My House is Worth How Much? Changes in Bellingham and Whatcom County Real Estate AssessmentsDecember 6, 2017 / byPuget Sound Life / Categories : Puget Sound General
If you own real estate on Lummi Island, Lake Whatcom, SuddenValley, Geneva or south of Lakeway Drive in Bellingham, you recently received a notice from the Whatcom County Assessor that your property is worth more than it used to be. Since real estate in these areas was last measured prior to 4 years of rising real estate prices, it's not surprising that the assessor says it is worth more today than it was in 2004. On the last hand, for the last few months you have been reading that real estate values in Bellingham and Whatcom County are falling, so why has your taxable value gone up 50%, 60%, 70% or more? The next big question is – does that mean your taxes will go up by the same percentage? And the last question is – what can you do about it?
Let's start with the Why. The law requires counties to determine the "market value" of real estate on a regular basis for the purpose of levying taxes. In Whatcom County, of of the county is assessed every year. This system means that if there have been major market shifts, the changes can be huge over a 4 year period. But values have gone down over the past year, right? Perhaps. Generally speaking, homes in the upper ranges and raw land have dropped over the past year. Have they dropped to 2005 levels? In some cases, yes. On the other hand, homes in the lower price ranges, particularly in some areas, may have maintained their gains. The number of homes sold has also dropped over the past year, giving assessors fewer choices of comparable sales for real estate that is somewhat atypical.
Next Question: How much will your taxes increase? At this point, no one knows. Taxes for things like bond issues, which are for specific amounts, will not increase as assessed value increases. The percentage collected will change so that the same amount is grouped based on the new total assessed value of all real estate in Whatcom County. The general fund taxes are a bit more complicated. Counties are limited as to how much additional property tax they can collect in any year over the year before, not counting the additional taxes collected from new construction and development. Theoretically, actual taxes should go up considerably less than assessed valuse, but my experience is that a jump in one typically brings a jump in the other.
Last Question: What can you do about it? You can appeal, and if you can show that comparable property sales do not support the new assessed value, it can be reduced. The first step is to call the Whatcom County Assessment's office at 360-676-6790. If the assessor's analysis of your property is incorrect, they may be able to resolve it immediately. If they can not help, you need to file an appeal petition with the Board of Equalization. Appeals must be filed on forms available at either the Whatcom County Council office or the County Assessor's office, both in the courthouse at 311 Grand Ave in Bellingham. Appeals must be filed no later than July 1 of this year or within 30 days of the date on the change of assessment notice. They must be returned to the County council office – a phone call or letter does not determine filing an appeal. You will be notified when your hearing date is set.
I have successfully argued before the board and been granted a roll back in assessed value of a property. The key is to provide the Board with the tools that need to make the decision you want. They do not have the power to reduce the assessment for any reason other than evidence of real estate values which would support the value you are claiming. Comparable sales are the best because value was established by the sale. Evidence of real estate comparable to yours that is currently listed at a lower price than your assessed value could also be of help. Comparable properties need to be as close to yours geographically and in basic characteristics as possible. Your evidence needs to be in writing and to the board at least 5 days before your hearing so that they have a chance to review it (it can be submitted separately from your appeal petition). This will be much more effective than just showing up and telling them all about it.
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