless there had been a change in the property's status. Now, it will be every year."
Scott said national news coverage of the decline in real estate prices has lead to some confusion regarding the value of local property.
"There are stories on the news every night about places like Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Tampa," he said. "Fortunately, we haven't experienced declines that steep, although, we have had a real decline in values, and our assessments need to reflect that."
According the Associated Press, even cities that weathered the housing market crash with relatively little damage are suffering now. Severe price declines have spread to Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and Cleveland, which had mostly withstood the bust in housing since 2006. The damage has now gone well beyond cities hit hardest by unemployment and foreclosures, such as Phoenix, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Home prices in big metro areas have sunk to their lowest since 2002, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city monthly index showed Tuesday. Since the bubble burst in 2006, prices have fallen more than they did during the Great Depression. The latest report points to a "double dip in home prices across much of the nation," said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's.
Local property appraiser Gary Brannen said he has seen declines of up to 15 percent in values on residential properties that have been sold in a fair market format.
"Standard real estate sales are reflecting declines of five to 15 percent from the boom period of 2006 and 2007," Brannen said. "However, homes sales resulting from a foreclosure are 15 to 20 percent off of previous highs. You are seeing much lower prices being accepted by the seller in those conditions."
Brannen said he doesn't see the downward trend abating any time soon. "I wish that I could say that we are at the bottom, but I just don't sense that yet," he said. "Until some of the inventory is cleared out, it looks as if values will continue to creep lower."
In the seven years before its peak in July 2006, the home-price index surged 155 percent. Since then, it's fallen 33 percent. During the Great Depression, prices fell 31 percent. It took 19 years for the housing market to regain its losses after the Depression ended.
Scott said the fair market value for tax purposes is an estimate based on sales of similar properties in the county.
"An appraisal is an opinion that is reached by a certified professional based on sales data that is commensurate with the property being appraised," he said. "There could be a five percent difference in valuation from one appraiser to another. That is why there is an appeals process which allows the property owner to appeal the fair market value placed on their property."
Scott said it is important for people to remember that fair market values placed on properties in the county never reflected the hot real estate market that engulfed the area from 2004 through 2008.
"The reason that you aren't seeing a 10 to 20 percent devaluation is that our appraisals of property never caught up to the marketplace," he said. "It is my feeling that in 2010, we finally began to catch up as reflected on last years' assessments. However, with the continued decline in 2010 sales values, an adjustment needed to be made."
With all of the doom and gloom surrounding property values these days, Scott said it is important to look at the overall picture.
"From 2001 to 2011 the taxable digest (40 percent of fair market value of all the parcels in the county) increased by 58 percent ($627,282,231)," Scott said. "We have had a lot of positive development. Even with the decline in overall values throughout the county, we have managed to maintain the quality of life and the level of service that our residents have come to expect. Out of 159 counties in the state, Bulloch County has the eleventh lowest millage rate, while providing one of the highest qualities of living."
Marion Hulsey, property appraiser and owner of Hulsey-Johnston, Inc., said the area has been somewhat insulated from the worst of the fallout.
"We have held up better than a lot of other folks," he said. "Right now, bank sales of foreclosed properties are hurting the market, but once we get through those, I think things will get much better. I just don't see our market getting ‘upside down' like a lot of markets around the country have become."
According to Scott, bank sales are the driving force behind the downward revaluations.
"In 2010, we were under the law that said we shall consider bank sales, and in the neighborhoods where those bank sales were the market, we adjusted value accordingly," Scott said. "The difference in 2009 and 2010 sales and the reason for more widespread reduction in residential values is that in 2010, the bank sales were more widely distributed throughout the county resulting in more widespread reductions."
The Notice of Assessment is not a bill and no payment should be made at this time. But, it is an estimate of the tax bill that the property owner will receive, and if the owner does not feel the 2011 value as shown on the notice is accurate, then that owner must file an appeal in writing by July 15, 2011.
Information regarding the appeals process can be found at www.bullochtaxassessors.org.