Part 1 of a series

Critics take aim at property values in Haywood

By Vicki Hyatt | Aug 28, 2013

A group of Haywood County residents have uncovered what they believe to be a scandal that will lead to the downfall of every single county commissioner in Haywood.

The “smoking gun” stems from a 2011 mass property reappraisal in the county and an appeal to the N.C. Department of Revenue’s Property Tax Commission where Canton residents Denny and Deborah King won their case in June.

Furthermore, a botched 2011 reappraisal in Mecklenburg County that led to state legislation requiring a reappraisal redo and repayment, with interest, to those who were overcharged on their property taxes under certain circumstances, is adding fuel to the fire.

At the most recent Haywood County Board of Commissioner meeting, Monroe Miller, Jonnie Cure, Eddie Cabe and Terry Ramey all spoke during the public comment period about the reappraisal situation. Denny King, a former county commissioner candidate, has asked to appear before the board at Tuesday's board meeting.

Eddie Burris, who did not speak at the meeting, shared a video through Facebook that addressed some of the concerns expressed at the most recent county board meeting.

In an interview last week, Burris called the meeting where Tax Administrator David Francis and the county commissioners addressed the reappraisal concerns “a joke.”

“We are right, and they are wrong,” Burris said of Francis' Powerpoint presentation explaining the difference between concepts such as "market value," the target value for any mass reappraisal, and a "market adjustment factor," a formula that helps establish market values in a neighborhood. “Everything was scripted. Apparently they had gotten together to put this little skit on, and it was laughable.”

In his video, Burris speaks of the neighborhoods in which the county was divided to gather sales comparison information, and references 119 neighborhoods where he claims property is valued far above its market value.

Burris, who sold his property in Haywood County in 2010, before the reappraisal process, said he won’t be buying property in the county again so as not to “supply these guys with money."

"My goal is to get rid of all of them,” he said, criticizing the tax collector and calling the county governing board "wild spenders."

Burris and others are working with those who uncovered property appraisal irregularities in Mecklenburg County. From what he’s found, Burris believes the situation in Haywood may “be a little worse than Mecklenburg.”

Trends show property isn’t overvalued

Haywood County officials express confidence in the reappraisal that was done and the adjustments made in the subsequent appeals process. They point to several factors as evidence.

Property sales across the state are tracked by the N.C. Department of Revenue. The sales prices are then compared to the market value established by the county. Since the new values took effect in 2011, the sales ratios have been hovering at the 100 percent level, indicating the sales and appraised values of the properties are in sync, as is the goal.

The most recent data for 2013 shows sales are at 103 percent of assessed value, meaning property is selling for slightly below the assessed tax value established two years ago.

Those in the real estate business say property values overall accurately reflect market value, which is the goal of a reappraisal — to accurately peg the market value of property so everybody pays their fair share.

Brian Cagle, president of the Haywood County Board of Realtors, closely monitors sales in the county, including the appraised vs. market values. He said he's found some variance between the two in certain pockets of the county, but overall the two values track fairly closely.

"I don’t think they are dramatically off in either direction," he said. "It is really difficult to make a blanket statement. It depends on the property and there are so many variables that go in to it."

Cagle said he knows little about the process used to arrive at the final market values the county assigned to property.

"As far as the way they are calculating, the methodology, that’s government stuff," he said. "But as far as the valuation of property, I don’t have an issue with where those  are."

He said the market in Haywood is far different than the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County area, where there were developments going under and owners created shell companies to sell lots to family members or friends to create a comparable sales price.
In Haywood, people love the mountains, so values are a "supply and demand issue," he said. "Here the market is still pretty strong. I don’t believe the valuation is grossly off."

Maggie Valley broker Jim Blyth said the threshold question for anyone is: Would you sell your house for its assessed value? In Haywood, the answer has often been “no.”

“We’re not pricing anything in the assessed value range. It’s too low,” he said of property his company, Elk Country Realty, lists.

Mass appraisals are tough to get right, he said, because, unlike private appraisers, those doing the work aren’t allowed to enter into a person’s house to evaluate it.

“They judge a book by the cover. It’s having to do an appraisal with one hand tied behind their back.”

At the August board meeting, Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick agreed that mass appraisals can be flawed for this very reason.

That’s why the counties depend on property owners to look at the values assigned, request an informal appeal where adjustments are often made once additional information is presented, or make a formal appeal before the county board of equalization and review.

Those who still disagree can appeal to the state Property Tax Commission.

A second reason county officials aren’t worried about the 2011 reappraisal results is there wasn't widespread discontent with the assigned values, will only about 3 percent of the property owners filing appeals, a number far below what's expected in a property revaluation year.

Coming in the next issue: The King appeal