Surging assessments worry homeowners

The Arizona Republic
Friday, February 23, 2007
Maura J. Halpern

Over the past few days, Debbie Cox, a Realtor in Surprise, has received more than a dozen faxes and phone calls from worried clients.

It's that time of year when the Maricopa County Assessor's Office mails out property valuation notices, and some homeowners were surprised at what they saw for 2008.

West Valley cities saw some of the metropolitan area's highest increases in single-family home valuations, which could mean higher property taxes next year.

Since property tax bills are more than a year behind valuations, the recent numbers will affect tax bills in fall 2008.

These valuations reflect market conditions from the second half of 2005 and first half of 2006.

"We had that boom in 2005, and they are basing the values off of that time," said Cox, with Service First Realty. "The market doesn't look like that anymore."

Tolleson's median property valuation, or "full-cash value," shot up 24 percent for 2008, with Litchfield Park and Buckeye close behind at 23 percent.

Median valuations in Glendale increased 21 percent to $202,500.

In contrast, valuations in Fountain Hills increased about 5 percent and Carefree's values rose 8 percent. Gilbert's ticked up 6 percent.

"With all of the infrastructure and new residential developments in the West Valley, the values are catching up to the East Valley," said Jeffrey Smith, president of JSSmith Mortgage, which has offices across the Valley. "With the expansive growth and influx of homes often comes an increase in property taxes."

Smith attributes the higher increases in the West Valley to the lack of available land in the East Valley.

As a result, he said, myriad upscale projects and custom homes have landed in West Valley cities in recent years.

"When you convert land from agricultural use to residential, it will automatically follow with higher property values," Smith said.

According to the county assessor's office, the full-cash value should be lower than the actual market value. For some of Cox's clients, this is not the case.

Owners can file appeals if they do not think they can sell their homes for the full-cash value, or if information on the valuation is incorrect, such as a home's square footage.

Doug Porter, who lives just outside Surprise's city limits, plans to file his appeal this week.

The full-cash value of Porter's 2,200-square-foot home on 3 acres skyrocketed more than 120 percent on his recent valuation.

In 2007, his manufactured home was valued at $222,078. For 2008, it is $492,038.

"I couldn't even sell my home for that much during the market's peak," Porter said. "I was just shocked. I knew it would go up, but not this much."

Porter has lived in his home for seven years and has never seen such a sharp increase on his notice.

"I thought the value was supposed to be lower than the market value," Porter said. "It doesn't make any sense."