Like every property owner in Hamilton County, Angie Griffin got a letter in June from Auditor Dusty Rhodes, containing the newly appraised value of her home.
Griffin was shocked.
The only improvement she’d done to her three-bedroom Madisonville home since she bought it nine years ago was to add a new roof, yet her property value increased by $20,000.
“It’s not the fact of my property value going up, but it just seems so random,” Griffin said. “It would be different if everyone’s property value went up across the board, that’s fine, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
Like many homeowners, Griffin doesn’t understand why her home value went up while some neighbors saw theirs drop.
“What’s the criteria?” Griffin wondered. “I’m a first-time home owner. This is all new to me. I’m just looking for somebody to explain it to me.”
She plans to request the county review her property value by the July 31 deadline.
This is the first time the county has done a big property reappraisal since 2011, when values overall were lower in the wake of the housing crash. And this reappraisal is getting a lot of attention.
“There’s more of a sensitivity around property values now,” said Kathy Schwab, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
“We came out of recession with significantly lower property values,” Schwab said. “Now we’re on upswing. And I tell you, just as many people are complaining that their property values did not go up enough, as people who are complaining that their values went up too much.”
Overall county property values rose from $57.8 to $60.8 billion. While the reappraisal covers all industrial, commercial and agricultural properties, the biggest part is residential.
Residential values edged up from $39 billion to $41 billion countywide, but growth has been uneven.
Some city neighborhoods have surged in value, such as Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, and Oakley, as well as the suburban neighborhoods of Mariemont, Madeira and Amberly.
Other city neighborhoods have not fared so well, such as Millvale, South Cumminsville, Carthage and Westwood, which lost property value, along with the suburban neighborhoods of Arlington Heights and Lockland.
In Madisonville, where residential property values grew by 13.5 percent, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the new reappraisal.
“We don’t know what to tell people about it,” said Matt Strauss, real estate and marketing manager at Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. “We’re finding in different parts of the neighborhood, the changes (in property value) are counterintuitive to what we thought they would be. We’re just mystified by the methodology.”
For example, many homeowners who live south of Madison Road -- where new buyers have come in and owners have renovated their homes -- saw property values drop or remain stagnant, Strauss said.
“That’s an area we would have expected an increase,” Strauss said.
In contrast, the area north of Madison Road, which “is not as advanced as the southern half of the neighborhood,” has seen property values rise, Strauss said.
Strauss was so confused that he spoke directly with Rhodes about it.
“What he told me is, these values aren’t set in stone, they are just projected so you have time to push back on these until the end of July,” Strauss said. “I didn’t get a sense there was any methodology behind this … I can’t imagine that’s the case.”
A team of 20 county employees, with help from a private firm, examined each parcel and property in the county, and used local sale records to determine a value, Rhodes said.
His team reappraised more than 350,000 properties, most of them residential homes, apartments and condos, over the last two years.
“It’s not a drive-by, we actually look at the property to get an idea of the condition,” Rhodes said.
But the county doesn’t look at the inside of anyone’s house to determine a value – that would be too costly, invasive, and time consuming. And, he’s candid: The office doesn’t always get it right.
“We’re not going to check and know if something is wrong in the basement – we probably won’t see that,” Rhodes said. “That’s why we send out the tentative new value notices.”
State law doesn’t require Rhodes to give advance notice of property value changes and invite owners to contest them, but he does it anyway.
Reassessing property values is important, Rhodes said, to make sure the taxes property owners pay reflect changing neighborhoods, market values and renovations.
After the July 31 request for a review deadline, the board of revision will begin hearing complaints next year. People can use a variety of evidence to appeal, Rhodes said, such as property photos or statements from realtors.
“These tentative notices are something I’m doing to get them in the game, and come back and say to us: ‘You guys are crazy – here’s the value,'” Rhodes said.
Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will, is happy that residential property values rose by 5 percent in East Price Hill, and 3 percent in West Price Hill.
While he still believes the neighborhoods are undervalued and haven’t fully rebounded from the recession, he’s happy that property values are finally moving in the right direction.
“For years the headline had been property values drop in Price Hill,” Smith said. “That’s really discouraging when you are trying to revitalize a neighborhood.”
The only complaints he’s heard are from people who feel the reappraisals actually undervalued their homes.
He believes reappraisals are more accurate in neighborhoods where all the houses look the same, have the same age, and sell for similar prices. That’s not Price Hill.
“I can’t figure out the methodology,” Smith said. “Two homes side by side … one can be completely restored and be perfect and other could have an electrical system from 60 years ago, and they’re valued the same,” Smith said.
But Schwab, of LISC, tells property owners not to worry, however their latest property reappraisal came out.
“The market will determine the price -- it always has and it always will,” Schwab said. “Dusty doesn’t determine price. For his purposes, it’s just a measurement tool to generate taxes. They do the best job they can but its not exact science.”
Jim Craig saw the value of his Madisonville home more than double in the latest reappraisal. He bought his house as a foreclosure six years ago at the bottom of the housing crash.
“Honestly I imagine the new value is more realistic,” Craig said. “I don’t want to pay more taxes but I feel I would be cheating to dispute the new value. I have decided to appreciate the years that I have gotten the tax break.”