Washington County assessment values
These past few weeks the NEW Washington County assessment values started hitting the mailboxes of Washington County homeowners. Although it is too early to tell, it appears that some of the same issues that affect Allegheny County residents are now beginning to affect Washington County residents.
When it comes to County wide reassessments, there will always be issues. However, although it may be too early to tell considering all the values have not yet been mailed, there seems to be a disturbing pattern. As an appraiser I have seen with Allegheny County and what now appears to possibly be happening with the Washington County Assessment is a troubling trend when it comes to the valuation numbers. In Allegheny County, I started to notice a possible uneven playing field between market value and assessed values of different markets within Allegheny County and although possibly too early to tell, Washington County as well.
I must preface that this is not finger pointing, nor are we playing the blame game. When a County wide reassessment is done it is too expensive to have an appraiser appraise every property in the county. A reassessment is called a ‘Mass Appraisal’ that technically is done by a computer. This is great in a Dr Seuss type neighborhood where each property is very similar to one another, however, in our region the process is flawed.
What I am starting to notice in Washington County is the older and more financially distressed neighborhoods appear to be grossly over assessed. In Allegheny, many of the properties $350,000 and up are assessed below their actual market values while properties below $350,000 appear to be generally assessed higher and in some cases grossly higher than actual market value. A prime example is an Allegheny County property that was assessed for $450,000 in 2001 sold to the current owner in 2005 for $560,000. The property was appraised in the first month of 2012 for $650,000 yet when the new assessment for this property came out the new assessment was $364,900 which made no sense whatsoever. This inequity puts the tax burned on lower income property owners to make up the difference in the valuation disparity of the higher valued property owners. The sad outcome of all this is that many of the lower income homeowners do not have the financial means to get an appraisal or possibly have an equal opportunity to fight their assessment. As a result, much of the middle class & financially distressed neighborhoods are picking up the tab.
As I mentioned above, it is possibly too soon to make any concrete similarities, however, the early indications are that the middle class and more distressed neighborhoods of Washington County appear to be heading down the same path as Allegheny County. It also must be noted that the same company in charge of the Allegheny County reassessment is in charge of the Washington County assessment process.
Only time will tell as to what the final outcome will be. I also need to emphasize, do not be mistaken in your thinking that although Pennsylvania has a 5% State tax windfall law, that does NOT mean your assessment and/or taxes will rise no more than 5%. In the fine print it is a taxing body as a whole that cannot raise more than 5%. You may have a property that is identical to your neighbors and while they’re property may have gone done 25%, yours could go UP 30% and as a whole, the 2 properties would be in line with the State windfall tax law due to both combined is not over 5%. Remember, this holds true for County, Municipality and School taxing bodies each individually, whereas the whole for each taxing body cannot be more than 5%. I know this can all be confusing however, it should be looked at more closely and the individual property owner should be prudent and look at their personal situation when it comes to the court ordered Washington County reassessment.