Appraiser: County’s land values falling

WOODSTOCK — Land values in Shenandoah County are falling, according to early reassessment information.

The county hired Wampler-Eanes Appraisal Group Ltd. last year to perform the reassessment. Gary Eanes gave the Board of Supervisors an update Tuesday on the appraisal process underway.

Board Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley asked Eanes what changes he has seen since the last reassessment performed six years ago.

“Land values, in general, are dropping,” Eanes said.

Eanes didn’t go into detail as to how much land values have decreased. But he also noted that not all property values drop or increase. Eanes said he reviewed the values of a couple of properties in New Market on Tuesday. A house valued at $215,000 recently sold for $272,000, Eanes said. Another home assessed at $186,000 sold for $180,000.

“So they’re just kind of up and down,” Eanes said.

Data provided by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. shows houses sold in Shenandoah County for an average price of $176,023 in March compared to $180,701 in the same month last year. However, houses sold in February at an average price of $202,514 in February compared to $157,444 in the same month last year. In 2009, the last reassessment year, the average sale price was $179,358 compared to $179,675 in 2014.

Appraisers make the assessments based on the outside of the homes and don’t go inside unless invited by the owners, Eanes explained. Appraisers would see cracked windows and peeling paint on the outside that might affect a property’s value.

“It could be immaculate on the inside but we have to make our decisions from the outside appearance,” Eanes said.

Helsley asked how property values could differ from housing prices. Eanes explained that appraisers use cost tables and adjust the numbers as they examine values and sales. Appraisers also divide the data up into neighborhoods. The number of neighborhoods around the towns makes the work easier, Eanes said. However, the hundreds of houses scattered around the county, many that date back to the 1800s, require more study.

“So it’s not an exact science and you’ll hear every assessor say it’s more of an art to do this work,” Eanes said.

Appraisers have followed the U.S. 11 corridor starting in the Strasburg area. Eanes said he’s concentrated in New Market. Appraisers have been in Woodstock and Toms Brook. The firm has appraisers in Fort Valley and Zepp.

Eanes reminded the board that the state, not the county, mandates regular reassessments. The last reassessment took place in 2009 at the end of a four-year cycle. While the county could have had the reassessment performed four years later, in 2013, officials decided to delay the process by two years. The state allows localities to hold reassessments at a maximum of every six years. County officials at the time decided to delay the reassessment because the market showed that property values likely had not changed enough after the recession to justify spending the money on the process.

The firm is on schedule to complete the work this year, Eanes said. Appraisers have completed about 50 percent of the fieldwork that involves visiting properties, Eanes said.

“We will study this market all the way up until probably September,” Eanes said.

Notices with the new values will be sent to property owners in the fall. The firm will hold informal hearings with interested property owners who wish to discuss the results. Appeals hearings will likely be held in December, Eanes said. This would allow the county to set up a Board of Equalization that holds appeals hearings on the results.

Chairman David Ferguson asked when the board could expect to see a report that shows the overall results of the reassessment. Eanes said he would prefer to bring that information to the board in the fall before the firm sends notices to property owners.

Warren County completed its reassessment last fall that resulted in an increase of just below 6 percent on average. Front Royal property values increased by about 3 percent on average. In both cases, some owners might see their property value increase or decrease.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com